Behind the Scenes: Producing Stavesacre’s “MCMXCV (1995)”

Stavesacre four sided vinyl!!!

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, my journey through the local alternative and punk music scene introduced me to the talented drummer Sam West. Sam and I shared a passion for music, and together in these bands we embarked on tours across the United States, creating cherished memories along the way. Our musical paths converged when we became the backing band for H.R. of Bad Brains for touring on his west coast for the “Charge” record.

Fast forward to 2016, Sam reached out to reconnect over a beer at a gastropub on Wilshire. Our reunion sparked a conversation about my work at Sound City and as a freelance engineer, leading Sam to propose an exciting opportunity: producing the new Stavesacre record. I eagerly accepted the challenge, seeing it as a chance to elevate my skills in the production space I shared with Jim Rota at Angel City Drum Works in Burbank, affectionately dubbed Underbrow.

Underbrow warehouse: Mic placements, one of my most favorite things to do
Underbrow warehouse: The set up, tracking into the night

Underbrow warehouse: Drum overdubs with Sam West

Meeting with Ryan Dennee and Jeff Bellew, we collaborated on demos and arrangements at Sam’s out-of-town retreat before transitioning to Underbrow to begin recording. Equipped with my trusty 32-channel Sound Workshop Series 34b recording console and a selection of outboard gear including Shadow Hill and Aurora GT2Q mic pres, we meticulously crafted each track, starting with drums and then moving on to guitars.

Moving the Sound Workshop Series 34b into Underbrow. Full install by FIG
Underbrow: At the helm Sound Workshop Series 34b w Pro Acs, NS10s, and Aventone Mix cubes
Underbrow: Jeff digging into main guitar tracking Gibson SG
Underbrow: Ryan in honing in on the Gibson SG
Jeff Bellew and Custom Tele Deluxe with P90s

For the guitar sessions, I had the pleasure of utilizing the Bogner Goldfinger 45 amp, which added a unique flavor reminiscent of a Vox AC30, alongside my vintage Marshall JMP. With Ryan and Jeff experimenting with different tones and textures, we sculpted the sonic landscape of the record.

Secret weapon Bogner Goldfinger
Main guitar flavors Bogner Shiva, and Marshall JMP
Underbrow: Ryan Dennee rocking Custom Strat with Lace Hot Golds

Despite bassist Dirk residing in Atlanta, we kept him involved by sending rough mixes, allowing him to prepare for his recording sessions in Los Angeles. Over four intense days, Dirk laid down bass tracks for all twelve songs, including covers of SIA’s “Breathe Me” and Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch.”

Underbrow: Dirk Lemmenes tracking bass
Ear break and getting some sunshine with 4/5th of Stavesacre

The final piece of the puzzle was recording vocals with Mark Salomon, whom I hadn’t seen since his days in the thrash band The Crucified. Though tracking vocals for a pile of songs can be daunting, Mark rose to the occasion, delivering captivating performances over eight consecutive days.

Underbrow: Mark Saloman in the house!!!
Underbrow warehouse:Mark prepping the singers for Gang vocals on The Tower
Underbrow: Mark Salomon

Throughout the recording process, we welcomed guest musicians, including Sam’s son Cameron West on French horns and Mark’s niece Hayley Brownell contributing vocals, adding depth and richness to the album’s sound.

Underbrow: Pick up switching during a tracking performance, and Sam

As the record took shape, we experimented with new guitar melodies and flavors, with each member of the band stepping up to deliver their best performances. Despite the challenges, the camaraderie, laughter, and shared passion for music made the experience unforgettable.

Stavesacre lists!!!

The culmination of our efforts resulted in the release of “MCMXCV (1995)” on vinyl, a testament to the dedication and creativity of everyone involved. I am immensely proud of this record and grateful for the friendships forged during its creation.

Stavesacre hangs!
Underbrow: Diving into keys with Sam West
Underbrow warehouse: Sam West on the chrome Ludwig Octo plus kit
Underbrow: Sweet machine! GIbson Firebird overdubs with Ryan Dennee
Me and Ryan working hard

From Tragedy to Triumph: My Unforgettable Experience with Shadows Fall

Back in 2001, while on tour with my band Amen across Canada, our tour met up with our friends Shadows Fall and new band God Forbid for a string of dates in the US. Those days were filled with camaraderie and new friendships, making it a tour I’ll always cherish. Little did I know, it would also mark one of the most memorable tours of my life.

