Show Us Your Space: New Monkey Studio

NMS House Engineer, Edgar Camey (@bokeh_lens)

Welcome to the latest addition of our Show Us Your Space series, where we explore and celebrate the unique music-making environments of studio owners, independent builders, and musicians at all levels. Today's virtual tour takes place in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, California at New Monkey Studio.

Good friends Joel Graves and Robert Cappadona purchased New Monkey Studio together in August of 2004. They bought it from the late, great Elliott Smith's family—a former acquaintance of Joel's and a musician he deeply admired.

"At the time of Elliott’s death in October of 2003," Joel told us, "I was in a band with several of [Elliott's] then-current bandmates, and it just felt right to try to keep the studio alive. Over 15 years later, we are still going and proud to share our space. Whether you're currently an unknown artist with a vision or Don Was, we welcome all." Follow along with Joel below, as he takes us on the rest of our tour inside New Monkey Studio.

Have you assembled a great practice space, project studio, or music workshop? Be sure to drop us a line at [email protected].

To me, Elliott Smith could do no wrong.

There wasn’t a song that he wrote that I didn’t like. He could captivate with the turn of a phrase, or hypnotize with a complex arpeggio. There was such an underlying sweetness to his sourness. He had a brightness that was palpable to all.

As a self-built virtuoso at any instrument he focused on, he reached expert levels as a songwriter. He studied The Greats. He practiced relentlessly, pruned his songs methodically.

Elliott applied the same level of astute curiosity to his interest in the art (and science) of audio engineering. When we took over the studio, we found a library of technical manuals sprinkled with hand-written notes. By many accounts, Elliott would spend weeks at the studio without leaving, often sleeping on a futon in the isolation room. He joked to friends that his studio passion had become the “new monkey” on his back. And so, he named the studio.

The Control Room ft. Nikki Segal (Dillatante/@nikkisegal) & Greg Cortez (@killahcortez)

The centerpiece of the control room is our Triad Trident A-Range, believed by Malcom Toft to be one of the first three of approximately 13 of these legendary desks that were built in the early 1970s at out of Triad / Trident Studios UK.

The board was originally commissioned and installed at Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec, where it was used by artists ranging from Cat Stevens to Rush. After spending the '80s and '90s in Nashville, Elliott Smith acquired the console and had it trucked out to Los Angeles.

In our hands, it's been used by a diverse group of guests, including George Clinton, Hope Sandoval, Beck, Father John Misty, and Rogét Chahayed. In 2009, Universal Audio partnered with us to model their Trident A-Range plugin from our console, opening the door for other recordists to try an extremely accurate digital version of the near-mythological A-Range mic pre and EQ.

The studio was originally constructed as a commercial jazz room in the early 1980s. Thoughtful construction elements include: a raised, sand-filled control room floor to reduce vibrations, audio wiring built into the walls, and non-parallel surfaces to combat standing sine waves, and giant Tannoy mains built into the walls—something that I've found to be quite a rarity today.

Obscured by the console are Elliott's Sony MCI JH24 multi-track two-inch tape machine and an ATR 102 1/2-inch two-track mix-down deck (that we acquired from Jane’s Addiction).

Our hearts might be all analog, but we have bridged our vintage hardware with modern digital workflow via a pair of UA Apollo x16 interfaces (running Pro Tools HD and Ableton Live 10, with complete UA plugin suite) and a trusty Mac Pro cylinder.

We’re proud to have carried on a decades-long relationship with UA’s Putnam family. As we grow toward the future, we don't ignore our roots.

Here, House Engineer/Producer Edgar Camey runs a Protools session while sitting at the A-Range with several monitoring options, including our software calibrated Genelec 8351A’s, specifically tuned for our control room.

The control room rack is also pretty fun. It features classic pro-audio names (Teletronix, Universal Audio, Fairchild, Gates, EMT, Neve, API, Ampex, AKG, Quad 8) alongside some modern classics (Empirical Labs, Ridge Farm, John Hardy). I was kinda shocked to look at this picture and count well over 20 channels of limiting/compression, many of them valve based.

I think it’s safe to say that Smith appreciated the subtleties of what each of these units can do. For those who have never worked in a brick and mortar studio, patching into these beauties is a wonderland. We'v been told that the Fairchild 670 was Elliott’s favorite piece of equipment. Tube city.

Mr. Smith also had excellent taste in consoles and microphones. This vintage Neumann U 87 is a workhorse—and apparently quite photogenic as well. I’ve been told that Elliott used this U87 as his “back lounge mic," meaning that he brought it with him on his bus for mobile recording while on tour.

One of the pleasures of studio life is getting to witness artists we love in a comfortable and creative space. Pictured below, Elliott Smith’s dear friend Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy, Modest Mouse, @GraceMeridianBand) performs a percussion overdub with various house toys strewn about. Not a bad opportunity to bust out the Neumann U 48.

Also shown are some of the quirkier pieces of gear that we’ve added to the studio get the most use. When I think of the Roland RE-201 tape echo, I think of sonic freaks like Lee Scratch Perry, Jonny Greenwood, and Richard Swift. Also pictured: a Schoenhut toy piano and Eventide Instant Phaser (aka the Bonham "Kashmir” drum phaser).

During my time touring with Earlimart, Everest, and Father John Misty, I’ve kept my eyes open for pieces of gear to add to our house collection. It might be a vintage AKG D19c mic or a pedal or two… hundred. Many were also sourced on Reverb.

A fun trick: For the last several years we’ve been using two PedalPunk impedance matching devices to essentially turn all of these pedals into outboard effects units, easily patched into any track ( How many of these stomp boxes can you identify?

Below is the iso room that we affectionally call “The Red Room.” It stores many of the house instruments that we have on-hand for guests to use. Guitars, basses, ukes, vintage synths, percussion and weird random noisemakers inhabit this room, ready to be called upon for that one really specific sound.

For what our lounge (which also doubles as iso room) lacks in size, we’ve tried to make up for with vibe. Elliott’s old loveseat is tired and threadbare, but still holding up (so far).

Like many of the rooms in the studio, the lack of actual sunlight is made up for with vintage finds that contribute to the studio’s overall “cabin” vibe. Shortly after we first moved in, we noticed a family of owls living in the back alley, and their presence is referenced in many kitschy ways. Thank you for stopping by, we hope to see you in person sometime.

To find more information on New Monkey Studio, visit its website and follow is social channels @newmonkeystudio.

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