The members of So Cal’s Allah-Las share an affinity for ’60s punk, and vintage British pop and rock ’n’ roll. “But we always are into the slow, moody ballad on the record in the midst of all these fast garage-punk songs,” says lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian.
The band found a kindred spirit in musician/engineer/producer Kyle Mullarky, who owns and operates The Pump House Studios in Topanga Canyon. The Allah-Las spent the better part of a year there, capturing demos for the band’s new album, Calico Review, as well as tracks for a couple of film projects.
Calico Review The Pump House is equipped with Pro Tools and three Tascam tape machines: MSR16, 388, and 38. During the demo process, Mullarky says, the group experimented not only with songs and arrangements, but also with sonics on the recording side, before nailing down the album tracks in Valentine Studios (L.A.), a historic two-studio facility with an unusual story:
“It was started around 1945 by Jim Valentine; he mostly recorded jazz and big bands,” explains Siadatian. “But once rock ‘n’ roll got big, he lost interest in recording and became more interested in restoring these very niche automobiles called Nash Metropolitans. He built a shop next door and started using the studio to store spare parts.”
After being closed for 30-plus years, the studios–including vintage tape machines, microphones, and 1960s UA 610 and MCA 416 consoles—were restored by Valentine’s grandchildren, who intended to put everything up for sale. However, the studio market being what it is, a sale didn’t happen and Valentine’s heirs re-opened for business instead, with help from producer Nic Jodoin.
For a band with retro-leanings like the Allah-Las, Valentine’s historic studios offered a rare opportunity: “We tracked live in Studio A, which has the same basic specs as Studio A at Capitol: same type of giant echo chambers; we had a C37 miking that,” says Mullarky. “And we’d have Pedrum in a side room with his amp, bass on the other side of the room with baffles, and maybe an acoustic guitar in a little booth that we created with panels—kind old Abbey Road-style.”
Kyle Mullarky at work in Valentine Recording Studios Mullarky captured the sessions to the studio’s MCI JH114 and Stephens 811C tape machines. Siadatian’s guitar was miked with an Electro-Voice 666 blended with an RCA 44. On drums, Mullarky placed an AKG B12VR on kick, a Sony C37A for sidefill, and an EV RE50 overhead. “That’s like a modern-day radio mic,” Mullarky says. “It had a nice punch to it, and it rose up to the mix really well because it had such a different sound from the other mics.
“On bass, we had an EV RE20 paired with a [Placid Audio] Copper-phone, and that was also a cool blend. Since we were tracking everything to 16-track, we had to blend a lot to make it work. Every pair of mics where we doubled up on an amp or an instrument were blended.”
All of the Allah-Las sing, and their vocals were overdubbed in Studio B, via the the UA 610, a Cinema 7080 graphic EQ, UA 175 compressor, and finally the Stephens tape machine.
“It was a great experience, being able almost to go back in time,” Mullarky says. “There’s no computers in the studio. It’s like that technology is not even there. It feels like the real recording experience that you always wished you could have. And I think it brought out more from everybody. Everyone felt like they had to step it up and get it right.”