Hollywood, CA—Housed in a former post office that has operated as one music production facility or another since 1967, Eric Valentine’s Barefoot Recording—also the headquarters of his UnderTone Audio equipment manufacturing operation—is now available to outside clients. The facility has served as Valentine’s private studio since 2000, during which time he has produced albums for the likes of Good Charlotte, Taking Back Sunday, Queens of the Stone Age, Slash, Smash Mouth and numerous others.
“I’ve worked in that room for almost 18 years now,” says Valentine. “That’s a long time to be in one creative space.”
Valentine and his wife, recording artist Grace Potter, now have a 1-year-old child, which spurred him to move out of Barefoot and into Topangadise Studio, a facility he built at their Topanga Canyon home. “It’s very streamlined to be just the essential elements that I’ve come to really rely on: a collection of maybe eight or 10 microphones, a few favorite compressors, a couple of outboard preamps and EQs, and a computer,” he says.
“I still incorporate a tape machine, a Studer J37 1-inch 4-track. As I’m recording, a lot of it runs through that machine on the way into the computer.”
A musician, engineer and producer, Valentine built and operated a succession of studios in the Bay Area for years before heading to Los Angeles, where he acquired the historic building in the heart of Hollywood. And boy, does the building have a history. As Crystal Sound, built by Andrew Berliner beginning in the late ’60s, a who’s who of artists passed through: Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Supertramp, Eric Clapton, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, to name just a few. Producer Matt Hyde subsequently leased the facility for projects with Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros and Monster Magnet during the 1980s and ’90s.
Most famously, perhaps, Stevie Wonder recorded Songs in the Key of Life at Crystal Sound in 1976. His original Yamaha 9-foot grand piano remains in the live room. “The piano tuner has worked on it since it was new in this building,” says studio manager and engineer Tim O’Sullivan, who also works out of Studio B with his engineering partners, Joe Napolitano and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Over the years, Studio B has also hosted producers including Jon Brion, Jacquire King, Matt Rad and Cian Riordan.
There is a third room, Studio C, that originally housed Crystal’s cutting lathe and more recently served as Barefoot’s edit suite. Producer Mike Pepe has recently taken up residence in the space, reports O’Sullivan.
During his first five years at Barefoot, Valentine found it a constant challenge to keep his equipment working and eventually decided enough was enough: “The vintage Neve console I had was at the end of its life. No amount of contact cleaner was going to make me trust that thing again.”
He had built a rapport with technician Larry Jasper, formerly of Quad Eight and GML, who had been maintaining Barefoot’s gear and implementing various modifications. “Ultimately, because of my relationship with and confidence in him, I got excited about making a custom console,” says Valentine, who initially planned to base it on his favorite Neve 1084 modules.
Related: Barefoot Recording Opens Its Doors, by Tom Kenny, Mix magazine, Dec. 4, 2018
The project quickly expanded into a totally custom desk design. “I’ve been very fortunate and had the resources to go down this road of taking the most brilliant audio circuit designer on the planet and offering him the task of building the ultimate no-compromise analog console of all time,” he says.
“We started working in 2007 and built two—one for each of Barefoot’s studios. We installed the first console in 2009. I did all the mechanical design work and Larry did the electronic and PCB design work.”
The EQ section alone was a revelation, according to Valentine. “I wanted vintage musicality with modern flexibility. We realized that we had built an equalizer like nothing else. Nothing has that vintage Class A musicality that is as surgical and powerful. Other people got very interested in it, so we built 100 of them—and sold all of them in about two months.” UnderTone Audio, housed in a former apartment on the second floor, has since grown to offer a variety of rackmount products, including the UnFairchild compressor.
“Back in the Crystal days, they were making their own consoles and mic pres, so we’re trying to connect that legacy to what we’re doing now,” says O’Sullivan, who initially came on board to work on the custom consoles and UTA gear and previously worked at Capitol Studios. “The stuff we wanted didn’t exist, so we made it.”
Studio A’s tracking room is an inspirational space thanks to its funky vibe and a cornucopia of equipment. “With the instruments and gear that we have, it really is a space that rewards staying here, being in this one creative space,” says O’Sullivan.
“It’s fun and inspiring when people walk in there for the first time,” says Valentine. “You have access to anything you’ve ever wanted to use—and a bunch of stuff you never knew you wanted to try.”
But after years in the room, it was time to move on, says Valentine. “I’ve pulled every imaginable sound out of those rooms. There was a certain point where I felt more inspired being in a different space.”
“It’s been this private, comfortable, lived-in space for so long,” says O’Sullivan, noting some of the modifications implemented by Valentine in Studio A’s tracking space as the need arose. “This was one big room, but in the middle of one session, Eric said, ‘I wish this side of the room was a little deader.’ So we took a day off and built a wall, a semi-permanent baffle.” Another time, when Slash worked at Barefoot, the guitarist wanted to use floor monitors, so they built an iso booth.
Related: Undertone Debuts UnFairchild 670M II, by Strother Bullins, Dec. 12, 2017
In the past, projects might stay for six months, even a year, says O’Sullivan. “We want people to feel that vibe and comfort, but with a level of service of the traditional Hollywood commercial studio. You pour the last cup of coffee and someone’s making another pot already. Little things like that help free people up to concentrate on the music.”
In the meantime, Valentine is certainly going to be concentrating on music for the next couple of months at Topangadise Studio. “We need to deliver a finished record for Grace by the end of February, and we’ve got a lot to do,” he reports. “I’m really excited by it. It’s going to be an amazing record.”
Barefoot Recording • www.barefoot-recording.com
UnderToneAudio • www.undertoneaudio.com