I Didn’t Single-Handedly Bring the Coffee Revolution to L.A. (But I Certainly Tried…)

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As I built bigger and better studios, the coffee setup evolved. Right now I have two different systems: The Chemex, for more than two cups, with the superfine two layer conical filters… and the custom Groundlift Research & Development situation, for the smaller two-person jobs, or myself, mixing solo.

That one consists of a Pyrex Erlenmeyer beaker (from the chemistry website), an aluminum post drilled into the coffee bar and a stainless steel 3” ring support holding the Hario V60 glass dripper. The Hario V60 Buono Pouring Kettle – with the gooseneck spout for that perfect pour over – and the Stainless Steel conical Burr grinder round out the setup in the coffee dept. along with the Breville BMF600XL milk frother.

Having a proper grinder is imperative, since the V60 filters are slightly thinner than the Chemex ones, so i go a couple of clicks finer on the Burr for the coffee there (slower pourthroughs). (Learn more about pour over coffee-brewing here.)

Bird Pick in Pasadena has one of the finest selections of looseleaf teas in town, and I’m a frequent guest there, restocking the 10 different teas I have. They also sell fantastic little glass jars, airtight, so I’ve got the teas organized from decaf to high caffeine, with Rooibos on the left straight up to real Matcha powder on the right, with the accompanying bamboo whisk and bowl. Something I picked up from The Wood Bros and John Medeski, making a record at Allaire Studios back in the day. Now that’s some rocket fuel!

A Reel Coffee Break

In the old days, at the Sound Factory, we would record to tape. So, to start each song, we would put the reel up on the Studer, I’d get up a rough mix, patch in the headphone feeds (for the musicians) and get going.

This meant that when switching songs I could get up, have my assistant put up the next song (reel), and walk to the lobby (or outside, even) and have a cup of coffee. It was like a built-in break system. You take a moment. Clear your head. Mingle with the people working in the other rooms. A sense of comradery and community – perhaps a bit like the den in the basement again.

This is one of the things I miss the most about those days, where now everyone has their own studios and you rarely run into anyone outside the immediate orbit of your own project. No communal water cooler or coffee station.

Also, with things going digital, the “setup” time between songs (now sessions on a computer) is none. And if I’m not careful, I don’t get up out of my chair at all, for the whole day. I can close one session and be up and running with the next one in 30 seconds.

This is where it’s good to have a proper coffee bar in the studio (or a pipe to stuff, if that’s your game). You get up out of the chair and head for the coffee bar: built-in break…

BIY (Brew it Yourself)

The coffee bar has a very important role at Höskulds’ LA studio, Groundlift.

And there’s a method, of course:

1 – Get a small amount of water boiling in the kettle

2 – Grind the beans and add the coffee to the Chemex or V60 (by now that small amount of water should be boiling)

3 – Do a small pour over to get the grinds blooming (the key is to soak the coffee, but not have any water leak through – yet).

4 – Add rest of water to the kettle and bring to a boil (this, while the grounds are blooming)

5 – Pour rest of water, slowly, in a circular motion from outer to center, into the filter

6 – Get milk going in the frother

7 – Pick a cup fitting each band member

8 – Add milk where applicable

9 – Add coffee

10 – Sit down and have a conversation about everything but gear and politics.

Percolating Personality

Someone once said, “Everything you do, says something about you.” And I think that’s true. When people walk into my studio they see art on the walls, books, DVD’s and CD’s on the shelves, and colored bulbs in the lamps. The desks, a lot of the furniture, and the shelves are largely built by me. A custom fit, as it were. Designed perfectly for each task.

I have magazines about Cinematography, Architecture and Photography. Some good chocolate and Italian liquorice (#studiosnacks) but no Mix Magazine or Billboard (why someone would want to read about “The Business” while trying to be creative, has always been a mystery to me).

#Studiosnacks for the soul.

And this is what I’m into. It doesn’t make me any better than the next guy or girl making a record in their studio, but it does reflect my personality. And I always felt having my own studio was a perfect opportunity to share that – and maybe that would create a connection with the artist. Perhaps even inspire something.

I usually have a movie going on the BluRay player when I work. Most of the roughly 600 movies I own are picked for the visuals. The Third Man, City of Lost Children, THX 1138, Northfork, Ex Machina or Blade Runner…. There’s a common thread there: a strong point of view. Those movies were not made to fit in. They broke the mold. And that’s inspiring.

Every once in a while I’ll glance over and get inspired by the creative use of depth of field, the choice of a lens or the way a light creates a shadow. All conscious deciisions by the cinematographer. He or she putting their stamp on the movie: bringing something to the table and having an opinion. And more often than not, it will start some sort of a dialog with my artist.

A lot of albums sound the same to me, these days. The same drum treatments, the same vocal treatments, and on the rare occasion there is a deviation, it seems disconnected from the song, or its meaning. Sort of a copied idea: “distorted vocals in the verse, like that song on the radio”. But mostly, 12 white eggs neatly identical, in an egg carton. None stand out. None catch your eye. I don’t know what coffee these people are drinking, but I’m sure it’s not David Lynch’s Espresso Roast.

Of course this might all just be for me, in the end. And it might have a limited effect on my clients, or other engineers. Maybe they don’t care about the coffee, the teas, the lighting, the literature. Maybe they’d rather read Billboard Magazine or Tape Op… and maybe they are perfectly happy to drink Folgers coffee out of a paper cup.

But in the words of the great philosopher (and NBA alum) Charles Barkley, I’d say: “I could be wrong, but I doubt it.”

S. Husky Hoskulds is a GRAMMY-winning audio engineer, mixer, producer and founder of the studio and artist community Groundlift Research & Development, Los Angeles. His credits include Tom Waits, Ornette Coleman, Mike Patton, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples, Solomon Burke, Sheryl Crow, The Wallflowers, Joe Henry, My Brightest Diamond, and Meshell Ndegeocello.


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  • yluko

    More articles like this! Loved it and love coffee!