As Provo continues to rise as a force in the Utah music scene, many of the bands and musicians in the area are now turning to more regional resources for creating their albums and promotions. --- What once was a daily trek up north to put an album out over six months can now be accomplished in Utah County in six weeks (depending on how good you are), from recording to album artwork to even music videos.
Earlier this year, word spread that a brand-new recording studio was going to hit downtown Provo. It appeared in a small home on 200 North, around the corner from Muse Music, The Deathstar and Velour, helping establish the area as music central for Provo. Since that time, Black Pyramid Recording has quickly become a highly regarded spot for professional recordings, in a casual environment that high-profile musicians would have to seek out in remote areas of California. I got a chance to chat with the two men behind the studio, Bret Meisenbach and Cade Thalman, about starting up the studio and the work they've produced so far, plus their thoughts on the local music scene. (Phtots by Ashley Thalman and Bret Meisenbach)
Cade Thalman & Bret Meisenbach
Gavin: Hey, guys! First thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Bret: I grew up in Orange County, California, and moved to Utah when I was 22.
Cade: Well, my name is Cade and this is my first Internet interview.
Gavin: What got you both interested in music, and who were some of your favorite musical influences growing up?
Cade: I got a guitar for my 12th birthday, and as they say, it was all downhill from there. At that time, I was into Nirvana and Green Day but that was a long time ago. Growing up, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins were my biggest influences.
Bret: There was always music in my house. When I started playing the drums, I was 10 or so years old, my dad brought some Fleetwood Mac and Iron Butterfly records into the basement and told me to learn to play them.
Gavin: Bret, you've been involved with the music scene for a few years, specifically with Shady Chapel and Rape Escape. What was it like breaking into the music scene and being a part of those bands?
Bret: It's funny that those are the two bands you are aware of. Shady Chapel was just a band I was in because a friend of mine asked me to be, and I only formed Rape Escape to be an antagonist in the local scene for a few months. Being in a band is the easiest thing in the world. Kids think that people who are in bands are really cool, but that is not even close to being true. Music is easy, and it's fun--anyone can play, and anyone should. As for breaking into the music scene here, I don't really feel that I have. I have been in somewhere around 25 or 30 bands since I've moved here, but I don't think that any of them were really a part of the major music scene that exists in Utah County.
Gavin: On the side, you also blog for Boostability.com. How did you get involved with them and what do you usually blog about for the company?
Bret: I write SEO blogs, which, for anyone who does not know, are essentially spam blogs. It's tough to explain, so look it up if you really want to know. However, it's just spam--even though the people at SEO companies swear that it isn't. I found them on Craigslist.
Gavin: Cade, you, too, have been a part of the music scene, specifically with Uzi & Ari when they first started. How was it for you breaking in and being a part of that group when it started?
Cade: Being part of that group was really fun and exciting. I got my first good guitar and amp while I was in that group, went on my first tour, and made my first full-length with them. Ben is still doing some really cool stuff up in New York.
Gavin: For your day job, you're a media specialist for the LDS Church. How did that opportunity come about, and what exactly do you do for the church?
Cade: My wonderful wife really helped me get that job. I never really thought it would be possible to work for them. I work in Small Productions. We specialize in making video content for the Internet, things like "Mormon Messages." I just finished editing a LeConte Stewart video that is playing at the Church History Museum.
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet and become friends?
Cade: During the recording of the Weird You Out! compilation. Bret was the drummer on a lot of those songs.
Bret: Yeah, Cade and I truly met when he and Johnny Keating recorded and released the Weird You Out! compilation--a compilation of local Provo and Orem rock and roll/punk bands. I was in a few of the songs on that record, and I got a chance to work with Cade since he was the main engineer on that record. Cade was also in my band Baby Ghosts for a little while.
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up your own recording studio, and where did the name come from?
Bret: My dad actually suggested it to me. As a musician, I have spent a lot of time in recording studios, and never thought that I would want to engineer. As any musician knows, eventually you start recording things on your own, but I never thought of doing it professionally. The name is from one of the tracks on the Weird You Out! compilation that Cade and Johnny released. The favorite track of a lot of the other bands ended up being the song called "Black Pyramid" by The Clear Coats. The song was written because the image came to the singer, Jesse Tucker, in a dream. Cool!
