In The Studio With Eric Kretz Of STP

Eric Kretz

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.”

Eric Kretz Studio

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.

Eric Kretz Studio Eric Kretz Studio

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.

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Originally quoted $75,000 just to float the floors in the control room, Kretz opted instead to do most of the work himself. “The music industry is going in a whole different direction,” he says. The Fleetwood Macs aren’t out there anymore, who come in for a year and a half and pay full rate. A lot of the time now mixers and engineers are coming in and recording drums, bass, and guitars for a week or two, and then they go to their house and finish up vocals and mix there, and if there budget affords it they come to his studio to mix because the SSL board is so great.”

Eric Kretz Studio

The vocal booth is decked out in overtone-squashing crinkled red-velvet wall covering. The ceiling offers an unobstructed view of the industrial-chic duct work through transparent panels consisting of two pieces of screen set at opposing angles. The design has acoustic value, but Kretz mostly likes how the screens produce a psychedelic wood-grain pattern that shifts with the light.

Eric Kretz Studio

The drum riser ensconced by Kretz’ enormous mobile gobos.“You have to tune the room in that you want enough reflection, but not so that it’s overkill,” Kretz says. It helps that the natrually porous brick walls already absorb some stray reflections.

Eric Kretz Studio

This vintage EQ/preamp was built in 1969 for the BBC in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It gets used on every record,” Kretz says. “Usually your drums go through this. It’s such a fat sound. The older stuff just has a bit of dirt to it that really adds a lot of character.”

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A Hammond B3 organ that once belonged to Eddie Harsch of The Black Crowes sits in front of the percussion rack and to the right of the drum riser. Directly in front of the organ, hidden from view, is a resident grand piano.

Eric Kretz Studio

The percussion corner. “Most of this stuff comes from the different tours that we’ve done,” Kretz says. “All I can kind of do is take one point of one percent of what [world percussionists] do and kind of interpret it into a bastardized rock and roll interpretation.”