Synth Heaven in Greenpoint: Joe McGinty’s Carousel Recording

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GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN: Keyboardist, producer, songwriter and Losers Lounge founder Joe McGinty (The Psychedelic Furs, Nada Surf) has amassed an amazing collection of vintage synthesizers over the last three decades. Lucky for him, right? Well, actually, this is lucky for you too. This collection of mint condition classics and inspiring rarities is now available for commercial sessions at his Carousel Recording in Greenpoint.

Wall of Keys, Carousel Recording

Located within the Pencil Factory at Greenpoint Ave and Franklin – same building as Rough Magic, Salt Mastering, Insound, The Social Registry, etc. – Carousel is where McGinty produces his own projects, keyboard parts for other artists’ records, and now where he can help bands articulate damn near any synth part they can dream up.

For McGinty, this is like the next level of session playing, as bands can book Carousel for a day of keyboards, and either hire him as their synth guru, player or recordist, or simply play the instruments and run the sessions themselves

McGinty’s personal keyboard collection goes back to the 1950s and includes a number of electro-mechanical, i.e. Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet, Baldwin Electric Harpsichord, Hammond Organ & Leslie 147 and Yamaha CP60 and CP30 Electric Pianos; combo organs, i.e. Fender Starmaster, Vox Super Continental and Farfisa Combo Compact; vintage analog synthesizers, i.e. Moog 15 Modular, Mini Moog, Memory Moog, ARP 2600, Omni and String Ensemble, Oberheim Xpander and Gibson Clavioline; sample playback, i.e. Mellotron M400, Mattel Optigan and Akai S612; vintage digital, i.e. RMI Keyboard Computer and Korg DS-8; and modern instruments such as Moog’s Little Phatty, the Nord Electro and the Dave Smith Poly Evolver.

See these keyboards go in this charming Carousel music video, “Tubular Bells,” featuring the “Brooklyn Organ Synth Orchestra”:

Since Carousel is a smallish studio, keyboards occupy much of the space — lining the walls, filling the shelves, and cutting a pathway through the room. An iso booth houses the Wurlitzer, a number of guitar amps and plenty of room to cut vocals, guitars and other amplified parts. McGinty’s partner in the space is guitarist/producer Jay Sherman-Godfrey.

Recording-wise, the studio is equipped with Pro Tools 9 and Logic and, as McGinty puts it, “a few good vocal mics and some nice channels of [Neve Portico, API and Focusrite] preamps.” On the studio’s website, he appeals, “Why settle for “virtual” when you can have the real thing? Just bring in your Pro Tools session (or files from Digital Performer, Logic, or any other hard disk recording program) and add some analog warmth to your recording.”

CAROUSEL INVENTORY: KEYBOARDS AND KEYBOARD WISDOM

McGinty on the Hammond Extravoice

SonicScoop recently took a spin around Carousel with McGinty pointing out and playing some of the more notable instruments, and providing musical reference points. Stopping at the ARP 2600, McGinty noted: “I recently got a bunch of keyboards from Mark Lindsey, former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders. That’s where I got this ARP 2600, which is pretty rare. Genesis used it a lot, and Edgar Winter.”

Moving on, he points out the original Mini Moog. “This is another favorite. It’s a classic 70s synth – nothing sounds like it.”

An Atlantic City native, McGinty came up playing the hotel-casino circuit, and over the last three decades has recorded and/or performed with artists such as The Psychedelic Furs, The Ramones, Debbie Harry, Devendra Banhart, Nada Surf, Ronnie Spector, Daniel Johnston, Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and Space Hog.

He’s been a staple of the NYC music community between his live shows with the Losers Lounge, musical projects including Circuit Parade and McGinty & White, frequent session playing, original music for television and web (Bored to Death, Funny or Die) and most recently, a weekly residence at Manhattan Inn with “Joe McGinty’s Keyboard Karaoke.”

His keyboard collection reflects a lifelong obsession with keys, and a unique point of view cultivated over all these years of performance, composition and collaboration. In particular, his early days in piano bars, the Loser’s Lounge tribute shows at Joe’s Pub (this month pays tribute to Neil Diamond!) and the live piano karaoke demonstrate his deep repertoire and encyclopedic head for classic pop keyboard parts and sounds.

Looking at the collection as a whole, McGinty describes, “This is about 25 years of collecting, and a lot of it I got cheap when people were getting rid of stuff, pre eBay. Luckily I hang onto things! And there’s definitely some stuff here I never thought I’d have, like this 1968 Baldwin harpsichord. I also never thought I’d actually own a Mellotron. I know of maybe one or two others in all of NYC. It’s such a classic sound.”

McGinty at the Mellotron. See Moog 15 on top.

The most prized of the Mark Lindsay package, McGinty points out, is a rare modular Moog. “This is like Switched on Bach era – you really need to know what you’re doing to use it,” he says. “There are so many options in terms of patching and stuff. The guy who restored it gave me a tutorial. I always thought the modular synths were really cool, but now that I have one, I really get it. I christened it on a recent record I did with Ward White.”

As we move around Carousel, McGinty riffs on the keyboards and the classic records that feature them. Every era of popular music is represented here, from the classic Steinway upright to the Hammond organs to the space-age synths to the Casios and keytars to the Dave Smith Poly Evolver and Nord Electro, and on and on.

“Sometimes people come in with CDs and ask me about a particular keyboard sound, and I can tell them what it is,” he notes. “Like, the Clavinets are the classic Stevie Wonder funk machine. And the ARPs do the 70s string sounds – like you hear on “Dream Weaver” and a lot of classic 70s disco songs.”

“This is a Clavioline,” he pointes out. “It’s used on the Beatles’ ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man,’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon, and ‘Telstar’ by Joe Meek.”

Though the collection does overwhelm the space a bit, it’s setup in a way that a keyboardists can easily demo multiple sounds for a part. “You can get stuff done really quickly because everything’s really accessible,” McGinty notes.

ClaviolineClavioline at Carousel. Photo by Jim Brown: http://www.officebrown.com

“You go to some studios and they have to get their older keyboards out of a closet or something, and maybe it doesn’t totally work. All these keyboards are instruments I use on my own stuff so I know all the ins and outs, and can even repair them to a point. I also have a few techs I can call on.”

Moving on: “The Yamaha piano has pickups inside so you can electrify it – it’s a very 80s kinda sound, like Peter Gabriel’s ‘Red Rain’ or like Private Eyes by Hall & Oates. It’s very useful around here.”

He also has a unique digital keyboard made by Allen Organs, a primarily church organ manufacturer based in Allentown, PA. “This Allen Organ is pretty fun – it was one of the first digital keyboards they made and it licensed NASA technology, and uses old-fashioned computer punch cards. This is their first attempt at a synthesizer so it’s kind of weird, but it sounds really cool. And it’s sort of a secret weapon…people come in and they’ve never heard of it, but it sounds like nothing else, so it often works.”

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  • Synthlabs

    Where’s the video?

  • JB

    whoops! not sure what happened. should be there now!