Smile Politely

In the studio with Bones Jugs

Last week I had the chance of stopping by and seeing local favorite Bones Jugs while they were in the process of recording their upcoming album. This will be the band’s second full-length album, this time they chose to go with a in-home pop-up studio that is masterminded by long-time local recording engineer Jake Metz. Metz founded the Urbana Basement project back in 2011, and since then has worked on numerous recording projects for bands like Grandkids, The Fights, Church Booty, and others. Needless to say, the setup was impressive. They had effectively been able to turn a relatively small living room space into a makeshift recording studio with enough space to fit the whole four-person band without having any serious issues with crossover between the various microphones. The DIY ethic was very evident in the way the room was laid out but everything was done in a way that made the space very compatible for creating a professional sounding album.

Jake Metz during the session with Bones Jugs

Choosing to record in a home studio is a great option for local bands if they have the equipment and expertise to pull it off. Bones Jugs spoke to me about the process of recording their first album, Party’s in the Kitchen, where they were limited to five days of recording and how this put them under a little bit of pressure to just complete the whole album in the time that was available to them. That strict time schedule wasn’t as conducive to experimenting and trying out new sounds on the fly as compared to their in-home setup for this, their second album.

I asked recording engineer Jake Metz to go into a little bit of detail about what makes recording in a home pop-up studio so great:

“You can go anywhere! You can go somewhere that has a unique natural sound or feels comfortable. Also, being in a new (often ‘non-ideal’ from a traditional recording studio standpoint) space often imposes limitations and encourages creative problem solving and ‘happy accidents’ (new sounds or ideas that you would not have predicted). Being in a space without isolation booths encourages live-tracking which, in-turn, often results in a ‘tighter’, more dynamic performance for a track.”

There is also the obvious fact that bands don’t have to pay a high hourly or daily studio fee when they chose to record in-home. Specifically for Bones Jugs, another reason why they wanted to record the album locally is so that they could bring in friends and other local musicians to feature on some of the tracks. They were able to get Dan “Dandree” Andree on fiddle for two songs, Tim “T-Pan” Berg on steel drums for three songs, Samuel Payne on guitar, and Doug Schroer both on a single song. This would have proved a lot more difficult if they had chosen to record out of town, especially considering some of the musicians featured didn’t have much time to rehearse with the band before the recording process began.

However, there are certainly a few challenges that come with recording an album using a makeshift home studio setup. One major challenge is just getting everything set up, especially when there is so much equipment that needs to be setup in such a small space like the Bones Jugs living room. Charlie Harris described to me some of what the setup entailed:

“We had to surround ourselves and cover the walls in sound paneling (and a down-blanket) to soften the sound, I played the bass in a cave of sound panels and tapestries. Also, the house is on Vine Street in Urbana, so we spent a fair amount of time waiting for a loud car to pass, or for the tree trimming to stop.”

Another problem that can occur is the mixing of different instruments. For example, the sound of the drums might get into the microphone that is setup for guitar, and vice-versa. This can create a problem when mixing and mastering the recording. But I think that these challenges are part of what can make recording at home so rewarding. Harris provided me some of his thoughts on this:

“The recording process is a learning experience. All sorts of questions, answers, and roadblocks arise… Can I play that better? Am I happy with that? Should we change that part? Do I need another cup of coffee? Am I hungry? Am I losing my mind? But, we have committed to making an album that we are proud of so we’ve been marching forward, and taking the time to get over those hills. Which is 100% worth it, because now, on day ten, with at least 60 hours of studio time under our belts, we have a lot of sounds that we are happy with. Some of these songs have been in the works for over a year, and to hear them take form and sound good, is a joyful experience for us.”

Overall, it was great to get a glimpse into what the recording process is like for Bones Jugs new album. My hope is that this can give people an idea of what the recording process is like for local bands, although I’m sure that the recording style and setups used by local musicians and bands are as diverse as the music itself.

All Photos by Sam Logan

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