Silver Horse Sound Spotlight Series Interview
It’s important to view a music scene through more than just one lens. The musicians are, of course, an integral piece to a successful music scene. Equally important are the people who produce, record and mix the music and build an environment for the musicians to create in. John Roccesano, Max Feinstein and Benjamin Scott of Silver Horse Sound have built an environment which does exactly that. The Latest Noise digs into their background, what they worked on in 2016 and what they are looking to expand upon this year. This interview was conducted on 2/8/17. www.silverhorsesound.com
TLN: Hey guys, to begin let’s hear about your backgrounds leading up to starting Silver Horse Sound:
John: I’ve been performing and recording in various Jersey-based bands since the mid-90s. By 2005 I was playing in several Hudson County bands and felt like I had found the most supportive music community on Earth. I only ever played in bands that made original music until about 2012, when I started taking gigs in cover bands as well. It’s a healthy mixture of the two now.
I was obsessed with playing the drums for a long time and gradually my interests shifted more towards the recording process. I launched my first home studio in 2006 and a few years later Max and I began collaborating and recording our solo material there.
Max: I’ve always been a noisy boy. I’ve always enjoyed making noise in any way that I could, and always been highly motivated to express myself through making noise through all manner of performance. I tried to express myself on a variety of instruments in my childhood, but the guitar was the only one to give me any real traction by 2000. Thankfully my drive prevailed and my curiosity was stoked on all fronts. As intense as it is I’ve managed to chew my way through entire music scenes and I’m grateful to have carved a place where I can be myself, whatever that means, within a community of people who appreciate that enough to see where it goes. Recording studios have always been a special place for me.
Ben: I began my taste of music in a local church choir at a really young age (around 1st grade), which is probably amusing to some of my peers because I’m not a religious person. I picked up the violin in 3rd grade and stuck with it until 7th grade (2003). It was then that I gave into the peer pressures of being “cool” and started learning the electric bass. However, my father was a person of commitment and required me to teach myself the guitar for six months before he agreed to start paying for my lessons. I was involved in band, after band, after band, and I still remain to now. I started my addiction to recording in 8th grade at 14 years old. I’ve learned over the years that life flows in cycles; sometimes I spend a lot of time playing bass, sometimes I spend a lot of time obsessing over the sound of every record, or concert. Wave theory, if you must.
I was never a person who wanted to go off to college after high school. Thankfully, one of my close childhood friends convinced me to apply to a school. I completed all four years of intensely studying all aspects of the music industry, private lessons on electric bass, upright bass, and piano, and the general components of business. I hold a degree in Music Industry and Recording Technology with a minor in Business Administration. Which is all fine and dandy on paper, but I believe it’s what you do with that knowledge that matters. There are plenty of people out there that share a similar background but never take the risk to do anything with it.
TLN: You guys have been working on creating music together and recording it for some time now. At what point did you know that your partnership would go beyond making music together and start serving a wider audience and community as a recording studio?
Max: I guess I always had that thought. Around the time Johnny and I met I came to find out that he was playing in a handful of groups at once and had his own studio operation that he used to record his and other things on a comparatively small but decidedly attentive scale. My intuition told me this was a guy who was bettering himself from gig to gig, session to session. I could hear it in his work, and I kinda knew that I wanted to provide as many opportunities for this as I could as we got closer as buddies.
I decided to do a Kickstarter and record a solo album in 2012. I found the room at Sound Wars, the room that’s now our control room, and we recorded my album in that room pretty much guerilla style. As we kept doing it we ended up making the most of the space as we could. It was imperative to me to find as many ways to keep busy and to keep Rock busy for our collective sanity, and it worked.
John: What’s funny is the room at Sound Wars was supposed to be a temporary residence until Max finished his album. But having a space for ourselves 24/7 led to us working in there with all our various projects. Then on New Years Day 2013 this beautiful, large room next door to us became available. It was originally Ill Niño’s live room, and the last tenant before us built this nifty isolation booth inside of it. We decided to move into that space and very quickly turned it into a small recording studio.
