One of the indicators that San Diego has arrived as a music town is, obviously, the sheer number of musicians taking local stages. But perhaps the biggest sign that things are going well is in the surrounding business that have sprung up to cater to musicians’ needs. From instrument repair to labels, music schools to music stores and more. San Diego includes names like Taylor, Deering, Carvin, and Sony. San Diego has an amazing infrastructure for musicians, an embarrassment of riches. And that’s especially true when it comes to recording studios. There are many great locations, each with their own sound, each world class. But even taking those things into consideration there is something special about Santee-based Analog Chew.
The room was built in 1979 by engineer David Gold, famed for his work at the legendary Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Originally dubbed Natural Sound, over the years it has also traded under the name’s Strate Sound and Secret Cedar Studios. Jerry Sisti, who also owns an advertising firm, acquired the studio in May 2012, rechristening it Analog Chew, though it was another six months of upgrading before he got the location up and running. According to Sisti, it’s the culmination of a lifelong dream. “It started with the Beatles,” he explained. “I’d see promo films of them in the studio, on Ed Sullivan or the Smothers Brothers Show, recording and performing “Hey Bulldog” and “Let It Be,” etc. I’d be transfixed seeing all those microphones, them wearing headphones – actually recording their songs – it took my breath away. And likewise on TV – whatever the band–when they’d cut to a shot of a control room and a console with all those knobs and sliders, I’d get a huge endorphin rush.” He points out that back then there were no VCRs so it was a rarified experience. “That added to the mystique I suppose,” he said. “Later, I’d see studio shots say in Creem magazine or Circus and it just transported me. Every now and then, between the ages of 10 and 18, my Mom would ask, “If you could do anything you wanted – anything at all – what would it be?” “I’d have my own recording studio,” I’d answer. Of course, it was an elusive dream then, because of the expense involved, it seemed unattainable.”
As thrilled as Sisti is to be owner of a world class studio, he’s also happy to be working closely with producer/engineer Alan Sanderson, who originally ran Strate Sound. “We have a strategic alliance,” he said. “Alan feels it’s the best sounding studio in San Diego. I think Alan is the best engineer/producer in San Diego. He prefers to record and mix there rather than other places and I prefer to have him manning the helm. So we work together to attract talent and give them sound deals – pardon the pun – on recording, mixing, and mastering for their projects.”
He relates an anecdote that shows this is a team that was meant to be. “Back in ’96, upon hearing Fiona Apple’s Criminal and Shadow Boxer, I remember immediately running out and buying Tidal not only for the tunes, but expressly for the sonics – the sound floored me,” Sisti recalled. “Just a couple of months ago, I learned from Alan that he recorded the initial demo sessions, which ended up on the record. It was one of the rare occasions I immediately bought a record because of its sound. And I work with this cat now.”
With Sanderson at the helm the studio was previously the location for recording “The Pyles Sessions,” an FM94/9 radio segment hosted by Tim Pyles, with notables including Switchfoot, Death Cab for Cutie, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Silversun Pickups, the Hold Steady, Franz Ferdinand, Swing Kids, Bloc Party, Cage the Elephant, Eagles of Death Metal, and the Manchester Orchestra. Sanderson also recorded a Keith Richards / Toots Hibbert session in this room. In the year since Sisti opened Analog Chew the likes of Colin Clyne, Sister Speak, the Mighty Untouchables, When Whales Collide, Tokeli, and Tim Foley are among those who have recorded there.
With the studio now open for a year, he’s clear on his favorite part of the process. “I really like seeing how much people enjoy hanging there and feeling at home as they work, but the best part is listening to a finished, or near finished, recording and thinking, wow – that sounds like a REAL record – WE did that! There’s a naiveté – it’s that innocent, really,” he said.
Jerry Sisti’s Favorite Artists of All Time: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, the Who, Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Neil Young, King Crimson, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, Sex Pistols, XTC, Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, Cheap Trick, Nirvana, Pixies, Frank Black, the Breeders, George Gershwin, Franz Liszt, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Sloan, Wilco, Dandy Warhols, and Spoon
Breakup Society – So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time (Get Hip Records 1163)
I love these guys. Quirky powerpop with acoustic tendencies and a Costello-esque delivery, each successive album builds on the previous. With this latest release they’ve done it again. The albums full of great tunes – you can tell by the titles: “She’s Waiting For The Bubble To Burst,” “The Way We Weren’t”* and so on, give the idea. “Eighth Circle of Hell” is a great shout a long rocker , with lyrical twist that might make it a novelty song , but the quality of the track keeps things under control. John Lennon seems to be a major inspiration on “Mary Shelley” with chiming chords adding subtlety amongst the bombast. The album closes strong with psyche rocker “She Doesn’t Cross Against the Light,” but this is a really good album, worthy of a listen anywhere you care to place the needle.
