In the middle of a pecan ranch in Tornillo, Texas — 30 miles east of El Paso — you'll find Sonic Ranch, the largest residential recording studio in the world. The studio's owner, Tony Rancich, is the grandson of the ranch's founder, and here on his family's property he runs one of the most accommodating and amazing studios you'll ever find. Touring the grounds and the four studios (and mastering suite) with Tony we found Pat Dillett [Tape Op #79] mixing and album for Mexican pop star Benny Ibarra and a metal band from Italy laying down blistering basics.
Tony's generous and enthusiastic vibe guides this unique place, and you can see why bands like Sublime with Rome, Hanson, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Old 97's, Animal Collective, Mudvayne, Cannibal Corpse, and The Mountain Goats would choose to come here to focus and make great recordings.
What's the reaction of the townspeople when they learn that something like this is going on just down the road?
They get a kick out of it! This whole area has a pride about the studio being here. I think everyone really enjoys the fact that Sonic Ranch is here. We used to have big summer parties and invite the town. We're actually so busy now that we can't get around to that. But we are a part of the local music community.
Have you had local bands come in?
We have. Mostly — 80 to 90 percent — are international acts, but we like to help out the local community as well. And there are stories of success. At The Drive-In recorded Vaya here before Relationship of Command. You can "break" from anywhere; it's all about talent.
I like what you say about focus and people not spending time on extraneous stuff throughout the day while they're here.
And we have huge artists that have their own studios, like Conor [Oberst] for example. But he'll come here because it's tougher sometimes to record in your own hometown because of all the distractions. Hansen was also in here recently and they also have their own home studio setup, but they're more productive here. We have special vintage Neves here that are a cut above everything. Home recording is great, but there are people that want something beyond that and you can hear the difference.
Do you still get to play guitar?
I play everyday! And keyboards as well. I love music and play everyday.
Do you write music and record yourself?
I write sometimes. I don't necessarily have a need to record. Ironically I don't think my music is commercial! [laughter] I still enjoy it.
It's just nice to be in touch with playing.
It is. It's an alignment thing, really. It's an alignment within myself.
Things are very inspiring and inviting here — even more so than you could ever explain with a photo and some text.
Absolutely. We'll fly in producers. We'll cover a flight and ask people to spend the night. Or even a daytrip from L.A. Virtually every time we've done that we've gotten the project. Once you see it here, you get it.
It must be interesting to put the budgets together. You're building in accommodations, meals and the amount of time it takes to record. It must be all over the map.
It is, but we've been doing it for a while. We can adapt to almost every budget. We can go to whatever extremes. You can go from bringing your own groceries and doing your own laundry to having personal chefs and catered meals. We can accommodate the whole spectrum. You still get access to the Neves and the beautiful rooms!
It's a very unique and fascinating place. I love that it's bucking the trend!
That's why we love to adapt. And we love to take care of people. Synchronicity has brought all these great people here.