The old axiom, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” is probably at least part of why New York City bands keep knocking on Chris Cubeta’s door. Besides working as engineer, producer and owner of GaluminumFoil Studios in Brooklyn, he also fronts his own group, Chris Cubeta and the Liars Club, which has headlined Bowery Ballroom and opened for the likes of The Wallflowers and Suzanne Vega. We caught up with Cubeta to find out about his five-year-old studio, learn how it weathered the economic slump, and discover whether the place is haunted.
You come from a background as a working musician; how did you move into producing and engineering, much less building a studio?
I actually have been a working musician, engineer, producer and songwriter pretty much since I started--they all kind of went hand in hand to me. I never intended on building a studio but it just kind of happened. I found myself acquiring equipment over the years and it eventually led me to needing a space to work out of. Although on some level it is a commercial studio, it was really built out of me just wanting and needing a space for my own music and to produce artists that wanted to work with me.
Where does GaluminumFoil Studios take its name from?
I believe it was a mindless word game during a long car ride with my two best friends. It has absolutely no meaning what so ever.
Over the last five years, New York City has seen a lot of studios close their doors, yet you jumped into the local market and have prospered despite the economy. How did you get the word out about the studio, and how did you build upon that first interest?
Other than a few Craigslist ads when we first started, pretty much all of our work is based on word of mouth. Myself and the two engineers (Jeff Berner and Gary Atturio) pride ourselves on making the best recordings we can for a modest price.
Fair enough—so how has the New York studio scene changed over the last five years, in your eyes?
I think there are a lot of really great studios in NYC these days that learned from some of the mistakes that the bigger fancier places made. The business has changed so much from what I understand. Small places like mine benefit from equipment being much more affordable than it was 20 or 30 years ago. If you have a good knowledge of what equipment works for a certain job, you can really make great recordings without having to spend a fortune on gear. The things that people mostly seem to like about our place is our live room, which is humble but very comfortable. I modeled it after Millbrook Sound Studios in Millbrook, NY; I worked there for six years under Paul Orofino. When I decided to move to NYC and build my own little place, I took some of what Paul had done to his and incorporated it into mine. That being said, his is much nicer and more well equipped.
GaluminumFoil Studios' Toft board.
Every studio prides itself on its inventory; what’s your favorite “go-to” pieces of gear that you find yourself turning to time and time again for recording?
I guess my favorite signal chain would be my API 512C into my API 525 Compressor. That was the first high-end piece of audio equipment I bought and it has served me well for 10 years. I recently bought 3 FiveFish Audio x-72 mic pre amps and I absolutely love them. Ruel who builds them is a really nice guy and I love to support small builders when possible.
Since your studio’s in Brooklyn and the Williamsburg scene is known as a hotbed of creativity, what’s the most unusual session that’s taken place in GaluminumFoil?
My good friend and engineer here at the studio once recorded people trying to pick up paranormal activity on an AM radio. He was recording it in case any ghosts showed up. I think it was a 3- or 4-hour session. When I asked him how it went, he said, "Good, I ordered a pizza and took a nap." So far, no ghosts!
As a producer, what are some of the ways you facilitate a band achieving what it wants when it comes into record?
I guess for lack of a better description, I am a ‘feel’ guy. I try and let situations develop naturally and see what an artist is looking for, then try and help them get there. If that doesn't work, I just tell them that they are doing it all wrong and that I know best because I'm the prod—I’m kidding!
Making music, whether you are producing, engineering, playing or writing, is about human beings. I think the best work comes out of people working together and compromising when needed, but also being able to stand their ground when they are passionate about something.
So who are some of those acts that have passed through the studio’s doors at this point?
We've done a few things that have had some success outside of NYC like Wakey! Wakey. I produced his last full length record and it's doing pretty well. Jeff Berner has worked a bunch with Psychic T.V. The majority of our work is bands based here in the city and singer songwriters. People many not know many of them, but we think you should. As for stuff that's either out or coming out in the next year or so, there’s Emily Easterly; Clyde; Bryan Dunn; Matt Cranstoun; Astoria Blvd.; Tatiana Kochkareva; Casey Shea; Wakey! Wakey!; Matt Singer; and VA/MD.
How do you juggle engineering, producing and your own band at this point?
It's been kind of a hard thing, but I think I am finally getting a grip on it. I'm learning to use the different aspects of making music to benefit one another. Or maybe not. I don't know. I just keep trying to figure it out.
So what’s next for you?
For Chris Cubeta and the Liars Club, we released our self titled album on June 11th. Next, I'll begin writing a new EP that we are hopefully recording with John Agnello in the fall. I have always wanted to work with a producer other than myself and I am a big fan of John's work. From what I can tell, he seems like a wonderful guy and it would be a privilege to work with him.
Cool. So, to close things out, after five years of GaluminumFoil, any advice for folks thinking of starting their own studio?
Yikes! I guess, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and don't buy shit you don't need.