Arriving at the venue in Illinois, I was called into the back lounge of our tour bus along with Sonny Mayo, my bandmate. The news that followed would change my life forever: my mother had passed away. Shock and disbelief gripped me as I grappled with the extreme weight of those words, especially while on tour. Bill Fold, our tour manager and friend, swiftly arranged for me to fly out of Chicago Midway to be with family and face this unexpected tragedy.

Before departing, I made my way into the venue to share the news with everyone and receive their condolences. The tour with Amen came to an abrupt halt, and I headed home to navigate the difficult days ahead.

Six years later, after honing my skills at Sound City and paying my dues, a surprising twist occurred when Nick Raskulinecz reached out with news that Shadows Fall had signed to Atlantic Records. We were tasked with recording their new album, “Threads of Life.” The prospect of reuniting with old friends and tracking at Studio 606 filled me with excitement

Upon arrival at the studio, we wasted no time setting up for tracking. Drums, cymbals, guitars, amps, and cabinets filled the space, along with a shipment of Coors Light – a pallet to be exact – an essential companion for the hardworking musician.

Our focus turned to dialing in the sound on the 8058 Neve desk with an inline monitoring system, along with a Neve BCM10 ensuring Jason Bittner’s double kick drum kit was ready to rock. Jason’s dedication to his craft was evident as he meticulously prepared his setup, embodying the spirit of an athlete in his approach to drumming.

Next came the electric guitars, with a variety of amps including Krank Krankenstein, Budda, ENGL, Mesa Boogie and of course, Marshalls, filling the control room. Matt had an array of Ibanez guitars at his disposal, while Jon favored his Washburn. I vividly recall the day Jon’s signature series guitar arrived – a moment of celebration that reflected his excitement and passion for music.

Of course, there were challenges along the way, like the day Jon struggled through a hangover while recording an intricate clean section that refused to stay in tune. Hours were spent fine-tuning and perfecting the sound, but his dedication prevailed, showcasing his resilience and commitment to the music.

As Nick focused on tracking bass with Romanko and Fair’s vocals, while I took on the task of cleaning up drums and guitars, we worked tirelessly alongside Shadows Fall, proud to play a part in their journey and help bring their vision to life. Recording this amazing metal album with such talented musicians and friends will always be an experience I’ll treasure.

Unfortunately, this predates my iPhone days, and I don’t have any stills from this early session. However, I invite you to enjoy these captivating ‘Making of’ videos from Shadows Fall in 2007, offering a glimpse into our creative process

Echoes of Resilience: Recording Alice In Chains’ ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’

In 2008, when producer Nick Raskulinecz, called me up and asked if I’d be interested in working on an Alice In Chains record, I was beyond thrilled. Being a huge fan of the band, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The story Nick shared with me about how he got involved with the band, hearing the demo of “Check My Brain” and immediately jumping on board, was just the beginning of an incredible journey.

Dialing in the drum set-Bock 251s for Overheads at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss

We set up shop at Studio 606, while the band wrapped up last-minute pre-production. Meeting the legendary members – Sean Kinney, Mike Inez, and Jerry Cantrell (with his scraggly beard), along with the new vocalist William Duvall – was a surreal experience. As we geared up for drum tracking, the excitement in the room was undeniable.

Mic’ing up Jerry or acoustic guitar overdubs at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss

With the basics laid down – drums, scratch tracks, guitars, and bass – we delved into capturing Jerry Cantrell’s signature guitar sound. We pulled out all of his amps and cabinets and began the mic’ing process. After hours of mic adjustments and blending amps, we knew we were onto something special, between his iconic Les Pauls and the two G&L Rampages named “Porno” and “No War,” we had something!

Jerry Cantrell  adding wah guitar at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss

I’ll never forget the moment Jerry plugged in and started playing. His signature chugging riffs filled the room, and when he turned around with that characteristic surly look, only to break into a smile, I knew we were on the right track.

