An interview with
(Red Rock Recording Studios)
Oct. 25, 2007
I had hoped for the new Nellie McKay's
album, Obligatory Villagers, to be at least very good - and very good it
was. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed how good
it sounded. Which was especially noteworthy, when one considered how many
"difficult-sounding" instruments - winds, strings, percussion -
were featured alongside guitar, bass, drums, and vocals - lotsa vocals.
I noticed that the engineer for the album
was Kent Heckman, working at Red Rock Recording
Studios. Having never heard of either, I did the usual Web search, and
yes, here they were.
I thought about asking a few questions
about the whole thing. Kent Heckman agreed, and here it is.
The conversation was conducted via e-mail,
I understood correctly, Red Rock Recording Studios are located in Saylorsburg,
PA, in the region called Poconos. I'm afraid this is the first time I've
heard of the Poconos. Would you mind talking about this?
nice former resort community. Only an hour and a half from NYC and Philadelphia.
that Red Rock Recording Studios have been in existence for quite a while
now, and I guess they have a long history, which I wouldn't mind hearing.
I started the studio 26 years ago, after
my wife and I had a horrible recording experience at another
studio. I decided I could certainly do better than they did. I bought an
eight track reel to reel and set it up in our rented farm house with
some PA equipment. I kept buying gear and I guess it got out of hand!
In 1988, we built, from the ground up, the building we have today.
I had a look at the website of the studio,
saw that quite a few people of some renown have recorded there. A few
I have had
the pleasure of recording a lot of great musicians. I like this story,
because it shows how crazy things can get. In 1998, I recorded a project
with David Liebman and Pat Metheny. We were scheduled to record basic tracks
on Saturday and Sunday. Monday was scheduled for fixes and overdubs. Mixing
was to be done at a later date. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, we were done
with the basic tracks and started overdubbing. At dinner, Pat asked Dave
if he ever mixed a project here. Dave replied "Many". Pat said "Well
let's get it done". Everyone agreed. We worked some more that night
and continued at 10AM the next day. By 1 o'clock we were done
with the overdubs. We started mixing and finished at 4 in the morning!
And that was the record!
sure I read somewhere that Nellie McKay once lived in the Poconos, but
I'm really curious to hear about the real reasons why she chose this
She went to high school in the Poconos
and took lessons with some of the great musicians on OV who live here.
Over the years, I've recorded all of them. So I guess it made sense to
do it here. I'm sure she must have checked out some of my work at some
I saw the pictures that appear on the
CD cover and the booklet of Obligatory Villagers. I'd like
to know about the actual recording sessions - like, was the music recorded
piecemeal, how much overdubbing, etc. You get the idea.
We recorded the bass, drums and guitar
for songs 2-7 in four hours on Tuesday. Nellie spent a lot of time conducting,
so she couldn't do a lot of piano. The next afternoon we did the strings
in 3 hours and the horns in 3 hours in the evening. The following days
were filled with Nellie doing her piano, vocals, xylophone, timpani, chimes,
gongs and other percussion and some other overdubs. Bob Dorough, Nancy
Reed and Phil Woods stopped by to do their thing. That part of the album
was all recorded by Sunday. We did some additional overdubbing and the
first and last song at a later date.
Were there any peculiar problems that
occurred during the recording sessions for Obligatory Villagers?
No, things went quite smoothly.
Who did the mixing? The credits don't
Except for the mastering, which was done
in NYC, it was done here from start to finish. You could say
it was never mixed! Ever since I've been using digital consoles, and now,
Protools, my approach is always to be mixing. At the end of every
session, I would make a CD of the album, in order, with the correct spacing
between each song. She would take it home and listen. Most artists I've
worked with only take rough mixes of the particular songs they worked on.
She was very interested in the flow of the whole record. The next time
we would get together, she might have some comments like, turn the bass
up or my vocal's too loud. So, I guess another way to say it would be,
we were always mixing. There is very little EQ or compression on the whole
album, like the jazz albums I do.
Just personal curiosity: Is that a true
Hammond + Leslie we hear on Zombie?
Yes, that is a real 1957 Hammond B-3 that
I bought from a little old lady for $200! It's on a few other songs as
well. Nellie never played one before. She did pretty good!
All of the instruments on the CD are real.
Got to love that!
Digital vs. analogue: please discuss.
Oh no not this!!!! As far as tape goes,
I learned on analog, I worked analog and I never liked it. I never liked
that it sounded different on playback and the more you use it, the less
high frequencies you have. I don't miss the feel, smell or the environmental
impact that goes in to producing it. I still have my 2" 24 track and
two 2-tracks, so I'm not saying this because I don't have the tools available.
That said, I use plenty of high quality analog on the way into Protools.
Nellie's voice was recorded through a vintage U-47 tube mic then into a
D. W. Fearn tube pre-amp. Plenty of ribbon mics on the horns. That's analog!
If I didn't record this into Protools,
"in the box", we would have had to actually mix it!
To the "have to have tape" people I say:
"If you can't make a great recording without tape, then you can't make
a great recording".
We've recently seen a lot of historical
US studios going down, with more and more records done "in
the box". (Though yesterday I read about a new big studio in Nashville
- George Massenburg has a room there.) Your perspective on
A lot of the
major studios that went under were in NYC and LA. It was the increasing
rents that killed them. Of course, the state of the music industry and
home studios didn't help. In this country, I think you will see a lot more
of the music business moving to Nashville.
there will always be people who will want to make real sounding recordings
with real instruments, and studios with nice sounding rooms, like mine,
will still be needed.
music is increasingly consumed on personal systems of "limited fidelity".
And it looks like people don't really care about sound quality, when
compared to "practicality". Do you see this as having a negative
impact on the way records are made?
Ah yes, part
of the dumbing down of society! I'm not going to let that happen to me.
I'll still make the best quality recordings I can. What happens to it after
it leaves here is out of my control.
be engineers who start not caring and they will be out of work.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Just that it was a joy to work on this
record. Nellie is an amazing musician and singer. I hope we get to
have more fun in the future.
© Beppe Colli 2007
| Oct. 25, 2007