Cade: Bret e-mailed and asked me if I wanted to start a studio, said he had found some funding, so I said yes. Pretty romantic. The name came from a song by The Clear Coats, I believe it was the first song we recorded for the record.
Gavin: How did you come across the home on 2nd North in Provo, and what made you decide to formally make it the studio?
Cade: It used to be Scott Wiley’s studio, June Audio. When I was 16, I wandered in there and ever since then I wanted to have a studio. It blew my mind. I noticed while walking by it one day that it still had some acoustic treatment in it. So I knocked on the door and the tenant was actually in the process of moving out. So I called Bret and told him I found a place and we spent about two or three months trying to get into it.
Bret: I came to art shows when it was the Rowley Press, and noticed that it was an old recording studio. As the original June Audio, Scott Wiley built the house into a beautiful studio, and we knew that we could only succeed if we had a place that was ready to be a studio.
Gavin: How did you go about getting all the equipment and instruments you needed, and what was it like getting set up in the house?
Bret: A loan. Cade had a lot of gear, and I had a little bit, too, but the bulk of our gear was purchased as a company. We spent a month fixing up the house and getting it ready. All of our friends pitched in and helped paint, put in carpets, scrape the floors, move trash and so on. We owe them a great deal. Also, our landlords are giant idiots who are completely unaware of how much work the building needed when we got it. Just saying.
Cade: We had some stuff but we needed a lot more. So most of the funding went to buying gear. We bought most of it through Zenpro Audio out of South Carolina. The house, although it had some acoustic treatments in it, still needed a lot of work. We put doors in to isolate rooms from each other, drilled holes in the floor to run cables, built acoustic panels to control some sound. But we are never finished; our mindset is to continually improve it.
Gavin: Tech-wise, for those interested, what kind of audio and recording equipment do you have?
Bret: I will leave this to Cade; he is the true gear nut.
Cade: Outboard gear, we have: a Retro Powerstrip, Hamptone HJFP2, Daking mic Pre 500, BAC 500, Distressor, Rme UFX, and a Presonus Digimax. For mics, we have: a Peluso P67, a Cloud J34-P, Shure SM7, 2 Cascade Fatheads, Bock 195, 2 Oktava Mc-012, 1 Oktava 319, 2 SM57s, EV N/D868, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff.
Gavin: You also have an impressive array of instruments, pedals, amps and other equipment. How did you build up that supply and how is it maintaining all those instruments?
Bret: The musical gear is stuff that Cade, Johnny, and I have collected over the years, and is our own personal equipment.
Cade: We all piled our junk together we have acquired over the years; it turned out to be quit a bit. Tube amps are the most temperamental out of all of our equipment. But most of ours are pretty stable. I have an awesome 65 Ampeg Rerberocket that always does something different when I turn it on. It usually sounds good, though. I usually send amps to Valley Wide Electronics, Brain Patchet, or House of Guitars to get fixed.
Gavin: What was it like when you first started, and who are some of the musicians and bands that have used the studio to date?
Cade: We got really lucky when we started. It seemed we had tons of people come through to record. The first band we recorded was Don Geronimo. Then we had The Archer’s Apple, Tom Keating, Mighty Sequoia, Patterns, Ashley Smith, Dick Janitor, The Clear Coats, Book On Tapeworm, Lady & Gent and The Glowing Heads.
Bret: Things actually got going pretty quickly--there were some slow times, but so far we have been able to make ends meet. Some of the bands who have been in so far are The Archer's Apple, Book On Tapeworm, Burnt Reynolds, The Boy Who Could Fly, Ashley Smith, The Glowing Heads, Baby Ghosts, Patterns, The Mighty Sequoyah, Timber!, Dick Janitor, Don Geronimo and Lady & Gent.
Gavin: Has the idea ever come up to start your own label, or are you primarily sticking to just being a studio for musicians and other labels to use?
Bret: That is always on my mind, but we just don't have the resources right now. Everyone in Provo is really obsessed with Provo, but I would like to have a way to press records, send bands on tour and have more touring bands come to town. Music is local, yes, but that is only a tiny part of what it takes to be in a band. Just a few days ago, I went to a show at The Compound to see Sauna--a group of 16 and 17 year olds who have only been together for about six months. They have already released a full-length album, a split, and were obviously on tour. It seems like a lot of Utah County bands are more than happy to play at the local venues for years without ever really recording or touring. That works for some people, but I would like to see more people getting out there and being heard by someone other than the same college kids every month.