Produced by Bob Hoag. Executive Producer John Fredland. www.gethip.com
The Cynz – Five Mortal Cynz (self released)
Fronted by singer Cyndi Dawson, this EP is basic but a lot of fun. Hard rock with a pop edge, Dawson’s vocals are solid, the Cynz sounding somewhere between Jim Carroll and the Runaways. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re darn good – the tension build up at 1:59 on “Rather Be Me” is a nice example. The disc opens strong, with the storming “Leave Me Alone,” and doesn’t let up. Probably a great band to catch on a Saturday night at your favorite local bar, this is a set of music meant to be played loud. Five Mortal Cynz serve the purpose of the EP well – the five tracks here make me want to hear more. Track three “Blame It on a Kiss” is a co-write with Gary Heffern, best known as front man with the Penetrators. Produced by Cyndi Dawson and Henry Seiz . www.reverbnation.com/thecynz
Dot Dash – Half Remembered Dream (The Beautiful Music)
Classic punk and powerpop – not the watered down cookie cutter Green Day stuff, but sounds from the days when Wire, Tthe Records, Buzzcocks , the Jam, and others were stalking club land. This is like finding a box of previously unknown singles from the era and they’re all great. Current favorite is riff started “Broken Halo,” with a touch of Weller in the bridges, but this is a tough call, there’s a lot of good stuff here – if you are a fan of this type of music, and you’re looking for new tunes, then this album needs to be in your collection. Most of the ten songs here are uptempo, but some head into overdrive, notably “A Light in the Distance,” which ups the aggression a couple of notches. Sonics match the tunes and yes, it’s Bill Crandall, formerly of Modest Proposal on guitar. Definitely in my top 5 this year. Produced by Branden Funkhouser at Lord Baltimore Studios. www.thebeautifulmusic.com
Greg Friedman – Can’t Talk Now (Populuxe)
San Diego music fans, you need this. Just by existing it’s a major rock history footnote. The fact that it’s an excellently crafted collection of tunes is almost a bonus. Greg Friedman should need no introduction, but we can say he’s probably best known as a member of The Truckee Brothers. Footnote bit comes from the cover design, one of the last works by LEGENDARY graphic designer Storm Thorgenson, with a classic pun on the title visual for Can’t Talk Now. World class. The music is up to the association. Opening strong with a storming powerpop rocker, “Melancholy Melody,” the album wanders around a bit stylistically, the connective item being the strong material written by Friedman and fellow Truckee Brother Christopher Hoffee. Case in point is track two, “Hear the Sound,” a ballad with harmony vocal from Jane Lui, which is followed by the albums’ catchiest track, funky keyboard work out “Best I Can Do,” which sounds like a cross between early Prince and Queen. This is followed by “Zombies and Cannibals” which kicks off as classic horn driven ska, before heading into indie pop, complete with xylophone. Thing is, all of this doesn’t come off as gimmicky or over blown, it’s just what each song needs not a speck more. There’s a mix of light and heavy, intricate and rockin’ – a refreshing variety within the confines of a single listen. Powerpop fanatics ala Jellyfish, Rundgren, Ben Folds and so on won’t want to miss “Sunshine,” while the other single on the album is probably “I’ll Be There” which is clearly inspired by the atmospheric British rock of the 1980’s. Opening with a twangy guitar and Lui’s vocals as a sort of counter melody, the tune suddenly explodes with a ringing guitar hook, a superb use of the loud/quiet motif. A few tracks here –“Pancake, I Love You,” and “Wake Up” are okay, acoustic tracks that would be considered top flight amongst other artists, but aren’t quite up the level of a beautiful track like “You’ll Never Know,” a dreamy ballad culled from the same sentimental singer-songwriter material as Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot. The album has twelve tracks, but to me it sounds like it ends with track eleven, “Jago” a Beatle-esque swirl of sound that builds from droning tamboura and acoustic guitar to a kaleidoscope explosion of sound and melody. So that makes “Stories I’ve Told,” a worthy coda and a neat lyrical way to wrap up the album. Radio ready, this is a superb album that deserves a wider hearing – and looks great. Produced by Christopher Hoffee and Greg Friedman at Chaos Recorders, San Diego, CA. www.gregfriedmanmusic.com
Alison Marae – My Heart Can’t Take It
Modern day music that harkens back to yesteryear, circa the 1920’s through the late 1950’s, jazzy as well as beautifully played and sung. Centered around Marae’s close mic’d voice and ukulele, the six track disc opens with a terrific cover of “All of Me,” perhaps the “Johnny B Goode” of its genre, but she does a great job with the song. Musicianship is superb across the board, with an impressive backing cast that includes guitarist Wil Forbis and pianist Sky Ladd, but it’s Marae’s voice that is the star attraction here. There is a melancholy air to the material here, with the title track in particular approaching torch song territory despite some cool tempo changes that really show off Ladd’s chops. Obviously anyone who enjoys music from the above mentioned era’s will appreciate what’s on offer here, but singer/songwriter, jazz and pop fans will also find a lot to like on this brief disc. Produced by Alison Marae at Archival Sound www.alisonmarae.com
