Prairie Sun News
- Autumnal Anecdotes -
December 2008 - Vol 3, Issue 3
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Winter is slowly creeping in on Sonoma County, and with the chill and the wet weather things are turning green again. We apologize for our lateness in turning out this issue of the newsletter, but to make it up to you we are pleased to announce the return of the Winter Special! Check the link for the details on this season's offer, and continue reading for the session news:

Over the years one of our great privileges at Prairie Sun has been to welcome the diverse array of international artists who have come from all over the world to work at our studios. We've been lucky enough to be in a position that's made us uniquely suited to serve such clients, with on-site lodging, a complete compliment of vintage instruments, and the facilities to take a project from basic tracking to mastering.

One of our international clients this fall was French group Babx, who came to Prairie Sun to mix their new record with renowned engineer Oz Fritz in Studio A. Featuring an eclectic array of arrangements, insane track counts, and unique sonic textures, Babx's mix made good use of Studio A's and Oz's mixing resources. A month earlier, Oz was also in Studio A with an international artist, this time mixing the band Cloudmachine, who hail from the Netherlands.
Rounding out this season's compliment of international sessions was a unique project featuring our friend Chris Duarte. Regular readers of the Prairie Sun Newsletter will recognize Chris as an artist on the Shrapnel Label Group's Blues Bureau Records label, who recorded his albums "Vantage Point" and "Blue Velocity" at Prairie Sun in 2008 and 2007, respectively. This time around, Chris brought in Japanese band Bluestone Company, who stayed on the farm while recording tracks in Studio C and mixing in Studio A with producer Mike Varney and engineers Jason D'Ottavio and Mark "Mooka" Rennick. Featuring Chris's vocals and guitar leads traded between Chris and Bluestone guitarist Toshihiro Sumitomo, the record was mastered by Tim Gennert for Eugene Productions.
Americana/country singer/songwriter Natasha James returned to Prairie Sun's Studio B this fall to record basic tracks for her new full-length record with producer/engineer/drummer Ronnie Rivera and staff engineer Matt Wright. Natasha spent a week here with her regular band laying the foundation for her new record, and she and Ronnie are currently hard at work on the overdubs. They will return to Prairie Sun's Studio A very soon for the final mix.

Also visiting Studio B this fall was San Francisco-based artist Johnny Boyd, mixing his latest solo record with engineer Jim Monroe manning the Neve. Having had some success in the late `90's as frontman of the band Indigo Swing, Johnny is now hard at work finishing this, his third solo record, which runs the gamut from some classic swing numbers to more contemporary original songs done with a vintage flair. In keeping with the vintage theme, Jim made use of some of our vintage effects, including an EMT plate reverb and Fulltone Tube Tape Echo.

In September, Howlin Rain and Comets On Fire founding member Ethan Miller returned to Prairie Sun's Studio C to produce the last three songs for singer/songwriter Tamerlane Phillips' debut record. Joining Ethan in the backup band were Howlin Rain alumni Eli Eckert on bass and various guitars, Joel Robinow on keys and Raj Ojha on drums, with engineer Tim Green manning the Neve and Studer. Following an M. O. that Ethan and Tim had previously exploited with both Comets On Fire and Howlin Rain tracking sessions, the band tracked drums, bass, guitar, and keys live in the Waits Room to 2" tape. Tamerlane, son of Papa John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, is currently finishing up his album for release on Birdman Records in 2009.

Visiting Prairie Sun for the first time this summer was California rock/reggae band Top Shelf, working on their new album "Time To Wake." Top Shelf started out in Studio B, tracking to 2" tape with Prairie Sun alumnus engineer Gene Cornelius. A confessed analog addict, Gene synced the Pro Tools system in B to our Studer A827, dumping tracks to Pro Tools as he worked so that every last overdub could be tracked to tape before entering the digital realm. When the tracks were finished, Top Shelf moved to Studio A to mix with Oz Fritz. The album was mastered by Maor Appelbaum, and the entire project was overseen and guided by Mark "Mooka" Rennick.

Another mix project in Studio A this summer was that for a live recording of the American Festivals Oratorio composed by Dr. Nolan Gasser and with text by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The live recording of the July 4th performance by the Napa Valley Symphony was engineered and mixed by Mark "Mooka" Rennick and Matt Wright for Eugene Productions, using the company's new Digidesign Profile in conjunction with Pro Tools HD and a RADAR 24 multitrack. The resulting mixes were then mastered by Tim Gennert, also for Eugene Productions.
Cranking it up in Studio C this fall was metal band Cheap Evil, recording tracks with staff engineer, and unrepentant metalhead, Jason D'Ottavio. Another analog/Pro Tools hybrid session, Jason shuttled tracks between Pro Tools and our Studio A820 2" machine, and worked with Cheap Evil guitarist Greg Reiter in seeking the most heavy of guitar tones. Drum tracking in the Prairie Room was also of course in order, and what metal epic could be complete without string overdubs!

