Restless in Seattle

Inspired by British Invasion artists, Chris von Sneidern's power-pop music invites comparisons with Badfinger, Big Star, and even the Beatles. Von Sneidern's

Chris von Sneidern

Inspired by British Invasion artists, Chris von Sneidern's power-pop music invites comparisons with Badfinger, Big Star, and even the Beatles. Von Sneidern's songs are notable for their heart-tugging verses, winsome melodies, and soulful vocals. Since 1993, von Sneidern — CvS for short — has self-produced his solo albums by playing nearly every instrument and singing all vocal parts himself. However, for his ninth solo release, California Redemption Value (Mastromonia Records, 2006), circumstances required him to develop a different approach.

Von Sneidern started operating his studio, the Ordophon, in his former San Francisco apartment in 1992. In 1999, he moved his equipment into the city's Hyde Street Studios, setting up shop in Studio E. A few years ago, he gave up Studio E and moved his essential gear into a 7 × 15-foot isolation booth. He was without a living space and, accepting an invitation from a friend, moved to Seattle, where he began writing his new album.

Von Sneidern composed nearly 30 songs while traveling between Seattle and San Francisco, where he spent about a week each month working as a session musician and an engineer. “I would come to San Francisco with three to six songs written and get basic drum tracks or bass overdubs recorded,” he says. “Then I'd go back to Seattle and almost finish them.”

California Redemption Value

Drummer Derek Ritchie recorded his parts for several songs during a three-hour session in Studio E. Von Sneidern miked the drums with Shure SM57s, SM58s, and AKG C 12s, tracking them onto 24 tracks on an Alesis ADAT. In addition, he taped a PZM mic to the wall behind Ritchie, just beneath Ritchie's seat, to give the drums more bottom end. For “Symphony of Love,” von Sneidern tracked guitar, keyboard, and vocal parts in his basement in Seattle, which he treated with acoustic foam and blankets to tone down the reflective nature of the wood paneling. His vocal chain started with an AKG C 12 that he ran through a Neve V72 mic preamp and a UREI LA-4 compressor/limiter.

Von Sneidern recorded additional overdubs onto ADATs with bassist Rob Douglas and keyboardists-pianists Khoi Huynh and Christie Winn, using “any quiet space” he could find at Hyde Street — an available studio, the hallways, the kitchen, or the bathroom — as well as his reduced recording space, which he nicknamed “the Study.” “It isn't big enough to be called a studio, and calling it a closet is bad for business,” von Sneidern says. He also assembled a portable rig stocked with the V72, LA-4, a 1970s Maestro Echoplex, and Siemens, Audix, and Grace preamps.

Toward the end of the album's production, von Sneidern switched from ADATs to a PC running Steinberg Nuendo 3.0. After transferring his existing tracks into Nuendo, he took his laptop to Tacoma, Washington, to record keyboardist and vocalist Gavin Guss in Guss's personal studio, and to vocalist Rachel Flotard's house to record backing parts. For an artist who often works alone, the collaboration was a welcome change. “With this record I thought, ‘I don't need to hear the sound of my voice 15 times,’” von Sneidern says. “So now I bring in people to do backup vocals. But I still write all the parts.”

Von Sneidern, who has fully relocated to San Francisco, edited most of the album in the Study and mixed it in Hyde Street's Studio A, using its automated Neve 8048 console. “It's like watching a movie in the theater versus watching TV,” von Sneidern says of mixing on a high-end console rather than on a computer. “It makes all the difference.”

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