Home Truth

Local musicians increasingly find their bliss in the parallel universe of home recording

For most people, this space in the '60s-style condo in downtown Phoenix would serve as a small bedroom, the kind your teenage sister would complain about before she packed up her things and moved into the garage. But to Brian Talenti, guitarist, singer and primary songwriter for the local rock band Haggis, it's worth at least $30 an hour.

That's because this room is Talenti's recording studio, where Haggis recorded its self-produced debut CD, What's Up Haircut?, and a Christmas CD, The Short Leg. The band also plans to record a follow-up to Haircut in the shoebox room sometime in April.

"This room has got everything I want," Talenti says like a proud father, showing off the eight-track recorder, the compressor, the digital audio tape recorder. "I don't really want any more."

Talenti's part of a growing movement of living-room musicians who are tired of going home with an unsatisfactory CD or seven-inch after dealing with the hassles and expense of studio recording. Instead, they've retreated to the haven of their homes to make records at their own pace.

And a lot of those records are surprisingly good. Some of the most original music is being made in Phoenix, and the average radio listener probably will never hear it. They'll be having their Cake and their Garbage, while record companies eat up the former and spit the latter right back out.

Talenti retreated to his home studio in early 1995, while still playing in a band called 100 Iced Animals. That band, ironically, broke up just after breaking in the studio with its first demos.

"I used a four-track for a long time," Talenti says of his penchant for home recording. "I always have recorded. That was my biggest goal, to get a studio going, and as soon as I did, I wrote a full album of songs. The funny thing is now with Haggis, probably half of our newer songs are ones I wrote and recorded up to four years ago."

Along with his Haggis endeavors, Talenti also harbors some skeletons in his closet--a box full of what he says are about 100 tapes he's recorded over the years. If Talenti were married to Yoko Ono, these would probably surface one day in CD form. Since he's not, he'll settle for leaving his friends some audio mementos.

"It's like a legacy," he says with a laugh. "When I'm gone, my friends will be able to dig in there and be like, 'Oh, this is what he was making in 1989.'"

Rest assured those tapes will reveal a few flaws, since home recording is hardly a perfect science. But then, occasional mistakes are "the beauty of it," as Talenti says. And besides, going into the studio invites even more room for error.

"We recorded at Livinghead Studios three times, and what I found is that--either people are nervous or whatever--we wouldn't get the performance there," he says. "I mean, the sound is huge, and it just wasn't the same."

To hear Corbett Upton and Larry Hicks tell it, you'd think recording studios are agents of Satan, today's music industry is purely a mechanism to milk fans for every last dime they have. Their answer? The four-track.

"Tons of people would agree that incredible and very numerous albums came out between 1967 to '72," says Hicks, a local musician who first played in clubs nine years ago at 15 as front man for Aquanaut Drinks Coffee. "What was the recording technology they had back then? And we have supposedly awesome technology today and ease of use, but where are the good albums?"

"They're all on four-track!" interjects Upton, who earned his stripes as drummer for Swamp Cooler in the early '90s, and later as guitarist for well-received indie-rock band Slugger.

"Record companies, especially producers, need to change their attitude toward the whole thing, and the four-track can be instrumental in that," Upton adds, "instead of aiming for this record contract and when you record all the songs they're owned by someone else. You have no control. But if everybody changes their minds--like John Lennon says, 'Power to the people.' It's basically like musicians putting their power in their own hands."

Though Talenti's worn his share of soles on local stages, as part of a group, he still has faith in the band as institution. For the most part, Haggis records and releases with some hope of attracting a record deal, while at the same time having a good time and sharing music with their friends.

Not so with Upton and Hicks. These guys are as jaded as you get, and have had enough of the band thing--at least for now. Though both have released records with their respective bands in the past, these days they don't seem to care who hears their music, as long as they can prattle away in their living rooms late at night without causing their neighbors too much consternation.

At one time, home recording was primarily the province of the rich rock star, a vehicle for people like Pete Townshend to demo their material before going into the studio. During the past two decades, home-recording gear has not only gotten more affordable, it's made steady technological advances. As a result, with good mikes and a little ingenuity, you can get surprisingly powerful results. For that matter, you can now burn your own CDs at home, and market them on the Internet. More than ever, the potential is there to take the DIY spirit of punk to its logical conclusion.

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