Lee Townsend: Creative Music from the other side of the Glass
In New York, I record and mix a lot at Avatar - formerly Power Station. The place has a lot of history and three wonderfully designed recording rooms with a lot of flexibility in terms of setting up a nice environment for musicians to play in. I also have had good experiences mixing at River Sound and Shelter Island.
In Los Angeles, Oh Henry is simply world class in every way. Hank Sanicola is another studio owner that has really put his heart and soul into his place. He has pretty much created an ideal place to work.
More important than the studios even are the engineers that I work with on an ongoing basis - Joe Ferla from New York, Judy Clapp from L.A. and up until a couple of years ago, Christian Jones here in San Francisco, who left engineering to become one of those blasted dot.commers. In the past year, I have started working more with Adam Mu'oz here in town. I must say that I have learned so much from these people.
For mastering, I work almost exclusively with Greg Calbi and have for at least twelve years now. He is simply the man as far as knowing how to sort out whatever sonic problems I may bring in. His new studio at Sterling Sound is, in my experience, the ultimate place to hear music. It's really astonishing.
AAJ: What is your basic philosophy of what you do?
LT: I have felt in my life the transformative power of recorded music for many years now. When I hear a Handel or Bach piano sonata performed and recorded sensitively or certain recordings of Robert Johnson, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Aaron Copland's music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Frisell, Marley, Caetano Veloso, Peter Gabriel, Shweta Jhaveri or so many others, I feel that it changes me and challenges me to be a better person. So basically I am just trying to honor that feeling and make a small contribution to that legacy by making other contemporary musical resources available to the listening public. In the right situation, someone can get a pretty potent piece of art for fifteen bucks. In that sense, we are working in a pretty populist medium.
I am still looking for ways to sculpt sound and serve music in a way that displays the most depth, dimension and texture, revealing its inherent capacity for mystery, sonic richness and new discoveries upon repeated listenings. I like to think of a mix as a sound sculpture that the listener can walk around in with a sense of wonder, examining and touching all the facets of the music from different perspectives. As with the painters and sculptors whose work moves me the most, it is also an attempt to achieve a blend of the elements of nature, humanity and technology to create, in this case, a listening experience that is somehow illuminating. It is always approaching an ideal that I can never quite reach, which I hope is a good enough reason to keep doing it.
AAJ: Can you discuss the current projects you're working on?
LT: Most recently, Bill and I just finished all of the guitar overdubs to orchestrate the trio recording we did with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones last year. Needless to say, that was a thrill. Those guys are nothing less than musical heroes. It will come out on Nonesuch in the fall.
I also recently finished the upcoming Vinicius Cantuaria album. He's a great songwriter, a beautiful singer, a fine guitarist and an amazing percussionist from Brazil who is one of the most brilliant under-discovered musicians I have ever come into contact with. I hope this record will help change that. It is coming out on Transparent Music in March. The album has a number of high-profile guests such as Caetano Veloso, Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Joey Baron, Marc Ribot, Marc Johnson and David Byrne.
I am also just finishing the new CD from the San Francisco rock band Laughing Stock. The group performs the songs of singer Alex Nahas, who plays Chapman stick with the intriguing instumentation of Hammond B3, celeste, melodica and thereman, drums, percussion and a string section of violin and cello. So it's a pretty rich set of sonic textures. I like them a lot and I think the record is turning out to be very strong.
Last but not least, Bill and I are in the middle of working on a recording with his band called "The Willies" featuring Danny Barnes on banjo and guitar and Keith Lowe on bass. It's Bill's take on old bluegrass, country and blues songs, as well as material that he writes sort of in the indigenous vein. It will also be a Nonesuch record, but I'm not sure yet when it will be released.
More info on Lee and Songtone's artists and projects can be found at: Songline/Tonefield Productions