DUMBO, BROOKLYN/CHELSEA, MANHATTAN: Shane Stoneback would be the first person to tell you that he’s a lucky son-of-a-gun. Sure this fast-emerging producer/engineer has sharp ears, sharper instincts and a marvelously open mind, but he’s also got an undeniable knack for being in the right place at just the right time.
A quick scan of his expanding discography bears that out, with some of the timeliest artists tapping him to bring new sounds, classic styles, and hybrid approaches to their projects. Vampire Weekend, the arresting joy-noise of Sleigh Bells, updated old-skool of Magic Kids, and mystery-soaked Brooklyn duo Cults, are all his latest clients, and that’s just for starters.
To handle the heavy metal, undefinable psychedelia, and everything in between, Stoneback’s dual NYC studios are seeing an enviable level of action. He often gets things started in the raw DUMBO zone he calls Treefort Studios, then crosses the river to finish at SMT Studios in Manhattan, the SSL 4000 G+/Augspurger-endowed mushroom wood dream room he shares with engineer Brian Herman.
Able to make the most out of every opportunity that comes his way, Stoneback has gone a good distance since his formative years as a tech at Battery Studios and in the machine room of audio post HQ Sound One. Settled comfy comfy behind his big board at SMT, Stoneback caught us up on his latest adventures.
You did some recording recently with Magic Kids, we hear.
Right. I went to MemphisW for about a month to a studio owned by Doug Easley. He’s worked with Cat Power, Sonic Youth, and a bunch other great groups. Previously he had a beautiful, old-school studio with three-story-high live rooms, like at Abbey Road. It was famous, but it burned down four years ago.
Now he’s set up shop in an old insurance sales office. It’s a decent studio, but he has a Neotek board that’s like a Salvador Dali painting, because the knobs are kind of melted. We did all the principal tracking there – guitar, bass, drums – and hired this whole cast of local musicians. The talent pool in Memphis is pretty amazing, and Magic Kids is a big band with a lot of members – their network is pretty extensive, and they’re only two calls away from any instrument you can think of.
Magic Kids’ keyboardist/producer Will McElroy has these elaborate, intensive arrangements in his head. In the 1970’s you would have spent six months making this record, and we spent two months. I ended up getting really sick because I spent so much time making it. I didn’t get a lot of sleep in those two months.
They’ve definitely got a style that stands out – how would you describe their sound?
There’s nine people in this band. The Magic Kids have classic songwriting sensibilities, but with modern tools used in their creation, like lots of big 808s.
That new song you produced with them, “Cry with me Baby”, has some old skool elements, but it also doesn’t sound 100% retro…
Sounding retro was a big fear. When I start with a band, if I can I spend time with them a little bit, at a rehearsal or wherever, and talk about music, or I see what’s on their iPod when they’re not looking. These guys were listening to house music when I met them, which I thought was so odd, but it kept it from being a throwback record.
They didn’t want to make a cutesy throwback record – they avoided that at every turn. Some of the songs are super epic, on a level with Electric Light Orchestra songs. Anyway, the record is coming out in August, and you better get your roller skates on for it!
OK! Or can we just hop on our bike? In the meantime back here in NYC, you’re running not one but two facilities. Let’s take it from the top with Treefort Studios in DUMBO.
Treefort is one of those loft locker spaces. I got it three years ago for a writing room and I started to build it out when one of the kids from Vampire Weekend came in. I wasn’t done with construction, but they came out and started doing drum overdubs, and I started a good relationship with those guys.
The room is great, it’s a raw inspiring environment with books, chotchkes…people seem amused out there, but it is roughing it. I don’t have proper air conditioning, and the last few days have been brutal. But then again, Treefort is a much bigger room. There’s a lot of bands in particular I work with that want to lay down core live takes with three or four band members. They’ve been touring and they have it all locked together. You also have much more options for mic placement there. Plus I have tube organs, weird keyboards, and the room is cheaper because there’s a lot lower overhead.
We couldn’t help but notice the SSL 4000 G+ here at SMT Studios in Manhattan. Why keep it separated, instead of having everything together in Treefort?
We could never build this room in that place for a bunch of different reasons. The zoning would be difficult, and I’m not sure how long that building will last because of housing development in the area. The Treefort is awesome, but it’s collapsible. I could tear it down, put it up somewhere else, and it would be the same.
So now the package is we could have a band record at Treefort, do all the overdubs, and then mix it here in a room that’s acoustically tight with a great board. Every record we’ve mixed here has, in my opinion, been my best record. I just keep on thinking it gets better in this room.
Looking around, it certainly seems like you’ve put together what would be considered a dream facility for a lot of producer/engineers today.
This room is awesome. There’s two reasons we selected this configuration. Previously we had a baby Oxford and a pair of Tannoys that are now at Treefort. At the same time, there was a series of studios closing in the city that had an SSL G and Augspurgers, and that was how all the pop hit records were being recorded. Chung King had one, Battery had one, and there’s clearly been a vacuum for that. If they’re all closing down, then clearly there’s not a line around the block for that flavor, but if they all close down, then there’s still room for one.
Brian and I both worked at Battery, and this was the combination of console and speakers that we worked on every day. Plus, I love this board and the EQ on it – you can get rough with it and it sounds really cool. Or you can do nothing, just push the faders up, and it glues everything together better than it would in your workstation. Also, to get a Neve console of the same size would have been an enormous amount of money and this console, aside from cleaning, was in pretty good shape. I think it was in Usher’s house, so it wasn’t getting abused in a commercial facility.
People need studios. Whether they need me or some other engineer, they definitely need these environments where they can come in and have all the tools. Sitting in your bedroom, making a record, you can do that once, and it sounds awesome. But every band I’ve worked with this year – Cults is a good example – love what they’ve done in Garageband. But then they want to make it bigger.