Welcome to the inaugural column of REELtoREAL, where ReelChicago contributor, music producer and musician Lou Carlozo takes on the city’s vibrant recording and music scene.
In the 1990s, when Chicago studios garnered lots of love from the national press, Gravity Studios owner Doug McBride was sometimes overlooked, but an integral part of the indie buzz in Wicker Park.
Those who’ve heard his work know it’s hard to touch him. From the major label debut of “Fall Out Boy” to the earliest recordings by Veruca Salt, McBride has lasted long enough to become a bona fide part of Chicago music history.
With Gravity turning 20 next year, REELtoREAL talked to McBride about weathering the changes gripping an entire industry, and what’s hot at his studio right now.
REELtoREAL: The last few years have put Chicago studios to the test, as it’s easier to record at home. How have you kept Gravity going strong?
Doug McBride: I suppose Gravity found a niche as the place to go to get a big, warm, organic sound. But with that said, recording bands alone hasn’t kept the place going. I taught advanced recording and mixing for Tribecca Flashpoint Academy for a few years, which was fun. And as another source of session work, I’ve worked with a close friend on a library of 100 songs for film and TV licensing..
Reel: What’s the Gravity philosophy as it pertains to each project.
McBride: Our reputation is we’re perhaps more “high fidelity” than some more DIY, clubhouse-style places. But then we’re more focused and passionate about each project than the “big dog” studios.
And with regard to mastering, I enjoy the “wow factor” when artists hear the improvement. My favorite response is, “It sounds like my mix, but somehow just better.”
Reel: What’s lighting up the console at Gravity these days?
McBride: I did a record with a new Chicago band called Ayanami; they’re getting some interest. To my ear they’re what we used to call “shoegazer.”
Also, I produced an album for Kim Chang-Hoon, a singer/ writer for (ostensibly) the Pink Floyd of South Korea, Sanulrim. They’re credited with bringing psychedelic rock to the East in the mid-’70s. That was a blast; I formed a band with Chang and a drummer named Alfonzo Berryhill and we tracked a lot of it live.
And recently I got to work with some friends, each of whom have super-talented daughters. They’re calling themselves Me, You & Her, and we made a little Christmas EP. The three girls sound great together and their voices harmonize naturally; it was quick but fun.
Reel: Lots of music production has moved to computer technology. Do you miss working on analog tape?
McBride: I loved analog and miss it in certain respects. I didn’t make the jump into digital until I realized that a few of my mastering clients had switched to mixing without analog gear and I hadn’t noticed!
As it ends up, learning to make stuff sound great “in the box” is really just a skill that takes practice like anything else.
Reel: What are your goals and hopes for Gravity in 2013?
McBride: The number one hope is the same as it has been every year since 1993: It’s that we meet cool people, hear some fresh music, widen the circle of our community, and of course make enough to keep the train going!
Got a suggestion for REELtoREAL? Email Lou Carlozo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put REELtoREAL in the subject header.
A former Chicago Tribune music editor/writer, Lou Carlozo is also an accomplished producer and studio musician who landed a remix in Disney’s 2011 movie “Prom.” He’s also a co-owner of Kingsize Sound Labs (Wilco, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket).