(artlicle appears in Jump Philly, at https://jumpphilly.com/2016/08/03/headroom-studio/)
The Headroom Studio: Music Mentors.AUGUST 3, 2016
Kyle Pulley sits at the console in The Headroom Studio, his head flanked by speakers resting underneath two new plants that he’s quick to point out upon entering his workspace.
One hears lots of loud, fast clicks as Pulley expertly isolates instrument or vocal tracks, playing with the volume in the mix or fixing some end of a musical phrase. As the gears in his head turn, he’s seemingly unaware of a few mutters of “that sounds weird” and “hmmm” that he lets slip out.
Pulley has been focusing on this one track for the past six hours. It’s for the upcoming LP of Jersey-based rock band Pine Barons on which Pulley has been working on and off for months. He’s been at it for slightly less time today than the band. After playing a show at The Foundry the night before, they returned to the studio to work and ended up sleeping over.
Working hard and with what time and resources you have has been a mantra of The Headroom since the time Pulley and partner Joe Reinhart started in Big Mama’s Warehouse, a space where they lived and worked recording bands with a few mics and a laptop and sometimes for the payment of $20 and a case of beer.
“We knew a bunch of people who were willing to live like crazy people,” Pulley says. “It was a great space to start, because you could take a lot of risk on bands and work for no money for something you really believed in.”
Pulley and Reinhart moved their studio work into the current space on Coral Street in Kensington in July of 2014 and are now a go-to team for dozens of local bands for a quality recording experience, as well as sought after by out-of-town acts searching for the same thing. Reinhart says he believes they’re valued because of the input they provide during the recording process and the fact that they enjoy being as creatively involved as possible or required.
“We know where bands are coming from; we’ve been in bands our whole lives,” he says by phone while on tour with Hop Along, for which he plays guitar.
Reinhart says this experience in bands also means he and Pulley understand not having a ton of money to record. That’s why they try to keep prices reasonable, bridging the gap between expensive studios and bedroom recording.
“We talk about raising our rates but always come to the conclusion that, right now, we’d still rather be affordable for younger bands and bands who are still starting out,” Pulley says. “I’d rather work on a cool record for less money any day.”
There are plenty of cool bands coming into Headroom and cool records coming out. From well-known local acts like Lithuania and Modern Baseball, to out-of-towners like Joyce Manor, Headroom is gaining ground by word of mouth.
Zoë Allaire Reynolds, vocalist of buzzworthy indie folk band Kississippi, says the band decided to record with Pulley as fans of his current band Thin Lips and previous band Dangerous Ponies, as well as having heard about good experiences from multiple peers.
“Kyle had a hand in motivation and gave us a friendly push to take risks,” she says. “Through this, I discovered things I didn’t know I could do with my voice before. It definitely paid off in the end, not only on the recordings, but at shows, too.”
Pulley and Reinhart are understandably happy with Headroom’s headway. They both admit it’s hard to be so active in the studio and on the road with their respective bands. There have even been instances when Pulley or Reinhart have started a project but a tour opportunity popped up and the other person had to step in to see it through.
“It’s a lot because the people in your band are counting on you,” Reinhart says. “That’s something they take super seriously. It’s their band and it’s how they make a living and you’ve gotta be there for them. Then there’s these other bands, a ton of bands that I’m working with, and they’re counting on you. Their baby is in your hands. That’s a huge responsibility. I take that super seriously.”
Being absent or busy also allows the many assistants and interns at Headroom to get valuable hands-on experience, or even book their own time in the studio. Acting as mentors and working on projects based on passion as opposed to necessity are what keep these two engineers content.
“Every day, every morning I wake up and walk to the studio and I’m, like, pumped to work on what I’mworking on,” Reinhart says.
My band Thin Lips will soon be releasing our debut LP right before our tour with Modern Baseball and Joyce Manor. Its a national Headroom tour for sure! check out our video for our first single Never Again!
Lithuana’s new record, Hardcore Friends, (recorded right here at Headroom) is coming out on Lame-O Records on 8/14. Stoked!
You can Pre-order the record here:
Or here, if you’re more into the digital domain
“hardcore friends” music video: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/lithuana-hardcore-friends-video
Well, its not that new….we moved almost a year ago to a shared studio space in Viking Mills up in the Kensington neighborhood, but now we finally have some pictures of the space for you to check out!
