Well, ladies and gentlemen it is a new year and with a new year comes new accomplishments, new artists, and new endeavors. Just in January alone we have worked with Dave Ellis, Peter Donovan, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Richie Aldente. Along with a plethora of artists flooding our studio to record their music is the intense progress of our Mexico studio location. In fact as I type our owner, Mr. Lang himself, is packing his tool belt and heading south of the boarder to Litibu, Mexico. If we haven’t already rocked your world with all the Grammy nominated artists that have recorded here, you just wait, 2013 is about to be our best year yet.
On a quiet side street in Shoreline, a mammoth structure juts majestically out of the hillside, its ornate exterior brickwork giving it…
Special to The Seattle Times
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, left, listens to Peter Frampton during a recording session at Robert Lang Studios in Shoreline.
Owner Robert Lang climbs a stairway from the recording studio to the living quarters above.
Peter Frampton listens to his amplifier in another room for the perfect sound.
Gold records adorn a hallway at Lang’s studio, which is in its 30th year of business in Shoreline.
On a quiet side street in Shoreline, a mammoth structure juts majestically out of the hillside, its ornate exterior brickwork giving it the look of a small fortress. Cars driving by frequently slow down to get a better look. And those who know what goes on behind the imposing outer door slow down to see if they can spy a famous face taking a break on the stairway of Robert Lang Studios, where musicians have come to record since 1974.
When British guitarist Peter Frampton, whose 1976 album “Frampton Comes Alive!” was one of the biggest selling albums of the ’70s, got his first look at the studios recently, his initial thoughts were, “Wow. It’s in a house!” he says. “And then I looked up and realized how tall it is. And when I asked someone where to get a cup of coffee, and they said, ‘Go all the way to the top, there’s a kitchen up there,’ and I did and I saw the view. You don’t get that in many studios.”
Frampton, who booked a session at Robert Lang’s last January to begin work on an upcoming album of instrumentals (and invited Pearl Jam’s guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron to join him), is the latest in a wide range of national and local acts that have used the studio, from Bush and Dave Matthews, to Heart and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Blues great Albert Collins recorded there, and it’s where Nirvana laid down its last studio session.
In the early ’70s, Lang was working as a welder at Boeing while developing his budding recording skills by recording a friend’s band, Cheeseburger Deluxe, at local venues like the Aquarius Tavern (now Parker’s Casino). Frustrated with the inconsistencies of recording live (“If there was a mistake or something went wrong with the equipment, it was like, ‘Too bad, the band’s gotta go up and play anyway’ “), Lang began looking for a studio location. A friend offered him space in his garage, which Lang initially rejected as being too small. But after learning what it would cost to rent a space, he reconsidered his friend’s offer, and Robert Lang Recording Services was born.”We’re not even really trying and things are coming to us,” says Lang. “A lot of producers are coming to the studio and starting to realize there’s an unlimited potential in the way I’ve created and designed these rooms for acoustics. It gives them real tools to work with instead of digital-effects boxes; they actually work with the real dimensions of a real room sound. And producers are waking up to that.”
“A little bit of partying”
One of the first groups to walk through the doors was the Franklin High School Jazz Lab, whose star performer was Kenny Gorelick, who’d later find fame as Kenny G. “He pulled his soprano sax out, went through his scales really quick, and just blew me away,” says Lang. “He couldn’t have been any more than 15, 16 years old.” Another early client was Albert Collins, whom Lang met at a show at Greenwood’s Walrus Tavern. “When Albert came out here, it was like, ‘Oh, my God, here come the wild and crazy blues guys, bringing their whiskey with them,’ ” Lang recalls.
GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMESPeter Frampton listens to his amplifier in another room for the perfect sound.
“Albert actually took his guitar and played a few notes with his teeth. On the first day of the sessions, he had a conflict with his drummer, and the drummer ended up throwing his drum stool out the door. The second day they brought in another drummer, but he couldn’t cut it, so they brought the first one back. And then everything was fine.” The demo later got Collins signed to Alligator Records.