We painted the walls, put up some moving blankets, set up a desk, invested in some quality preamps. Once that was in place we began to extensively work with other artists. More often than not Max and I would become the in-house session players or rhythm-section-on-demand. This place, which at the time we called The Tantrum Room, became one of the greatest tools we had to meet new people and record new music.
From 2012 to 2015 I made an album called ‘Johnny Rock & Friends: For The Record.’ Max was heavily involved in that as well. We recorded and mixed that album entirely on analog tape at various studios and I got to collaborate with many of my closest friends. It was amazing. Making that album and all of the content associated with it was essentially a full time job, and was rewarding on a spiritual level. I figured the next step was to make money doing that kind of work!
TLN: Tell us about your experience at Blackbird Studios and how it was instrumental in your understanding of Silver Horse Sound’s potential and what you wanted to improve it?
John: In 2015 Max started working with this group called The Devyl Nellys, and that’s where we met Ben. I joined the group for a few months to tour and record, and through a connection or two we ended up recording at Blackbird Studios in Nashville.
It was a very humbling experience. I’ve recorded both sides of the glass for a long time, but I’d never experienced a place so large, so high-tech, and so accommodating as Blackbird Studios. Also, working at such a brisk pace with brilliant players like Max, Ben, and our keyboardist Will Kienzle was inspiring. It was like I’d conquered many hills but had never been to the mountaintop.
That environment it pushes you as a recordist to raise your standards. After our second trip there in January, 2016 I realized it was time to step up our game; there was clearly more we could be doing. That was also the first time we had discussed with Ben the possibility of joining forces, but it took a few months for that to happen.
Ben: Blackbird was mind blowing. To see how a recording studio of that capacity streamlined a process that can have so many moving parts to it was incredible. Anywhere from how you treat your clients to producing quick, quality results. You name it, they thought of it. Hands down one of the best experiences of my life.
One night we were all sitting on the porch of a ghetto Air BnB in Nashville gathering our thoughts before we went back into our second round of recording at Blackbird Studios. After a few drinks, the stories start flying and you begin to learn more about each other on a deeper level. It was then that I realized that these really are some m*ther f*uckers. Not only that, but they actually wanted to do something! Not just talk about doing something. Here we are a year later sitting on top of something that could take off at any moment.
Max: It was really special. I’m grateful that enthusiasm comes easy for me a lot of the time, and that recording music makes me giddy no matter what, but Blackbird was really a validating experience for me. Nashville has a reputation for high caliber musicians and efficient songwriting, and I had a lot of excited people around me and the pressure not to screw it up would build with the anticipation. When I got there I had it in my mind that those guys would smell my fear, that they would eat me alive, but we didn’t struggle nearly at all. We were able to hang in Nashville, and I was really surprised at how natural it all felt. What we had been trying to do for ourselves back home was proving effective under more rigorous circumstances. When you prove something like that to yourself it lets you throw yourself into the work with more gusto.
TLN: How does being in multiple projects at once help your workflow when running a studio? Can it hinder it at all?
Ben: I believe it’s a necessity these days. If you don’t have your hands in all of the cookie jars then you’ll never be full (or I’m just a fat ass?). Each role will intentionally and unintentionally teach you things, as well as open your mind to other parts of the process. If you spend too much time focusing on one aspect of this industry, or any industry for that matter, I believe you run the risk of stunting your growth. Allowing your brain to process old information while focusing on new information is important. It goes back to the idea of what I stated above. Life moves in waves, you can learn to go with the flow, or risk the chance of drowning by swimming against the current.
John: There are times when you have to wear all the hats. In the studio there are many times when I’m simultaneously drumming, producing, and engineering. That can be tricky. I always find it easier to be doing one thing at a time, but I’ve somehow found a workflow that I can manage. Sometimes I’ll ask Max to take over some other tasks if I need more focus. And now that Ben’s here I think we’ve all been given this gift of having several trusted ears to work with when we can’t do ten things at once.
