Kretz leaning against the sudio centerpiece, a 1997 G+ 4048 SSL board, has become just as comfortable at the dials on this side of the glass as he is behind the kit.
When Stone Temple Pilots decided to put aside their differences and power through their first album since 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da, self-producing it even, they needed three main things: A relaxed time schedule, a visit from the creative muse, and a bomb studio free from outside pressure. Atlantic Records and fate blessed the band with the first two; drummer Eric Kretz supplied the last.
Bomb Shelter Studios is the culmination of Kretz’ two-plus decades in the biz. It’s a cavernous, brick-lined retreat hidden inside the shell of a century-old soap-making factory in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
One-half fantasy bachelor pad and one-half hi-tech studio, combining both vintage and state-of-the-art gear, Bomb Shelter is now the only serious downtown alternative to the well-trodden North Hollywood studio scene.
But of course Kretz designed this place primarily as a drummer’s paradise. “The main reason you need a big studio is for drums,” he says. “To record a vocalist you need one good mike and one good pre-amp, usually with a good equalizer on it. And that’s about it. But for drums you need to start with about eight mikes, and goup to about 16 or 20 mikes, depending on how crazy you want to get. And with that you need 16 to 20 pre-amplifiers and everything else.”
The key to dialing in the perfect drum sound at Bomb Shelter is balancing the wonderful reverb afforded by the enormous 16'-high ceilings with Kretz’ homemade gobos, which can be wheeled in and out in combination with adjustable mike placements to get the desired effect.
“When I first did the place we had a few jazz artists in here, and, God, when you hear a violin or a viola in here ... even with the drums on one end of the room and the violin on the other, you can still have them perform live – just get a high enough gobo to separate them. A lot of the cymbal bleeding is fine because it just adds a kind of warm, beautiful character coming in.”
This being the first STP album recorded straight to Pro Tools instead of tape, the band used low-end- boosting microphones like Shure SM57s and Royer R-122s to smooth out those higher frequencies Pro Tools captures in full.
“What you notice is that when a lot of people are mixing down here they’re taking a low-pass filter and dropping off 10k, 12k, just because we’re hearing so much of it, and it’s so bright and obnoxious and brittle. So you may as well just start with the microphones.”
The band stayed on point with the help of engineers Russ Fowler and Bill Appleberry, as well as producer Don Was, who Kretz says acted mainly as the mediator between the band and Scott Weiland on account of their “lack of communication at that time. And that’s a nice way to put it.” [laughs]
But everything came together when the band, Weiland, and Was got together at Bomb Shelter last spring to record the songs live for the first time. “They translated very very well live to what was going to go down on the record,” Kretz says, which, technical details aside, is the best thing you can say about a good studio experience. “We had so much fun. Not really concerned with the performance, and just kind of going for the moment.”
What modern recording studio would be complete without a Victorian-era fainting couch? Those with a sturdier constitution can rock out in the iso booth or simply gawk at Kretz’ handiwork.
The bachelor-pad atmosphere does wonders for the creative spirit. A comfortable, happy band is a productive band. It worked for STP anyway. Kretz, along with brothers Robert and Dean DeLeo, spent three productive weeks here in February 2009, before Scott Weiland joined them for a final live run-through. They walked out with a new album and a new sense of purpose as a band.