As Provo continues to build its status as a home for rising musicians and slowly sets itself apart from the rest of the state, more companies designed to help out the scene are setting up shop to accommodate. --- Take, for example, Pulsar Audio, recording studio of musician/producer Al Deans, who has been opening his doors to musicians in need of a quick, professional, recording on the cheap to get their music out to the masses -- not to mention being the recording home of the popular 100 Block Podcast that's taken Utah County by storm.
Today, we chat with Deans about his career in music, starting up the studio and the work he's done with musicians, his work with the podcast and thoughts on local music in general.
Gavin: Hey, Al. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Al: My name is Al Deans, my friends call me Al Deans. I'm an Aquarius. I've played in a million and one bands. I play guitar, bass, drums. I love long walks in the mountains and I prefer brunettes, but I date blondes usually.
Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite musical influences growing up?
Al: We always had a piano in the house and my sisters got lessons. My grandma paid for the lessons and I wanted them, too, but it was "a girls' instrument" according to my grandma. I wanted to play the drums, always beating on pots and pans, but that was too loud for my parents. My mom had a guitar under her bed that she never played and I wanted to play that, too, but she didn't think I was serious. I picked up the guitar when I moved out of my parents house at the ripe old age of 18 then moved on to the bass guitar a couple of years later and stuck with that for eight years. I started playing guitar seriously after that, as well. When I started playing music, it was all about Metallica and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots. It was right at the beginning of the '90s music revolution, so yeah, that's what I got into. Later, I was influenced by Glassjaw, Incubus, System Of A Down, Pink Floyd, and so many more. Nowadays, I'm getting into Wilco, Radiohead, Mute Math, etc.
Gavin: You went to the College of Eastern Utah to study art and music. What made you choose CEU and what was its program like?
Al: I got a full-tuition scholarship for the visual arts at CEU. At the time, it was the second-best school for art and I didn't want to go to school in Logan. Too cold.
Gavin: How did you first get involved with the local music scene and how was it for you performing?
Al: My first real band was a band called Similar Opposition. I played bass in that band for five years, but before that, I was taking bass lessons and I auditioned for a band that Corey Fox was managing called Clover. I didn't make it, I just wasn't good enough, but Corey was also beginning to manage music venues at the time and he was running the music side of what was called Wrapsody, which is south, right next door to where Velour is now. There was a pretty cool music scene in Provo at the time and I was addicted to performing. We played some pretty awesome shows. John Buckner used to mix the sound for my band. John was, for a time, the road manager of Neon Trees, and he now has a website called Bandcrashers.
Gavin: When did you first take an interest in the recording side of things and what made you want do it professionally?
Al: I started recording in my room when I first started playing guitar. I used to borrow a buddy's four-track recorder and record my stupid songs when I first wrote them. I graduated to a digital eight-track recorder and then Cubase on my PC, where I would track on my eight-track and bounce it all to the computer to mix. I was also mixing live sound at the Old Muse, which was next door, north of where Velour is, before it moved farther up the street, and then at Velour when it first opened. I realized that I had a good ear for mixing music and I decided I was going to get serious about recording and live sound.
Gavin: Did you seek out any professional training or college for it, or was it more self-taught?
Al: Who needs school, right?! Haha! Well, actually, I should've gone to school. I would be much further ahead, but I learned a lot working at Metropolis Integrated Media as an audio editor/tracking engineer. Clarke Jackman of Jackman Studios and Metcom (formerly Metropolis) hooked me up with that gig.
Gavin: When did the idea come about to start up your own recording studio, and what made you decide on Pulsar for the name?
Al: I actually had my recording studio in the back of Velour for a short time, until I couldn't pay the rent there, as well as an apartment and I had to move out. I had to opt for not being homeless. I chose Pulsar simply because I'm a nerd and I like space, but it also represents sound ... sort of.
Gavin: How did you go about getting all the equipment you needed, and what was it like for you when you first started up?
Al: As any audio person knows, the gear is an ever-growing thing. I don't really have all the gear I want, but my dad helped me get my first iMac and Digi002 so I could get going in Protools. Wouldn't be here with out him. I owe him a ton. When he's old and gray and not able to work, I'll be putting him and my mom up. I really didn't know what I was doing, but Protools is easy to operate, for the most part, and I got Jared Palick and Joe Woit of Forgotten Charity in my bedroom to track a couple of acoustic songs for their album. That was the first stuff I really did.
