Producer Warren Huart on Working with Ace Frehley, Aerosmith, Slash, John 5 and Lita Ford

Reverb Interview: Producer Warren Huart

When Ace Frehley was ready to record his new album, Origins Vol. 1, which debuted at No. 23 on The Billboard 200 a little more than a week ago, he called on producer/engineer Warren Huart to mix the project.

Huart and Frehley had bonded instantly as colleagues, guitarists, Les Paul aficionados and music fans during Frehley’s Space Invader mixing sessions, and although Frehley self-produces his albums, he gave Huart some production and engineering credits as a result of their collaboration. That album debuted in 2014 at No. 9 and hit No. 1 on the Hard Rock Albums and Tastemakers charts.

“Ace was already talking about this album while we were finishing Space Invader, Huart says. “It’s something he’s wanted to do for a while. He’s ridiculously talented; he’s smart, funny, and he really knows his stuff. When we worked on Space Invader, he turned up at my studio [Spitfire] with his desktop computer and started editing the tracks. He hears things with a producer’s ear, and when he sends me tracks, he also sends comments about the sound and feel of the songs. That makes him incredibly easy to work with.”

Warren Huart grew up in Crookham Village, Hampshire, England and fell in love with music when he was six years old. For his ninth Christmas, his father bought him Queen’s A Night At The Opera, which Huart calls a life-changing moment. He began collecting records, and with help from his father — and inspiration from his idol, Brian May — built a guitar when he was 15. A year later he was in a band.

He experienced success in the U.K. as bass player/songwriter for the band Star 69, which recorded two albums, charted some singles, and performed at the 1995 Reading Rock Festival. In ‘98, he formed Disappointment Inc., toured with Godsmack and recorded two albums.

Since then, he engineered for Aerosmith’s Music From Another Dimension, has been a staff producer on the TV show “X Factor,” and built a multi-platinum discography that crosses genres and includes The Fray, Korn, Augustana, Better Than Ezra and James Blunt. He also makes time to mentor and record independent artists, which often includes songwriting collaborations, arrangements, hiring session musicians or playing on the recordings himself. Last January, he launched a YouTube series and website, “Produce Like A Pro,” where he shares instructional videos about his recording techniques and conducts interviews with musicians, producers, and engineers.

Huart spoke with Reverb about recording, working with Ace Frehley and guests John 5, Slash and Lita Ford on Origins Vol. 1, and the story behind “Produce Like A Pro.”

Let’s start with Ace. What was in the chain?

A Les Paul through a Marshall: that’s Ace. He’s a “tone in your fingers” guy, and when you work with players that have a specific sound, it’s pretty much guitar, cable, and amp. Ace brought his new custom shop guitar. We used a Carl Martin Echotone delay on some of the solos. I use it with the tone turned down a bit, so that instead of having a super-bright digital echo, it just sounds like a really good analog echo. It doesn’t buzz or hiss.

That went into my ’78 Marshall JMP Mark II into a Marshall 4x12 miked with a Shure SM57 into a BAE 312 mic pre into a Spectra Sonics 610 pro compressor/limiter. The 610 has that ’70s kind of sponginess and it adds a little magic. It’s in the chain 90 percent of the time for me on guitars.

You describe Ace as a “tone in your fingers” guy. What makes his tone unique?

Ace has an amazing ability to tell a story in his solos. He has fire and passion."

Ace has an amazing ability to tell a story in his solos. He has fire and passion. He will come in with a big note, run down, play something loud, come back up the neck, and then get out. He is probably the only guitar player I’ve ever worked with who can do that. It’s a skill. There’s an awareness in his guitar playing.

You also recorded John 5, Slash and Lita Ford.

Yes, and while we have a lot of options here at Spitfire — Fender, Vox, all kinds of gear — they all wanted to use that same chain. John 5 and Lita brought their guitars; Slash used one of my Les Pauls, and John 5 brought his pedalboard. When you’re talking about this genre of music, guitarists want to plug into a Marshall. The records we’re talking about, the songs they covered on Origins, were made on Marshall amps, and the three guitarists we’re talking about were all influenced by Ace and KISS at some point in their lives, because KISS is one of the most influential rock bands in America.

With these guitarists there was no studio magic needed. They’re phenomenal players, so it’s “less is more.” When you’re working with world-class players who have their tone and their sound, a big part of your job is to not screw that up. A classic Marshall head with a Marshall cab, a 57, a 312, Spectra Sonics light compression — there wasn’t a lot going on. It was just about capturing great performances. The guitars and the guitar players are 99.9% of everything. Their interaction with the amp was really important, and they’ve all probably done a million sessions through a Marshall JMP. It’s a classic amp and a great sound.

