Blind Melon Guitarist Opens Studio, Offers Recording Advice – ‘Always Buy Classic Vintage Gear’

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The two Blind Melon albums issued during Shannon Hoon’s lifetime, 1992’s Blind Melon and 1995’s Soup, are two of my favorite sounding rock recordings of all-time (I may be just a tad biased, as I’ve been a long-time fan and of course, even wrote a book about this era of the band, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other). It turns out that guitarist Christopher Thorn learned from three of the best in the business when it comes to recording (producers David Briggs, Rick Parashar, and Andy Wallace), and is putting his knowledge and talents to good use, by recently opening up a new California studio, Fireside Sound.

Alternative Nation: Where is Fireside Sound located?

Christopher Thorn: Fireside Sound is located in the hills of Silverlake, CA. 

Alternative Nation: How is Fireside Sound different or similar to the previous studios you’ve designed/owned?

Christopher Thorn: This is my third and favorite studio I have designed and owned. I feel like I know how to build a studio that makes artists feel at home and inspired, and as a producer as well as artist, I realize the importance of having classic recording gear along with state of the art recording gear.  

Alternative Nation: How can artists go about booking time at the studio, and are you available produce and play on artists’ recordings at the studio?

Christopher Thorn: Clients can visit the website firesidesound.net for booking info. Depending on my personal schedule I am available to produce/play on records. When I am not available, I have a vast network of producers, musicians and engineers that are familiar with the studio. I am happy to help find the right pairing of artist, producer and musicians. 

Alternative Nation: What are some of the cooler pieces of equipment at the studio?

Christopher Thorn: I like the old stuff. In my opinion, the recording gear made during the 1970’s produced the best and warmest gear ever made. My recording console is a 1973 32 Channel API that has a warmth and personality that can not be duplicated with any piece of digital gear. I started collecting gear around the time Blind Melon made the Soup record, so many pieces of gear in my studio were used during those sessions. Also available in my studio are all of my vintage guitars, amps and pedals. I believe guitars are like dogs, they just want to be touched and played with, so I am happy to share my guitar collection with my clients. I have close to 30 instruments in the studio. 

Alternative Nation: Did you model Fireside Sound after any other studios you’ve worked in over the years on Blind Melon recordings?

Christopher Thorn: I would say that I modeled Fireside Sound after all my favorite studios I have worked in during my career. For me, the feeling and vibe of a studio is essential for creativity. One of my first experiences recording was recording at Indigo Ranch with Blind Melon and David Briggs [on an EP, Sippin’ Time Sessions], who was Neil Young’s producer. Indigo Ranch was a studio in the hills of Malibu on 60 acres. It felt more like a hunting cabin in the woods. It was originally a house owned by the actor John Barrymore and was converted into a studio in 1974, and went on to record some of the best records of that decade including records by Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Fireside Sound has a similar vibe to Indigo Ranch. Fireside Sound has a working wood burning fireplace, redwood walls in the control, and cedar walls in the drum tracking room. My favorite sounding rooms are always wood, I learned this while recording at Sound City, which had one of the all time great sounding drum rooms. I also made sure I had plenty of windows for natural light when I built my studio. Fresh air and natural light are very important when working long hours in the studio. Fireside Sound looks and feels like a cabin in Big Sur or somewhere similar. I love feeling like I am transported to a different time and place while I am in the studio, but I also love the convenience of being in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Silverlake has become the epicenter for all things art and music related in Los Angeles. It reminds me of how it felt living in Seattle in 1991 when I lived there. 

Alternative Nation: For someone who is thinking of building and running their own recording studio, what advice would you give them?

Christopher Thorn: My advice would be to always buy classic vintage gear. I would rather a studio have a few pieces of classic gear instead of lots of mediocre modern digital gear. Because we are in the digital age and all songs will be compressed to the digital format its more important than ever for your music to be warmed up with great vintage gear. Keep in mind that most people can have a studio in their bedroom these days, so if you are trying to attract people to your studio, you must give them something they don’t have at home. A lot of my clients come to Fireside Sound because of my Vintage API console, guitar collection, and great vibe. 

Alternative Nation: What equipment would you recommend for someone who is putting together a home/bedroom studio?

Christopher Thorn: Always start with the classics and build on that. The first thing your sound will hit will be a microphone. Don’t skimp on the very first thing in your chain. Buy a great microphone that can be used for multiple applications, i.e. a vintage Neumann U87. Buy a Vintage API or Neve mic pre and add in a vintage 1176 compressor and you have an unbeatable signal chain that has been used on every single classic record. The very first studio I owned was a mobile studio that I toured with during the 90’s, touring with Blind Melon. I am very grateful now that I was given similar advice by the legendary producer/mixer Andy Wallace [who produced Soup] when I was buying gear for my mobile studio. I had no idea at that time that those recordings would be some of the last and best recordings from Shannon Hoon. Those recordings are timeless because they were recorded on a Neve preamp with a Vintage Neumann U-87. The MOST important thing for a great sounding studio is a great SONG. Great gear won’t make a shitty song great. But a great song recorded on great gear in a magical space is destined to be a classic!!

Photo by Heather Thorn.

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Bio: After having his articles posted from other outlets on Alternative Nation (and before that, Grunge Report) for years - heck, he was even interviewed by GR back in 2009! - Greg Prato finally began contributing articles to the site in 2014. He has written for various sites/mags over the years (Rolling Stone, All Music Guide, etc.), and is the author of quite a few books. And as evidenced by such titles as Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, and Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, he also has a deep fondness for alternative rock n' roll music. You can check out info on all of Greg's books here, see what he's up to on his Twitter page here.
  • Sloppy Gonzales

    Great band. Used to listen to them all the time. Shannon Hoon was so talented. Sad to see him die so young

  • Sloppy Gonzales

    By the way loved Greg Pratos Faith No More/Mr . Bungle companion book. Mike Patton is my favorite artist of all time and really enjoyed the read