“This is the kind of place that would actually drive me to move somewhere.”
Anthony Gravino built up a solid list of clients and had numerous recordings under his belt when he decided to move his recording studio to Urbana last Fall. His previous studio The Drake — located in Logan Square in Chicago — had run its course and he felt it was time for a change of scenery. “I talked to my partner in Chicago and he agreed to sell the building,” says Gravino. “We were both ready to move somewhere a little more mellow so we sold the building in Chicago last September and I bought this place in Urbana two days later. I immediately started fixing it up with the help of my friend Tim Edwards and had the studio up and running last October. It has been a lot of work but it is definitely worth it to have such a unique studio/home.”
Gravino’s studio High Cross Sound — named after the road it is located on — is on the outskirts of Urbana. I had never been in that area of the city before and it felt like an adventure heading out there. That feeling was amplified when I pulled up on the gravel road and laid eyes on the studio. Gravino had told me in email that the studio was an old barn he had renovated, but seeing it in person, it gave off Tolkien vibes, as if I had arrived in Hobbiton. Surrounded by greenery, with moss covering the front, it was quiet and secluded, and it felt magical. Certainly a change of pace from bustling Chicago.
I was greeted at the door by Gravino, and he led me inside to the studio. Huge windows let in natural light that gave the studio a warm and comforting feeling. I was given a tour of the space, which featured the performance area on the first floor, and the control room on the second floor, which overlooked the performance space. The balconies were lined with amps, drums, and other equipment. As I toured the studio, Gravino chatted with me about the space, as well as how he got into recording and engineering.
Gravino says it was never his dream to own a studio. His original dream was to be a performer. He started playing guitar when he was 13 years old, and always hoped to become a professional musician. He moved to Chicago in 1999 and began playing in bands, trying to make a name for himself in the music industry, but it wasn’t until he began playing with Temple of Low Men in 2002 that he realized that engineering could be the answer.
“I had been playing in bands for many years and was always disappointed with the recordings we had made until I started playing with Temple of Low Men, who were based here in Champaign/Urbana. Temple of Low Men worked with two exceptionally talented engineer/producers named Adam Schmitt and Jonathan Pines. When I saw how those guys worked on records, I was instantly obsessed and wanted to learn how to record and mix myself.” Gravino loved their way of experimenting with sound and trying new methods of recording. “Adam and Jon were the first engineers I worked with who viewed the studio as its own musical instrument and they kind of took me under their wings and taught me a lot about engineering. What struck me was how they really took chances in the studio and were not afraid to abuse gear or take adventurous approaches to achieve compelling sonics”
Temple of Low Men disbanded in 2005, and so Gravino took matters into his own hands. He bought a ProTools rig and taught himself recording and engineering. He eventually began recording his friends and their music. “Later that year a band who had heard some demos I did asked if they could hire me to record and mix their debut album. Up to that point I had never even considered engineering as a profession, but it seemed like fun so I did it. After people heard that record the phone started ringing and it hasn’t stopped ringing since.”
Gravino has his name on more than 100 projects — you can find his full list of credits on his incredibly charming website — including work with Elsinore, We The Animals, Curb Service, and many more. COVID didn’t stop him either. In 2021, he got hired to engineer and mix a record for Grammy winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and guitarist Charlie Hunter. The record is titled Super Blue.
“I am not exactly sure how I got the engineer/mixer gig for Super Blue,” Gravino says. “I think Kurt’s manager had heard of me through a musician who plays in Kurt’s band and when he saw my new barn studio setup outside Urbana they figured it would be a perfect place to come hole up and make a lockdown record. We all took rapid Covid tests on the first day and then two other times over the 14 days we worked on the record.”
The three of them busted out the album in two weeks. I asked Gravino how he managed to pull something like that off and he said it was tough but rewarding. “We worked very intensely for 14 days recording all the vocals, other overdubs like keys, guitar, percussion and mixing the record” he says. “It was an interesting process because Kurt was literally writing words to songs that didn’t have vocals yet while I was up stairs mixing songs we had just finished recording.”
He also mentioned how Charlie and Kurt put their trust in him to experiment and try new things. “He (Charlie) told me right from the start, ‘I want you to take chances sonically and really push things to the edge’ so that is what I did. Being around people like Kurt and Charlie just makes you better in every way. It was one of the first records I made at my new studio and much to everyone’s delight everything came out sounding great.”
Be on the lookout for Super Blue, which comes out on October 8th on Edition Records. You can listen to Sassy, one of the singles from the album below. You can visit Anthony Gravino’s website here.