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In addition to major-label artists, you work with independent musicians. Do you have preferred ways of tracking other instruments?

Yes. When I produce on my own with independent artists, I often play some of the instruments, so everything here is set up and ready to record and, of course, we also have a lot of gear to choose from.

I have a ’64 Ludwig drum kit with a Supraphonic snare, 22-inch kick, 12- and 16-inch toms, and Paiste and Zildjian cymbals. I used the Supraphonic on The Fray’s How To Save A Life album, most of the last Aerosmith album — pretty much any record that I have done in the last twelve years was done on the Supraphonic. It’s the greatest snare ever made. I use a combination of mics: two Lewitt Authentica LCT 340 condensers for overheads, a Lewitt Authentica LCT 140 pencil condenser on the hi-hat, SM57’s top and bottom on the snare, AKG C12As on my toms, and a Lewitt DTP 340 dynamic mic on the kick.

I don’t use any room mics, because my room is small and it ends up sounding muddy and phasey. I build ambience with the overheads, which are in phase with my snare. Overheads need to be a matched pair because I want to pull up a good stereo image of the kit.

When I’m tracking bass, if I’m playing the parts, I often use a Peavey T40. It weighs a ton, has a bridge that looks like it’s come off a car, and it’s incredible. I run it through an Ashdown Electric Blue 180 EVO II combo amp that I mic with a Lewitt LCT 550 condenser mic.

I have a Baldwin Hamilton piano in the studio — the cheapest of the cheapest uprights! If we’re doing proper stereo miking, I use a pair of matched LCT 550s. When we do mono, I use an AEA ribbon mic, which has a lot of personality. It’s dark and great on this bright piano. As far as keyboards, everything else is synth-based or USB controllers. I have an Arturia KeyLab 49 keyboard controller, and we use an Akai MPK Mini for triggering sounds. These days, I do most of my things through Logic’s virtual sounds into Pro Tools because Logic gives you so many synth options in the box.

You still use a console.

Absolutely. A lot of the top mixers now mix in the box with great results, and we are moving past the discussion of consoles and tubes. They’re mixing on laptops and home systems. I still use an Solid State Logic 4000G because I work in a hybrid fashion. I work with an SSL in conjunction with Pro Tools. I’ve been doing that for years. As to the future, I don’t know. I have a lot of outboard equipment, but ultimately I will end up in a more “in the box” setting. It will be a gradual change to make sure I don’t lose any quality, but I am embracing it because it is the future. Digital recording and mic modeling are here to stay.

Produce Like A Pro is doing very well. What inspired you to create the video series, and how is it different from what’s offered on the website?

I go online and I see a lot of information. A lot of people are doing useful, helpful things, but I wanted to bring the curtain back a little bit more."

Like everyone else, I go online and I see a lot of information. A lot of people are doing useful, helpful things, but I wanted to bring the curtain back a little bit more. When I watch YouTube, I see two things: people who teach for a living but don’t produce music — which is fine; we all go to school and we’re taught by professionals — and producers, engineers and mixers doing videos, which is also cool. But there was no in-between, no one teaching and giving information away without piecemealing it. I was fortunate to have been mentored early on in my studio career, but there is no studio system to speak of anymore, so there very few assistants that are coming up and learning in that way. YouTube seemed like the perfect way for me to give away information and help other people.

The YouTube series is free, but the website has a subscription service. That model keeps it private and safe. I wanted a place where we can talk and help each other. In a free environment, you know what can happen in the comments. With a subscription service, people can ask questions, the most basic questions, share multi-tracks, listen to each other’s mixes, and discuss them in a professional manner. A lot of really good people are involved in the forums. It’s a place to share music and get honest criticism in a noncompetitive environment that I moderate. It’s a safe place where I also post mixes and receive feedback.

What is one piece of advice that you give to aspiring producers and engineers?

The only advice I would give is to pick and choose what you do, and make sure it’s music you absolutely love. It’s all about doing something that you feel will benefit you and the artist, and it’s all on a case-by-case basis. Is the artist ridiculously talented? Do they have a budget? What size budget? Is this going to be a lot of work with no financial or musical payoff at the end? You have to weigh all these things when you’re making decisions. Ultimately, it’s a lot of hustle. It always was for me. It’s all day, every day, fifteen hours a day, six days a week. It’s connecting with people. In this nickel-and-dime world that we live in, it’s about how we can help each other, as opposed to cynically trying to cash in on everything. The two things that I believe most strongly are: “Do what you love and make money as a consequence,” and “Creativity is king.”


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