Jerry Cantrell Digging in on main guitar overdubs at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss

The recording process was long and arduous, but incredibly rewarding. Building a relationship with Jerry, Sean, Mike, and William, a band I’d admired for so long, was a dream come true. As we poured our hearts and souls into the music, there was a poignant sense of starting anew while also honoring the memory of their late bandmate, Layne Staley.

A personal highlight of my life having a birthday break with AIC at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss
Bass break with Mike Inez and his Moonburst at 606 Photo: Todd Shuss

We began recording in early fall at Grohl’s Studio 606 and later moved to Henson Studio B to add final touches – guitars, tablas, vibraphones – and record vocals. It was during one of these emotional vocal sessions, as Jerry started singing the title track “Black Gives Way to Blue,” that I witnessed something truly remarkable.

Percussion overdubs at Henson Studio B Photo: Todd Shuss
Listening  back. Henson Studio B Photo: Todd Shuss
Me and Raskulinecz really feeling William Duvall’s performance at Henson Studio B Photo: Todd Shuss

Surrounded by Nick and Sean at the console, Jerry’s heartfelt delivery brought tears to our eyes. The raw emotion and personal significance behind every word were undeniable. When Jerry needed a moment to compose himself, it was a powerful reminder of the deep connection to the words being sung about their late friend.

Lightening things up at Henson Studio B Photo: Todd Shuss

The record’s eventual certification as gold in February 2010 was not just a testament to its commercial success but also a confirmation that Alice In Chains had indeed risen from the ashes of tragedy, emerging stronger and more vibrant than ever before. It was an honor to be part of this journey, and I’ll always cherish the memories we created in the studio, crafting music that touched the hearts of fans around the world. Being part of the making of such an important record with such an amazing band, who I would now proudly call my friends, added an extra layer of significance to the experience. The bond forged through the creative process, the shared moments of inspiration, and the mutual respect for each other’s craft have solidified our connection beyond the confines of the studio. Working with Alice In Chains not only enriched my professional career but also enriched my life, leaving an indelible mark.

Alice in Chains EPK-Black Gives Way to Blue

Unleashing the Beast: Inside Ironaut’s EP Recording Session

Ironaut EP

In 2015, as I settled into our new production space shared with Jim Rota of Fireball Ministry, I was introduced to the stoner thrash band Ironaut. Recognizing my ability to elevate bands’ sound through recording, Jim suggested me to Ironaut as the perfect fit for their project. They were in search of a producer for their debut EP, and I was more than eager to lend a hand and give them the professional treatment they deserved in our newly combined production space.

I met Erik Kluiber, Ivan Najor, and Patrick McHugh at ABC Rehearsal in North Hollywood. They showcased the tracks they planned to record, and though few notes were needed, it was clear that their music was both progressive and heavy, promising an exciting session ahead.

At that time, Jim had this awesome Aurora Sidecar with 10 fantastic mic pre/EQ modules, and I had my trusty Sound Workshop 1280B console. We also had a handful of extra pres and compressors to work with. It was just enough to get the job done.

Early days of Underbrow Production Space

Upon their arrival at Underbrow, I struck a deal with Angel City Drum Works to equip Ivan with a recording kit, which we promptly set up in the Angel City Drum Works warehouse. I meticulously isolated the three guitar cabinets in the small tracking booth adjoining my control room, while simultaneously wiring up the bass DI and SansAmp. Our setup was fine-tuned for their three-piece configuration, and once they were comfortable with their individual mixes, we dove straight into the fray.

The band’s relentless rehearsals and local performances leading up to our session paid off as we swiftly made our way through recording the five-song EP. Any minor slip-ups were promptly addressed, ensuring a polished result while still retaining the rawness and grit of the band. On our second day, I encouraged Patrick to double all his guitar parts, going as far as tripling some of his solos to add depth and texture to the tracks.

As we transitioned to vocals, it became evident that this was Erik’s first time singing for a band, let alone recording. However, he rose to the occasion admirably, and over the next few evenings, we captured his vocals with precision and finesse. Meanwhile, I prepped the tracks for mixing, which proceeded just as efficiently as the recording process.

Working with Ironaut fostered a deep sense of mutual respect and camaraderie. Through our shared passion for music, we forged not only a successful professional relationship but also a lasting friendship. I am proud to count Jim Rota and Ironaut among my friends in this unpredictable yet exhilarating music business journey.