Yes! Finally after working on my band, Thin Lips’ EP “Divorce Year” for 6 months, then waiting another 6 months to find someone to put it out, I am beyond excited to unveil our record that is available on Cassette Via Seagreen Records and sooner on 7 in via Lame-O Records
and we are so excited! Big Things are happening for Hop Along with a tour opening for the War on Drugs, as well as their own headlining tour this spring. Here is the lead single for their new album “Painted Shut” to be released on Saddle Creek Records (a lable whose bands I’ve been listening to since high school!). Pre-order it here
Check out the solo of effort of Rachel Brown, of Field Mouse (Top Shelf Records) with guest drummer Eric Slick of Dr. Dog and Lithuania (whose record we produced! LP out this summer!). Buy the 7 inch at Father/Daughter’s website. Rachel and I tracked guitar and vocals for this project last August and I’m so stoked its finally out!
We’re not the only ones who’ve been busy… One of our Former interns, Travis Arterburn, recently recorded and mixed the first release by his new band, Clique. Travis is our first intern past or present to record a full release on his or her own at our studio (why I remember him helping us build high end diffusers like it was yesterday……)! The entire album was completed here at the Headroom within three days in the beginning of September and has already been released on cassette via Kat Kat Records. AND IT ROCKS!! Preorder a copy of the tape HERE!
We’re thrilled to be part of Joyce Manor’s newest record “Never Hungover Again,” released this past summer via Epitaph Records. Last November, Joe flew out to The Lair in Los Angeles to record the tracks live through gear we only dream about, and it came out great!. You can pick it up HERE.
A proper update will be posted once we’re finished all the construction complete with pictures, an updated gear list, etc. BUT!!!! until then I’d just like to announce that we’ve partnered with the The Eastroom and moved to a beautiful studio in the Viking Mill in Kensington. We are also now proud owners of a stereo pair of 31145 Neve Preamps/Eq and an Orange Thunderverb 200!!
Joe and I are so stoked that this is finally out, not just because these guys are good friends of ours, not just because the record rules, and not just because it took a long time to produce, but its the first c0-PRODUCTION that Joe and I have worked on collaboratively from beginning to end (where one of us weren’t in the band that was being produced). It’s also an amazing experience to work on a follow up album (their first record “BASEBALL SEASON” they did with me 3 years ago), because we were able to take our experience the first time around and try to do all the things we weren’t able to do then, and re-use any of the strategies or sounds that worked the first time around. It was a blast to make! Thanks to Animal Style and Eric Osman for believing in these guys as well and supporting them. Check out their new release HERE
Working on this record was such a great experience for both Joe and I. We generally get a lot of rock/punk/country/indie stuff, so getting to work with a different genre such as a really fresh take on r’n’b was really fun and exciting. Joe and I especially loved the challenge of recreating some of the samples that Julien lifted from other tracks in order avoid any copyright woes. All that being said, the songs are just great, check them out HERE
Pill Friends new EP, FADE INTO NOTHING, is now out on digital format, soon to be released on 7 inch! Listen to it HERE
Kite Party’s first single from their new album “Come On Wandering” premiered today on Stereogum. Check it out HERE
So this past winter I did something a little out of my comfort zone…In most settings, whether it be as a band member, an engineer, or a producer, I’ve always played the role of a collaborator in that I help bring someone else’s vision to fruition. I’ve never been the principal songwriter in any (good) band, I’ve never contributed more than a line to a song, and melodies and licks I write are almost always for someone else’s song.
So when I was asked to collaborate with Yowei Shaw, a public radio producer (who has done pieces for Studio 360, This American Life, The World, Fresh Air), on a public art installation called Really Good Elevator Music, I really didn’t think it would be a whole lot different. I thought I’d be helping someone bring their song to life. Little did I know that what I was actually agreeing to would be my first job as a COMPOSER. For a frame of reference, consider that the last song I had actually written was for a hardcore punk band I was in when I was 20, and the last time I had written any music from scratch was in college for a film scoring class.
I had no idea about the amount of work that would go into making the 2 tracks for the project. What Yowei brought to the project was a concept, some audio, and a vague idea of what the music should be. The rest was up to me!! 2 months of nights and weekends later (while I was also trying to finish the Kite Party record as well as a few others) we came up with something I’m really proud of.
The song, “Sunday Breakfast” is a collage of field recordings of kitchen sounds,hopeful lo-fi musical themes, and snippets of men from the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission talking about their favorite foods (as part of an ice breaker for a radio workshop Yowei recorded). Our concept for this track was to put a spot light on an oft marginalized part of the Philadelphia community (in particular the Chinatown North neighborhood) and attempt to humanize them by focusing on something we can all relate to; FOOD!
