Nashville, TN (October 6, 2020)—The Grip II has been the home of countless recording projects and sessions since award-winning studio designer and monitoring expert Carl Tatz built the two-room facility for Jay DeMarcus, co-founder of country music trio Rascal Flatts, more than a decade ago. The studio will likely stay busy for a long time to come, too. In January, Rascal Flatts marked their 20th anniversary with the announcement of a farewell tour, since cancelled due to COVID-19, giving DeMarcus plenty of time to focus on his new independent Christian music label, Red Street Records, and other projects.
“We have been recording stuff for the label,” confirms Nick Lane, DeMarcus’ go-to engineer since 2013, “but he’s also been really cool about other producers, players and songwriters booking sessions. For the last four or five years, we did a lot of songwriter demos. Two or three years ago, we probably cranked out close to 1,000 songs a year—18 demos a day, three or four times a week.” Since May, following the coronavirus lockdown, DeMarcus, a producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, has been working on an album with one of his new label signings, Lane adds.
The facility is in the basement of the DeMarcus family home. “I designed the whole thing, including the entrance and the driveway,” says Tatz. “They had such faith in me.” Indeed, Tatz even helped the family decide which of the two houses they were considering buying would best accommodate the planned studio. “It’s very flattering that Jay has always valued my opinion,” he says.
Their relationship goes back to 2006, when Tatz designed and built The Grip I in a previous house. Tatz has also built a home production facility for another Rascal Flatts cofounder, guitarist Joe Don Rooney.
Carl Tatz Design control rooms have a signature look, typically featuring a wall of alternating floor-to-ceiling glass and acoustic treatment, which Tatz calls an Acoustic Lens. “My general philosophy is to make the back of the room completely dead, the ceiling completely dead— all absorptive—and make the sides a combination of reflective and absorptive; diffusive.”
When a side wall in the control room doesn’t look into another room or outside, he installs mirrors. “Not only is it acoustically symmetrical, it’s visually symmetrical. It’s one of the hallmarks of what we do.”
Central to any Carl Tatz Design room is his proprietary monitor tuning protocol. “The big selling point for anyone hiring me is the Phantom Focus System. That’s what changes everybody’s lives,” adds Tatz.
The tracking room could best be described as modest, but it produces a sound that belies its small floor area and relatively low ceiling. “Using those space couplers in the right way—those waffle-looking things— the sound will go up, get confused and come down. That’s what gives it the illusion. It makes it sound bigger than it is,” says Tatz.
“Whenever there’s a new drummer who has never worked in there before, I make a point of telling them that the room mics up way bigger,” says Lane. “You expect it to sound small and boxy, but it mics up huge— and not just for drums. We do a lot of horn and string overdubs in that room and it really sounds great for how small it is. It’s honestly one of my favorite rooms that I’ve ever done cello in. That room really resonates nicely.”
Because the drum room is relatively small, the room mics can end up close to the control room glass, which Lane thought would be a problem when he first arrived, he says. But the acoustic lens apparently works its magic. “I was expecting any bipolar mic to sound weird that close to the glass, and, shockingly, it doesn’t. It’s interesting how it has not been noticeable.”
Much of the gear predates Lane’s time at the studio. “I believe it was mostly Jay and an engineer who used to work with him, Sean Neff, who made the original choices,” he says.
Studio A is anchored by a 24-channel SSL AWS900 desk and a well-stocked credenza. “If we’re tracking, we use a lot of outboard,” says Lane, noting that API, Neve and UA mic preamps are among the favorites. “The console pre’s play second fiddle. If we run out of other stuff, then we’ll use the console.”
As for the mic locker, “Jay has collected a handful of vintage Neumanns over the years. We’ve got a couple of 67s, a couple of 269s, a couple KM 84s, an 87. The one thing he didn’t have for a long time was a 47, but a couple of years ago we bought a 47 clone made by Slate. It sounds really great,” says Lane.
One highlight for Tatz was the amp closet, which has a floating floor and floating plenum walls. “You’re getting the true sound of the amp,” he says. This being a home-based facility, he also focused on isolating the studio from the living areas above.
DeMarcus does most of his songwriting in the Wine Cellar, a second studio that used to be just that. “There’s not a ton of outboard gear in there,” says Lane. “It’s mostly synth and keyboard world.” On Aug. 22, DeMarcus posted a photo to Instagram from the room that suggested Rascal Flatts are working on new material. “Big announcement coming soon!” he wrote.
Projects produced in whole or in part at The Grip II have sold in the millions and have garnered ACM, CMA, Dove and Grammy Awards. Three Rascal Flatts albums have been tracked there, says Tatz. Over the years, DeMarcus has produced a long list of albums by artists including Reba McEntire, Alabama, Michael English and Chicago.
Adding flair to the facility, Tatz and DeMarcus have incorporated fun items like Fender bass neck door pulls and Vox wah-wah pedal door pushes. The elevator—“That elevator is pretty amazing,” says Tatz—incorporates a lightbox with images of DeMarcus playing bass at Abbey Road Studios and on stage with Rascal Flatts.
Tatz was also contracted to design and build a very large screening room for the family, separate from the music production facilities. “An 11-foot projection screen comes down in front of the smaller screen, and it’s got five subwoofers in the floors,” he says. “You don’t have those kinds of opportunities too much, where everything is that refined.” Carl Tatz Design
Carl Tatz Design • www.carltatzdesign.com