Max: It feels like a bit of a requisite to do what we’re trying to do now. It’s certainly what gravitated me to Johnny and Ben. My favorite days are the ones where all three of us get together and tackle a project. We’re hard workers with complementary temperaments, which means I’m gonna get a lot done and have a great time doing it. Our versatility as people and by trade means that it’s easy for one of us to take the lead on something and have the others assist. We also know when to step back and let someone else take point. What kind of an operation do you have without that kind of functionality?
Ben: I think Max really hits the nail on the head on this one. We all have a way of balancing each other out when it’s needed.
John: We’re also very technically keen on being able to multitask in this environment. In our live room we installed a box of connectors to interface with the control room. So now, for example, once the levels have been set I can run an entire session from behind the drums in the live room. There’s a similar array of connectors in our isolation booth – so it makes the whole “wearing many hats” thing much more manageable.
TLN: Tell us a bit about your studio, what upgrades have your made recently that you are excited to put to use? Any fun stories when making the upgrades that you want to share?
Max: All of them. The place we have now literally exceeds my imagination for it. That’s a nifty feeling.
John: There’s some kind of an upgrade here every week. Even your photos from this interview are out of date now (laughs). Our biggest change is of course the reacquisition of our old room, which we very quickly built into a separate control room. We’re constantly refining the acoustic treatment with the intent of creating a mastering-worthy facility.
We’ve always had top-line drums, amplifiers, PA and guitars ready for use. This year we’ve added a keyboard station as well with a Fender Rhodes, Roland Juno, a Caravan, and a Lowery Organ.
For recording we now have up to 42 channels of I/O, four DAWs ready to rock (Pro Tools 12, Cubase 9, Digital Performer 8, Garageband). For monitoring we’ve got Focal CMS-65s, Yamaha NS-10Ms, and Avantone Mix Cubes. We’ve got Melodyne Studio, Waves bundles, Slate Everything. We’ve added Adobe Premiere CC, Final Cut 7 for video editing. And now that we’ve combined our arsenals we have about 50 microphones ready to take on anything. And what’s really fun is you can patch into and/or control a lot of that gear using your own laptop if you prefer.
Ben: Well, I’m the new guy on campus but I’ve certainly seen the place come alive. It’s got this vibe to it now that just feels good. New live room floor, flown speakers, new control room, new desk, new couch (which did anyone mention is from Electric Lady??! Come get your ‘free’ rock star farts people), new lighting, new mic locker, new speakers, etc. It’s all exciting.
John: You asked for some good stories as well. Max and Ben were about to hit the road when we moved into the control room, so I led the construction. I had never hardwired two rooms before, so I gave myself a crash course in soldering that’s since become one of my specialties. I also painted the control room, built these acoustic panels and bass traps, and designed our basic audio setup.
Meanwhile, our live room used to have this nasty old carpet that we’d talked about replacing for years. During the hottest week in August our old air conditioner backed up and flooded the rug! So after drying it out I talked to our landlords Laz and Jaime of Sound Wars and they helped build this sweet new wooden floor.
TLN: Tell us about some recent projects at Silver Horse Sound:
Max: Jaime Della Fave (Jaime Rose) and I started working together in 2013, and neither of us can really tell you the motivator for it other than she was the one that initiated the contact on the matter. That was a considerable opportunity to endear myself to the local scene and drag my buddy along into a really fulfilling project. It probably codifies one of the defining trends in my relationship with Johnny: one of us invariably ends up working on the thing the other person is working on. By land or by sea I try to go where he goes because it’s a fun thing for me to try to help out on as many projects as I can. We’ve both gotten really good at making people feel really good about what they’re doing when we’re on board.
John: This past year has been so amazing for recording and connecting with the Hoboken scene at large. Max and I have been playing in and recording the Jaime Rose band since 2015. Last September we finished her debut EP ‘Nowhere’. I love her voice – it’s so upfront and honest. The band made a very conscious decision early on that all of the music is secondary to her singing.
Ross Sandler we met originally in 2011 when our bands shared a stage, and in 2014 Crewman Number Six started recording and mixing here. Their EP ‘Not Dead, Yet’ is out now. Ross’s solo EP ‘Don’t Stop’ was recorded and mixed here in 2015 and 2016. He’s such a talented, groovy dude and a kind soul. He takes his craft seriously and it means the world to him. Some of his tunes feature me on drums and percussion, Max on bass. Recently we’ve been playing in Ross’s live act as well, which is a blast.
