The next time you’re cruising around Northern California and you see a police van pull up in your rearview mirror, don’t panic – there just may be a sonic surprise inside.
Your driver of this industrial-strength vehicle: Rob Seifert Gage, a very serious audio engineer who decided one day that he couldn’t take the LA studio scene seriously anymore. He had built up a big list of credits including Porno for Pyros, eels, Skinny Puppy, Chuckii Booker and even ex-Minutemen bass legend Mike Watt. He had worked at top facilities like Paramount, Encore, A&M, Aire L.A., and Rick Rubin’s famed Shangri La. But it was time to escape La La Land.
Gage slowed things down a notch in bucolic Humboldt County, a densely forested rural county hundreds of miles north of San Francisco, complete with Redwood forests and 110 miles of coastline. But he also kept busy, becoming FOH engineer for the Mateel Community Center, a buzzing concert venue that hosts everything from Wu-Tang Clan and Merle Haggard to the Humboldt Hemp Fest, with Reggae on the River happening just down the road.
Then in 2009 something very special rolled into Gage’s life: a 1989 Chevy P30 step van that had been serving as Humboldt County’s evidence vehicle. It was on sale and Gage got it for a song, with only 1,965 miles on it. He originally intended it to house his flourishing archiving practice, but then it morphed into something much more.
Today, that van is Audio Evidence Mobile (AEM), a very tuneful truck designed to roll up and record artists wherever they’re most comfortable, whether it’s the living room where they practice or in the deep woods. And while Gage certainly didn’t invent remote recording, he’s certainly raised the game with AEM, packing it with extremely choice analog and digital gear, curated and ably applied by his decades of studio experience.
How does mixing live sound at a local venue gives him an advantage in attracting studio clients, and then doing a stellar job for them? How did he make AEM studio worthy, complete with a no-console console inside? Learn what highly desirable monitoring trick he can pull with an FM transmitter, plus why it was critically important to get the headphone playback system right – and how his live experience once again paid off in nailing that signal path.
This is a Swiss Army Knife of an audio vehicle – a roving “Sweet Spot” that’s one more reason why Northern California is an exceptional place to make music.
Facility Name: Audio Evidence Mobile
Date of Birth: I bought the Van in 2009
Location: Southern Humboldt County, CA, and will travel 100 miles in each direction
Facility Focus: On-Site Tracking, Mixing, Composition and Editing.
Clients/Credits: Angels Cut, SoHum Girls , NPK, Frank Lucky, MIMUR, Cyclops & The Owl , Reggae on the River , Mateel Summer Arts & Music Festival, eels, Porno for Pyros, Mike Watt, North Coast Underground
Key Personnel (any assistants you want to name): Rob Seifert Gage, Andrew Muthart, Jahsua Vella
Going Mobile: The Van is the former Humboldt County Evidence Van. Since it only had 1965 miles on it, I guess it was parked a lot.
As the police did, I can park in your driveway or at your favorite place, indoors or out, and then I can basically do what every other studio can do…record something. The Analog Digital Hybrid, however, is something that no other studio has in my neighborhood.
Why did I do make a studio in a van? I live in a rural area and after having three traditional studios, I felt that it always felt like the bands were trying to work at my pace due to time restraints or cost. So since I do it at their place, it’s more on their schedule, and they are relaxed in their wild, so to speak. I usually am working on multiple projects, and when I’m parked I can go to work at anytime.
Neighborhood Advantages: AEM is based in the Southern Humboldt town of Benbow. It’s parked in a bands driveway at the moment. It’s useful for my clients to know I am around and mobile: When they’re ready, I usually am too, instead of having to say, “Well, my studio is only available from 9-5.”
Inside/Outside: My clients can get a lot recorded inside the van, or I can track entirely inside the space of their choice.
Something always winds up getting recorded inside the van, from kick and snare drums, keyboards, loads of bass overdubs, to full singer/songwriter stuff like guitar and vocals.
However, I am constantly using the band’s house, or the Redwoods, or a concert venue as the studio space and that’s what I love: It’s a challenge to make a bedroom sound good, but when you work that way every record sounds different — unlike the fact that every record done at Abbey Road, sounds like Abbey Road.
Audio Approach: When I started in the mid ‘80’s, I came from a listener’s perspective to music.
I wasn’t a player, but I did know how to hook up a stereo and change the clock on a VCR. So at first the studio was all this electronics and wires to me, whereas frequencies and musicality of those frequencies came a lot later. After a ton of recording as a first Engineer, and doing big recording sessions, I was still a “technical” engineer.
It wasn’t until a David Cassidy project came into Aire LA Studios, with an engineer/producer named Eric “ET” Thorngren, that I learned what a “creative” engineer could be. He was incredible to work with and to learn from. The way he worked with musicians on an overdub session was both intense and magical…He has such timing and a sense of balance, and he can tell you what to play if he hears something in his head.
That’s when it all began…I started using the console as an instrument, I learned better pitch hearing and I cut ½” tape like a surgeon. I also learned what a mix sounded like when it was finished. Before that, sure, I mixed, but it wasn’t easy to know when it’s done. Now I know when it’s done, however the artist always takes it a little further, for good or bad — going backwards is one of my peeves, though. With ET, we just enjoyed the studio and each other, so it wasn’t work.
Mission Statement: The local scene here extends from the first bands of kids in high school, to the seasoned guys who are really into a good-sounding record.
I know most bands from mixing live sound at our Mateel Community Center, so when they either have recorded something themselves, they have me mix on my analog gear. Or I do full productions for the well-rehearsed bands. When I moved to the country, my rates dropped way down, but I gained friendships and repeat clients who would bring me garden vegetables and always smile when they see me. Rates have risen but I still work the same professional way as when I started out.