Here’s some of the press we’ve recieved for Really Good Elevator Music!
The Atlantic Cities
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
It feels like forever since I’ve typed into this grey box, but it’s because I’ve been working furiously the past year on so many things and now they are finally about to come out!!! In chronological order we have….
ROOF DOCTOR – who put a single up a little while ago for their forthcoming LP “Mobile Freedom Home”, that you can check out HERE entitled “Dad”, in which the singer delves into the psyche of his late father. These guys were a blast to work with, and it was a fun record because we did so much writing and collaborating in the studio. The release show is March 29 at Philamoca
PILL FRIENDS – we did a really quick 4 song LP where we attempted to combine their lo-fi aesthetic with the clarity and control of a studio, Check out the advanced single “Promethizine” HERE. They’ll be releasing their record on 4/20 with a release show, and digitally April 1 on Bird Tapes, which their singer Ryan is apparently preparing for by carrying a dead cat he named “homie” around wherever he goes according to his facebook. I wish I was making that up.
ELEGANT ANIMALS – An amazing Electro-RnB group who were a privelege to work with. It was so much fun to work on such a unique take on a genre I usually don’t get to work with. Keep your ears out for the single! Their record drops April 8.
KITE PARTY – This record was really amazing to work on. I love those dudes, and it was amazing to get to work on their 2nd lp ( doing two of a bands LP was a first for me) and for this one, I got to co-produce it with my main bro Joe. The record comes out on Animal Style Records May 6 with a tour to follow. A single will be released soon!
And Finally, I was lucky enough to make my first commissioned composition for a project I collaborated with a public radio producer Yowei Shaw (who’s had stories on This American Life, Studio 360, NPR) called Really Good Elevator Music, where we made music for public spaces which I will write more extensively about in another post
The ever-charming Joe Reinhart lends his expertises on what he knows best in this documentary called My Basement is a Shithole about the Philadelphia DIY Houseshow scene that raised Joe and I like a doting mother. See Joe talk about what he knows best (next to recording bands) and watch a million dudes jump on top of each other under a single bare light bulb as different rad, young, up and coming bands of Philadelphia provide the soundtrack. Watch the movie HERE
for being named by the Philadelphia City Paper as Artist of the year! Read on HERE
A few months back Joe and I were interviewed for the Deli Music blog here in Philly. We got some really well thought out questions, and I thought I would immortalize the interview here on our humble blog for posterity. Read Here
called Algernon Cadwallader. Although the band has been laid to rest, I still get a decent amount of emails/Facebook messages about the guitar sounds (live and on record). “The sound” im thinking of would be referring to anything post 2nd guitarist (i.e. “Fun” and “Parrot Flies”). But enough about me, let’s talk guitar.
The little know G&L Guitars get their initials from George Fullerton and Leo Fender. Leo Fender youknow as the guy who isn’t Les Paul. 2 companies and 20 years later Leo thought he could make a better version of his own “Telecaster” and he did. Referring to them as “The best instruments I have ever made.” I own 2 of the ASAT Classics, the most noticeable differences between them and the original Fender Teles are the larger (Gibson style) frets and the pickups that use magnetic Field Design pickups as opposed to, the standard Alinco. These pickups have individual magnets for each string, that are adjustable! Producing a very even sound that is great for finger picking. Sonically, they have a power and an airy clarity that some of my tight pants wearing peers would refer to as “Twinkle”. Recently the masses caught into these instruments so G&L released a Legacy series at a cheaper price. I doubt they were part of Leo’s vision and have yet to play one that wouldn’t have made a better surfboard. Now I’m getting preachy. Sorry, let’s move on. Live I use two amps. That originally grew out of an insecurity I had about being the only guitarist and Peter complaining that he couldn’t hear me in little basements or a big empty room.