The NFormals / (self titled) (self released)
The Nformals? Equal parts guitar riffed garage punk, explosive indie rock and adrenaline charged power pop, how could you go wrong? The album kicks off strong with “On Me,” but for my money the album kicks into gear with the second song, “Lucky,” a blues and soul tinged rocker that seems to have a bit of Wilko Johnson influence amongst the jagged chording. Another favorite and the albums clear single, is “Intro” which kind of reminds me of a muscular XTC. I use those other groups as reference, but this trio has a solid sound all their own, wonderfully captured by producer Mike Kamoo. All ten songs on this disc bear repeated listens – which is only natural, when you consider the pedigree of this group – frontman Josh Kmak is from one of San Diego’s first families of music, while drummer Cameron Sisti’s family includes a prominent local studio owner. This is a strong debut full of youthful energy with short ,sharp, bursts of melody. Turn it up loud! Produced by the Nformals, engineered and mastered by Mike Kamoo at Earthling Studios, El Cajon, CA. www.thenformals.com
Tolan Shaw / Tolan Shaw (self-released)
If you’ve only heard Tolan Shaw in solo mode, be prepared, this is an all together different trip. A fully realized band affair, complete with New Orleans brass, backing chorus and Hammond organ, it’s soulful stuff, not far off Winwood and other roots oriented rockers. Shaw does a great job here with numerous superbly arranged tracks, such as the bluesy saxophone led track, “Yellow Brick” – indeed it and much of the material here sound like standards. The single on this disc is easily “Why Me?,” a funky workout that’s reminiscent of mid period Boz Scaggs, with soulful, wailing backing vocals – but this is a solid collection of tunes. There is little here that might be called uptempo, but if you’re looking for an album full of songs that touch on the heart, the soul and the human condition, then Shaw’s work is something you’re going to want to hear. Produced by Jeff Berkley at Berkley Sound, San Diego, CA
Speakeasy / Trouble (Twist Records 35)
A quartet sporting familiar names, at least to any powerpop or seventies mod revival fans. Featuring guitarist’s Mark Le Gallez (The Risk) and Simon Stebbing (The Purple Hearts), as well as drummer Brett Ascot (The Chords) and bassist Ian Jones (Long Tall Shorty), the band excels at bluesy, mod rock ala the Who or Small Faces. The album opens strong. One of the best tracks, “Trouble,” kicks things off – the tune echoes Who’s Next era Townshend down to synth blasts, but manages to maintain its own identity. My personal favorite is moody, minor key rocker “You Say,” but the twelve songs here are all well worth checking out. “She’s Got It All (Going On)” is a potential single, full of the sort of energy last heard on crucial singles issued in Britain from 1977 to 1979. Meanwhile, “Inspiration,” comes across like a late period acoustic guitar backed Small Faces cut and “Before The Night” is classic garage rock, down to Le Gallez “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” exultation. If you were a fan of any of their previous groups, acquire this disc without hesitation, while anyone interested in modern indie sixties/seventies inspired rock will also find this disc right up their alley.
Produced by Mark Le Gallez and Simon Stebbing at Gizzard Analogue Studios . www.facebook.com/pages/Speakeasy/272620632843752
Alice Wallace – A Thousand Miles From Home (self released)
A collection of country and Americana tinged tunes, A Thousand Miles from Home is a good showcase for Wallace’s music, spotlighting her strong, passionate vocals and range in songwriting. All tunes are penned by Wallace with the bluesy “Even LA” a highlight, similar in style to Alana Myles. It’s notable that with the exception of folk stomper, “Oh So Sweet,” most of the album rarely rises above mid tempo, but those looking for a good listening experience will enjoy this well produced disc. At times, such as “A Simple Song,” there is a touch of classic Linda Rondstadt in her arrangements. Produced by Jon O’Brien at the Music Box Studios, Tustin, CA. www.alicewallace.com
Various Artists – Songs in the Key of Paul – (Mojo Magazine)
Look high, look low, look everywhere you go*, but grab a copy of Mojo #240, with its great free CD, Songs in the Key of Paul. It’s a great collection of McCartney influenced music, with artists including Robyn Hitchcock (a cover of “Let Me Roll It”, Redd Kross (“Hazel Eyes”), Flamin’ Groovies (“Shake Some Action”!!), The Nerves (“When You Find Out”!!!), Squeeze (“Pulling Mussels From A Shell”) , Cotton Mather (“Lily Dreams On”) and nine more. This is a solid listen with a good mix of the well known and new-ish to average ears. All that and the second best music mag in the world (after Ugly Things of course). Essential.
*my apologies for this Ram joke:-)This issue should be easy enough to find on Amazon or Ebay.