Lang concedes that “a little bit of partying went on” during the early days. “Especially the blues guys; they liked to drink. Back then it was more like ‘Whee! We’re in the studio! Let’s have a good time!’ ” That began to change as Lang bought the site and built it into the four-story structure it is today. Lang designed the studio and did much of the construction himself; features like the 24-foot-high studio room meant removing “literally hundreds” of dump truck loads of sand.
Nirvana’s last session
Seattle’s rock scene was changing, too, with more local acts recording for national labels. Soundgarden was unable to work on its “Superunknown” album at Lang’s, as Narada recording artist Michael Gettle had booked the space, so Nirvana became the first of the major grunge bands to use the studio in what would be its last recording session, Jan. 28-30, 1994.
Lang and producer Adam Kasper had dragged in tree branches and set up candles around the studio to enhance the mood in the studio for the band. But lead singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain didn’t show up for the first two days, and Lang momentarily worried that all his preparations had been for nothing. No one knew where Cobain was, yet, when he finally arrived on the third day, Lang detected no underlying tensions among the band members.
GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMESGold records adorn a hallway at Lang’s studio, which is in its 30th year of business in Shoreline.
“No, not at all,” he says. “They were really serious. There was no joking around; it was like, ‘Hey, Kurt showed up, let’s get things going while he’s here.’ ” At one point, Cobain laid down on the studio’s cool marble floor to alleviate a backache. “I could tell his back was hurting him,” says Lang. “He had some pain. And then he got up and went right into singing the vocal for ‘You Know You’re Right.’ ” The song was finally released eight years later.
Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl returned to Lang’s that October to record the first Foo Fighters’ album, playing all the instruments himself, aside from one guitar part. “He lived just up the hill, and he and his then-wife would come down here on go-karts,” Lang recalls. “He’d be going, ‘Hey, you and Adam [Kasper] try this! Race these things around the block!’ I still, to this day, have never seen anybody that can take command of everything the way he did, write stuff in the studio, and write parts while he was out there playing, and playing everything — drums, bass, guitar and singing!”
A place to clear your head
The studio’s idyllic setting is another plus for musicians. “This studio just has this vibe to it,” says Pearl Jam’s McCready. “It’s set in nature; you can look out the windows, and you can see Puget Sound, you can see the Olympics. … These are things that I notice in a studio. I can go outside and clear my head, instead of being downtown where you can’t get away from it all. You can get away from it all up here, and then get back to work in the studio. It’s just got this characteristic quirkiness to it.”
Frampton first mentioned his next album project to McCready when he played a guest spot with Pearl Jam at a Vote For Change show last fall. And Cameron was a natural choice for the song Frampton wanted to record, “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden, Cameron’s previous group (and which would’ve been partially recorded at Lang’s in 1993, had George Kettle not been using the studio).
Over the course of the two-day session, produced by Kasper and also including McCready’s friend Gary Westlake on bass, the musicians not only recorded “Black Hole Sun” but also an original number, “Blowing Smoke.”"My last studio record was made at my home studio, and I could’ve done that again,” Frampton explains. “But I wanted to force myself out of my own bubble. When I contacted Mike, he told me Pearl Jam was doing their album, so I’d have to come to Seattle. I said, ‘Not a problem!’ I’ve always wanted to record in Seattle.”
It made a great start to the year for Lang, whose studio played host to another British music legend, Paul Rodgers, last November, when Rodgers’ re-recorded his hit with the band Free, “All Right Now.”
“I remember being in London in 1970, singing that song on the top of a double-decker bus,” says Lang. “Who would know that almost 35 years later Paul Rodgers would come here to record that song? So in the last couple of months I’ve had two of my favorite all-time British rock stars here, which makes it quite rewarding that I stuck it out this long. Who knows who’s coming next?”