Gavin: For those interested on the tech side, what kind of audio and recording equipment do you have?
Al: I run Protools 9 with an M-Audio Profire 2626 interface, Black Lion Audio Clock, Seventh Circle Audio Pre-amps (Neve style), and DBX 386 tube pres, with a few decent mics. SM7 dynamic vocal mic, Rode K2 tube condenser, Audix drum mics. Macbook Pro with I7 processor. Mackie MR8 studio monitors. I have a PM-8 analog summing mixer for mixdowns.
Gavin: What were some of your first sessions like while getting the feel of the studio down, and who are some of the bands who have come through and recorded?
Al: Like I said with Forgotten Charity, I was pretty much just pointing the mics at them and getting them to play. But now, I have done recordings for Burning Olympus (3 albums), Fatigi, Kelly Elcock, and random other bands here and in Portland. I have recorded a ton of my own stuff, too. Most recently, I got flown out to work at Jackpot Recording Studio with a band called The Lower 48. That was the coolest! I love working in larger studios that have many more toys to play with. I will be finishing up the latest Burning Olympus record within the next month and I have Friends Of Friends coming in this week to track a quick EP.
Gavin: You've also made your studio the home of the 100 Block Podcast. How did you get involved with the show and what's it like recording episodes with them?
Al: Oh, man -- some of the most fun I have had recording anything! I love sitting behind the glass and listening to the stories. Branden, the brains behind the creation, and I have been friends for years and we've messed around with the idea of a podcast before, so it was pretty natural.
Gavin: What's the main goal you have for Pulsar, and are there any thoughts to making a label like other studios have done?
Al: I am doing a small developmental label. I record quick demos for bands and get them out there. Bands need a good start. That's where I come in. I can shoot out a quick demo for not much money and they can get music into the hands of current and future fans. My main goal with Pulsar is that it's a small start-up studio and I, myself, work elsewhere, as well as at the smaller studio. I don't have much overhead at my little garage, so cost stays down, but if there is a need to record people, I have larger studios at my disposal.
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?
Al: I'm always expanding. That's the life of an audio engineer/musician; always collecting more gear. Its called G.A.S. aka Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and I have it.
Gavin: Moving on to statewide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Al: I think, in a way, the local scene is coming into its own. However, I don't think the bands are working hard enough. Facebook is not adequate promotion. Also, bands tend to play way too much in their own town. They need to get out on the road! Start small. Get to Salt Lake and Northern and Southern Utah. Then branch out from there. Be nice to other bands and they will support you. This is no competition, but it can be slightly competitive, and as long as it is friendly competition,but really supportive of others, the community can grow healthily.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Al: I think the bands need to think of themselves as bigger than they might be; not cocky, but confident. They are as good as anything out there nationally. Make a big deal out of it! You're in a band! That's talent! That's cool! So, flyer the crap out of everything. Do anything you can think of to create a buzz. Be creative. Tell your friends about other really good bands. Make a name for yourself! People need to recognize your name. Make it happen.
Gavin: What do you think about local labels and the role they play with helping musicians?
Al: I think it's important for a band to have someone support them. When I was first starting to play in bands, I can't help but think that if we had had some sort of competent manager and promotion team and some sort of financial push, we might have gotten somewhere. If a band is serious, its a win-win. The band needs someone else to worry about the business so they can just play. Don't get me wrong, they need to be serious about the promotion end of things along with the management, but they should be practicing three nights a week and creating music. If a local label can do a little of the work that needs to be done alongside the band, then the band will definitely be that much farther ahead.
Gavin: Do you wish there were more areas available for bands to practice and record in, or are we pretty well set for what we have?
Al: Well, bands don't have a lot of cash, so although there is a need, there aren't enough places to practice in that are affordable. I think that practice spaces would be great, but are bands willing to pay for that kind of thing? Maybe some are ... I don't really know these days.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?
Al: I don't really listen to the radio, so I don't really know. I guess there's KOHS and some other radio stations, but to be honest, I don't think that many people listen anymore. I could be wrong, though.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Pulsar over the rest of the year?
Al: I'm going to be putting out a few EPs from bands like Friends Of Friends and Burning Olympus. I'll be upgrading my mics and gear, as always, so expect some better and better recordings. I feel like my mixes get better every time. I wish I could go remix everything, but that's not feasible. I also work a full-time job that I'm planning on phasing out by the end of the year.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Al: Please just support local music. Tell your friends and family. Make sure they really know that there is some amazing music in Provo.
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