The Twin reverb is obviously a classic clean loud amp. Now Enter the Vox AC30 Custom Classic, that I feel, is responsible for the majority of the AC guitar tone. I used it once and immediately went out and bought it with money I didn’t have. No need to describe it because it is the only amp used on “Parrot Flies”. It’s Little brother the AC15 was used the the “Fun” ep. The recording signal chain probably looked something like this: One frustrated guitarist playing a G&L ASAT Classic direct into the AC30 with speaker output disconnected and replaced with a Emperor 2 *12 cab, recorded with a Royer 121, a Shure SM57, and U87(somewhere in the room), powered by an API 3124, sent into a Sound Workshop 1280b where the signals were eq’d and bussed to one channel and sent to be lightly kissed by a Distressor EL8 before smashing onto 2″ tape. Live the signal chain might look something like this: 2 G&L ASAT classics in different tunings into a stupid Boss tuner, a Rat, an Ibenez true bypass modded 808 Tubescreamer, into a Lehle P-Split between a mid 70s Twin Reverb and a Vox AC30.
Big thanks to Peter, Tank, and anyone who approached me after a show with kind or inspiring words about my spastic often insecure guitar playing. We are all on the never ending quest for perfect tone. How many times I’ve scene a band and thought holy shit that is the best sounding amp I have ever heard while the guy playing is probably like god I hate this fucking thing. I recently decided that if I stop worrying about gear, I can work less and play the guitar more. Although as a studio owner this tends to be fairly difficult.
A few weeks ago, my band Dangerous Ponies, did a live performance in The Headroom as a preview for the record we’re going to work together with Joe on. It was pretty exciting to do a live recording while also videotaping it. It was a lot of work! Not only did we have to set up all of our instruments, and mic them all, but we also had to move lots of shelves, instruments, and furniture out of the way in order to make room for the wonderful lighting provided by friend/big mama’s roomate Matt Hindman and Nick Hatsis who did a wonderful job shooting the video. We did several takes, did some slight edits and came together with a live performance that looks and sounds great! Take a look!
While I do enjoy recording with a band in the studio; building their songs from the ground up, helping them realize their own vision for a song, it always keeps things interesting to mix something that was written and recorded in a space, both physically and mentally, that is quite far from confines of the Headroom. Keith Hampson, of Power Animal, writes about his latest EP, “Excorcism”, which you can listen to here.
This album was created over the course of 10 or so months where I was in and out of the hospital with various illnesses. The palette for the production of this album was a result of being too fatigued to get up and play my instruments most of the time. I had a cassette player that could play in reverse into my sampler, and a big box of cassettes that I’d found at thrift stores over the years. So I arranged a good deal of this album while laying in bed with an Sp-404.
Sings Josh Craft on the new Conversations With Enemies LP. My friend Josh is no stranger to good times, ever since i first worked with him on The Bee Team‘s “Hot Times USA” back in 2007, I have yet to catch him unprepared for a hi five, without a guitar strap around his neck, or most importantly, without a smile on his face. The name of the bands sophomore release is TBA, but its instant tractor beam of infectious songs are available right here on Bandcamp. I am particularly fond of this record because of how it showcases the bands individual talents without sacrificing simple nature of the songs. Jess’s Ringo-esq drumming, Paul Montgomery’s bass playing became the backbone of these songs (even tho he mostly improved them in the studio! Talent!), Seth and Vince’s horns are the most crucial part of conversation’s signature fanfare of fun sound, and of coarse, Josh’s playful vocal melodies will have you signing along so hard you wont even notice you’ve spilled half you beer on the really nice shoes of the girl next to you. And she’s not even mad!
Sorry for this belated post! In early august, Darlings from NY came down to track their newest LP. It was hard work and lots of fun/We had a whole week to work, which was great, because it gave us just enough time to take time to get the right sounds for everything, as well as be meticulous about what takes we wanted to keep. Peter and I had a few different phone conversations in the months leading up to the session to figure out how much time was needed and how exactly how we were going to record. Here’s what we came up with. We spent the first 2 days tracking drums. Below is a picture of us testing out which kick drum we wanted to build the drum kit around (slingerland, and 2 ludwigs from left to right). Matt, the drummer, wanted a roomy sound, so we put the royer on the other side of the room, and tracked bass along with the drums with the amp out in the garage for separation.
Joe and I are finally back from tour! Its so great to be back in philly! Dangerous Ponies was gone for 2 and a half months and Algernon Cadwallader for 1 and half. Now that we’re back, we have lots planned this summer for the studio! We’re going to build isolation and room treatment, build a new website, and of course record some awesome music. This past weekend I did a quick demo session with Baltimore’s Secret Mountains to help them find some sounds for their upcoming full length sessions, NY’s Darlings on Famous Class Records as well as Philadelphia’s own Conversations with Enemies will be coming this August to record with me and joe, respectively.