Max I’m sure has known Liam Brown for a while, but I started working with him through Ross. Last year Liam began coming in here to record. His style is what we call lightning in a bottle – you just set some mics up, let him jam a tune out and you get magic. And of course we now play shows in his group Liam Brown and The Pounds as well. Every moment with Liam puts you on the edge of your seat. In a good way (laughs).
Liam brought us Carolyn Monroe, and she’s recorded a few vocal tracks here as well. She’s a total badass. Her singing has made me cry it’s so good. Recently Max and I began collaborating with her on some electronic music using our newly acquired Moog synth (which you should totally try out when you come here!)
I have to give a shout out to Jaime DeJesus and the ALEO live productions in which we’ve taken part. Those shows opened up a whole other world of talent to us. Greg McLaughlin, who I met at the first David Bowie tribute, has been recording and mixing his new material here for Dark Cedar. His new single ‘Reasons’ is out now and it really cooks. I met James Calleo when he opened ALEO’s second David Bowie tribute in October. He just cut a few tracks here as well. Hauntingly great acoustic stuff.
Ben: Max and John have put in some good work over the past four years. I’m excited to be folded in to some of these relationships as well as bring in new talent to the equation. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to answer this question until I’ve put in some more time at Silver Horse Sound.
John: Don’t be too modest! Ben mixed his band’s new album in our control room. It’s called ‘Daily Distortions’ and the band is Someone in a Tree. Check ‘em out!
TLN: What are you most proud of in creating a recording studio?
Max: I take pride in making cool things. I love knowing that’s happening under my roof whether I’m directly involved or not. It makes me feel like I’m responsible in part for people being able to work hard and feel good about their endeavors.
John: This is frankly what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s what I’m on this planet to do. I love to create an environment where people can jam, get great sound, bang for their buck, and an atmosphere that invites their inner beauty to come out. I know that sounds corny, but this is soul-deep for me. That look on someone’s face during playback when they realize they’ve created something awesome – there’s no beating that.
Ben: I’m with John on this one. I’ve wanted this for a majority of my life. It’s an amazing feeling to finally have a professional space rather than sitting in my bedroom or my parents’ basement. Which is totally a necessary part of the process and I believe everyone should do it, but actually having the responsibility for a space is liberating.
TLN: What are you looking forward to working on in 2017? Any new services you’d like to add for your clients?
Ben: I think we will shine the most when working on projects together. I’d love to start getting involved with Foley effects, audio for film, voice-overs, and even composing jingles for commercials. My heart is in the music. I love recording bands and will always love that, but we need to do more than that in order to survive in such a vicious industry. And I think were all very capable.
John: I’m stoked to keep collaborating with the best original talent in this area, as well as advertising and taking on more projects from outside. Ben’s leading the charge for our online presence, starting with silverhorsesound.com. We’re all looking forward to the benefits of that.
We’re stepping up our video services as well – we’ve just added more GoPros to our arsenal and hope to be able to add some live-stream content and music video services into the mix.
Max: I’m looking forward to showing people what we have to offer, and I’m really excited to show people what we’re capable of.
TLN: Sum up why a local musician should check out Silver Horse Sound when considering their next recording project?
John: At Silver Horse Sound we go out of our way to make an artist feel at home. We aim to get the best from a musician or a singer without having to waste their time. We know when to get involved and when to stay out of the way. You’re dealing with guys who listen to music with the ears and excitement of a fan, and we’re very open-minded and driven by different styles of music. This is our life and our love. Being able to provide this service to the community that fuels what we love is a pleasure and a blessing.
Ben: There’s a difference between going to a recording studio to record and working with producers who genuinely care about the outcome of the project. We don’t want to be another engineer pressing the big red button and saying “yeah, sounds great” after every take. Being passionate and caring about what we do will take your project a long way.
Max: We’re your one stop shop for all your noisemaking needs! HIGH HO SILVER HORSE!