The other session news in brief:
  • Another session upping the volume level in Studio C in recent months was that for Serenity Now! who tracked their new record to 2" tape with engineer Colin Gradek.
  • Rounding out the high-SPL level sessions was that for local band Fear the Fiasco, who won their studio time at Prairie Sun via our sponsorship of a contest on KXFX 101.7's North Bay Underground program. By being the most-requested local band on North Bay Underground in a six-week period, Fear the Fiasco was able to track in Studio B with engineer Jason D'Ottavio.
  • Another first-time client this summer was country/blues artist Camille Harp, who mixed her record in Studio B with producer/engineer (and Prairie Sun veteran) Wes Sharon and Prairie Sun staff engineer Timin Murray.
  • We were happy to welcome back to Prairie Sun bands Vin Rouge and La Fin du Monde, who each spent a weekend tracking new material. Vin Rouge worked in Studio B with band member Adam McKibben and staff engineer Adam Weiss; La Fin du Monde worked in Studio C with staff engineer Wain Hewlett.
  • Staff engineer Matt Wright spent time this season recording rockabilly group 1/4 Mile Combo, tracking vocals with R&B singer James Elizabeth, mixing the new album for The Cannery, and engineering a live recording for singer Bebe Neuwirth.

Prairie Sun Manufacturer Profile: Dunlop Manufacturing; K & M Analog Designs

While I am sure we will to return to introducing our staff and extended producing/engineering family in future issues of the newsletter, I also would like to use this space on occasion to introduce some of the manufacturers with whom we work directly in order to bring our clients the gear, instruments, and accessories that make Prairie Sun an exciting place to make a record. So for this issue I'll tell you about two such companies located right in our neck of the woods.

In recent years I've had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jim Dunlop, and through him starting a relationship with his company Dunlop Manufacturing. If you're a guitarist, you've probably seen or used their products before! Jim is a friend and an avid reader of the Prairie Sun Newsletter, and thanks to him we not only have a number of Dunlop effects pedals on hand, but also had the privilege of trying out his electric and acoustic guitar strings as he moved into the string manufacturing business, and we now use them extensively on our rather large instrument collection. In fact, some of my engineers became such fans of his electric guitar strings that at first I had trouble keeping a supply on hand!

I've known Bill Krinard of K & M Analog Designs for a number of years now, but it has only been relatively recently that I first got to use one of his Two-Rock guitar amplifiers, and let me tell you, that was a revelatory experience! As mentioned in our Dec `06 newsletter, we are proud to own a Two-Rock Custom Reverb Signature Version 2, hand-built for us by Bill, but that doesn't begin to cover everything that Bill does for us and our clients. Bill of course is an excellent amp tech, and has taken a number of my vintage amp finds and brought out their best, and he has supplied us with NOS vintage tubes not only for guitar amplifiers but for our tube mics as well. On top of all that, as mentioned in the Dec `06 issue, we and our clients also have the privilege of beta-testing various Two-Rock amplifiers, as was the case on both of this year's Chris Duarte sessions. As Chris (pictured) laid down his guitar overdubs Bill brought by various amps that he felt would suit Chris's sound and style, including amps that were on their way to Bill's well-known endorsers like John Mayer.

Mooka's Notes:

As usual, I have made a couple of gear purchases recently that I'm just dying to talk about. One was an item I had been waiting patiently on for quite a while: a vintage Vox AC-30 with Top Boost. This amp was just shown the love from top to bottom and brought up to spec, and because of the legendary Vox volatility is available by special request only. The other item was purchased as part of my dangerous tendency [dangerous only in the way that desserts are dangerous;-)] to go after the Belle of the AES convention: the Bricasti M7 digital reverb. In an era where software plugins and convolution reverbs seem to have long since stolen the algorithm-based hardware reverb's thunder, this little single-rackspace unit has been making a lot of noise (only figuratively, of course!) with it's decidedly "non-digital reverb" sound, and is now doing so in Prairie Sun's Studio A. Last but not least, I have made yet another step towards guitar nirvana by rounding out my vintage Gibson acoustic collection with a `60's J-200, which joins our Dove, J-50, and 1936 Jumbo. The J-200 is currently in the hands of master luthier Tom Cerletti.

I'd like to wish you all a happy holiday season, and I leave you with some words of wisdom from the late Joe Strummer, which I discovered in the documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. In the middle of an extended rant, Strummer cautions us on getting lost in the trees when obsessing over our records, when things get so crazy "you overdub the sound of ants biting through a wooden beam." ;-)


Mark "Mooka" Rennick
Prairie Sun Recording

phone: (707) 795-7011


P.O. Box 7084 
Cotati, CA  94931
tel: 707-795-7011
fax: 707-795-1259