Cade: I think we will just stick to a studio. Labels are really hard in this day and age… well, studios are, too. I wouldn’t want to do both.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the studio beyond what you have now, or are you comfortable with the way you have everything set up?
Cade: Oh yeah, I think we will always be getting new toys and making the studio better. We want other engineers to want to work here, as well. We also want to teach recording; we are trying to figure a way to set that up.
Bret: I think we are really just concerned with getting the studio perfect as it is. We don't need to expand, we just need to perfect the rooms, and make sure that we are never satisfied with the gear that we have.
Gavin: Moving on to statewide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Bret: Personally, I see massive flaws in the music scenes in both Provo and Salt Lake, but that is probably something for a different interview. As a studio, we get the benefit of getting to avoid all that and work with the source: bands. It is our job to make sure that bands have records, and that is something that I can really get behind, despite how I might feel about the other parts of the music scene.
Cade: To be honest, I’m a married man with children and haven’t really been in the scene for awhile. Bret knows what’s going on a lot more than I do. From what I have seen lately, it seems to be pretty good, and more bands seem to be touring, which is good.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Cade: Touring is good way to go. Get on KickStarter, get some money, make an album and take it on the road.
Bret: Make what more prominent? The music scene? The music scene in Utah needs to generate more than just one type of music, and that music needs to reach outside of local avenues. People know of cities like Brooklyn, LA, Seattle, Denton, and even several cities in Ohio because they have giant, supportive scenes, run by the bands themselves. Bands don't need to rely on venues, booking agencies, promotion companies or the other middlemen out there. If you are in a band, you are already good to go. If you are in a band to make a living, then those things are fine. However, if that is what you decide to do for work, then there are definitely easier ways to make money. Sitting in a cubicle is easier than going on tour, so go do that instead and leave the business out of music.
Gavin: What do you think about local labels and the role they play with helping musicians?
Bret: To be honest, I don't know much about them. Is Exigent still around in Salt Lake? They had some cool bands. Doesn't Joshua James have a label too? I don't really know what these guys are doing for bands, though. Everyone should just use KickStarter instead of having a label--at least then you won't owe anyone anything. Just ask Book On Tapeworm, Timber!, or The Mighty Sequoyah about how great that Website is. They are all bands who had records and tours funded entirely by sponsors. It's great.
Cade: Local labels are great to help the band get started. There aren’t any filthy rich ones that I know of around here, but the ones around seem to be focused on helping the bands and not themselves.
Gavin: Do you wish there were more areas available for bands to practice and record, or are we pretty well set for what we have?
Cade: Practice spaces are hard to come by; I wish there were more of them. And I would love if there were some more studios with dudes that wanted to geek out. I feel like studios can be boons to each other by referring clients to other studios when they are booked up. Each studio also has its own strengths and weaknesses. One can be great for getting quick demos, while another may be focused on mixing or mastering. And, of course, not every studio fits every budget, so depending on how much you can spend dictates where you can record.
Bret: There can never be too many studios, venues, houses, etc. for bands to do anything in. Ever.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how its affects local musicians?
Bret: I love KRCL. They genuinely support all of the different scenes of music, and the DJs over there are all really in tune with their particular genres. From Jared Soper's show "What We Do Is Secret," to everything that Bad Brad does, that station is rad.
Cade: Any airplay is good airplay and I bet it helps the morale of the band. I love listening to KRCL and listening to bands I know or have recorded.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and Black Pyramid over the next year?
Cade: I’m going to make sure Black Pyramid keeps getting better, and, hopefully, you will be hearing a lot of great recordings coming from us.
Bret: You can expect more mediocre punk bands from me, and hopefully some really great records, of any genre, from Black Pyramid.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Bret: Yeah, right, that isn't my job.
Cade: I recommend everybody who wants to be a recording engineer to get a free subscription to Tape Op Magazine. I have been reading it since I was 17 -- best magazine on recording, ever. Also, Iceage's New Brigade is some awesome stuff, go buy that record. And go to some local shows -- you maybe surprised at how good some of these bands are.
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