Interview with Scott Evans | by Ben Knudtson
Antisleep Audio is a Bay Area recording studio founded and run by Scott Evans, the guitarist/vocalist for San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City. Having recorded various bands, including his own, at the famous Sharkbite Studios in downtown Oakland he couldn’t help but notice when a few spaces opened up after someone moved out. Unsurprisingly, he saw the opportunity to establish his own studio space for the first time in about a decade. Though the studio has only been up and running since late 2013, Evans has been recording bands for years, and for the past ten or so it’s been a venture recording-ist type of deal where he would work out a deal with a band, pack up his gear, travel to the band’s practice space/basement/cave, set up shop, do his thing, pack it all back up, and take it all back home. All this on top of his other jobs doing software design and being a dad. Now THAT is love and commitment to what you’re passionate about.
First, congratulations on the new studio. How’s it working out so far? Have you gotten the chance to record anyone in it yet?
Thanks! So far it’s been great. I’m busy and the space is working well. I moved into this studio in September, and since then I’ve worked on eight or ten projects, both tracking and mixing. My live room is pretty small, so for tracking the idea is mostly to use it for overdubs. I haven’t recorded drums here yet, but I have a couple of sessions coming up where we’ll do that.
I know you’ve been recording bands, including your own, for a while now. How did you get to the point where you have your own studio?
I moved from Virginia to San Francisco about ten years ago. Before that I had a decent recording setup, but moving to San Francisco meant giving that up because space is so tight here. After a couple of years in San Francisco, I missed recording enough that I put together a mobile recording rig and started recording bands in practice spaces, and mixing in my basement. I did that for a few years, also doing some tracking at Sharkbite Studios, which is an awesome studio in Oakland.
About three years ago, I realized that I really wanted a studio again. That meant finding an affordable space in the right location, which is challenging around here. I tried a few approaches- finding a practice space to convert to a studio, doing a co-op type setup with a few friends – but I couldn’t make them happen. Then one night as I was leaving Sharkbite I noticed two empty rooms down the hall. A letterpress shop had just moved out. I started talking to Ryan (Massey), who owns Sharkbite, and we worked out a reasonable deal. Ryan has been supportive and awesome and I’m really grateful for that. Anyway, it took almost a year to figure out the details, build out the rooms, and get moved in.
How did you get into audio engineering in the first place? Were there any particular albums or engineers that inspired you?
I bought a cheap 4-track when I was a kid and it was all over. That didn’t have anything to do with looking up to albums or engineers- when I was young, records seemed like big Hollywood movies to me. They didn’t seem like something me or my friends could ever make. But that didn’t matter because I fell in love with recording on its own. Now I’m an old man, and there are lots of records and engineers who inspire me all the time. I still love music and I still love audio engineering. I read about it constantly. I talk to friends about sessions or mix techniques or new records. I write for Tape Op Magazine because I get to interview people whose work I respect.
Do you remember a point where it started to grow from a hobby into more of a trade? What was that like?
I’ve been recording other bands for a long time so it’s hard to describe that transition. But there’s a difference between recording your own band, recording friends, and recording strangers. With friends you can screw up all kinds of things and it’s cool. With strangers, they’re trusting you with their record and that’s a big deal. You need to have your shit together. I’ve always been so hard on myself that it probably set me up pretty well in that regard. I’ve also taken lots of cues and advice from friends who are pro engineers.
There’s also the difference between working for free and working for money — and being considered against other engineers, really good ones. Eventually the casual “let’s have fun, it comes out how it comes out” gets replaced with “I can’t fuck this up.”
Between Kowloon Walled City and Antisleep, do you have time for / need a day job?
Oh yes. I work as a software engineer during the day. I have a handful of friends who are in full-time bands, but KWC is not close to one of those bands. We all have day jobs. When we tour or record we take vacation or leave without pay.
I would love to do audio for a living, and you never know, but there are actually very few people who manage that- particularly in heavy music. Recording is a tough business- space is expensive, good gear is expensive, there are tons of people willing to record for cheap, and bands expect to spend very little money on recordings. Most of the full-time engineers I know are fucking obsessed, and they’ve traded a “normal” day-to-day for chasing the audio dragon. I’m pretty down with that, but it’s not how my life has worked out, particularly since I became a father.
What kinds of things are easier or different now that you have your own studio, compared to when you were just a guy with a bunch of skills and equipment?
Oh man, everything is easier. My control room is well-designed and sounds great- that makes mixing much easier. I can do tracking sessions anytime, without booking time at a studio or dealing with the practice space thing. My mics and cables and pedals and amps are all in one place. I’m down the hall from Sharkbite, so if I’m working there it’s easy to grab stuff from my studio.
What are a few of your personal favorite pieces of equipment in your arsenal?
I just got a Bang & Olufsen BM5, which is an old stereo ribbon mic. I’d never seen one in person before I got it. I’ve used it on a few drum recordings and it’s great. I’ve also been digging the Heil PR31 as a snare mic. It’s small and easy to position and sounds very good.
This is dumb, but I love decent mic stands. After years and years of shitty Guitar Mart stands, I bought a few short Atlas stands with K&M booms. They make me happy every time I use them.
For guitar stuff, I really dig the Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master. It’s one of the coolest delay/reverb pedals I’ve heard. And I have a 1979 Marshall JMP that is an incredible amp.
How would you describe your own recording/production style?
If I have a sonic style, I’m not sure I can describe it. I try to adapt to the bands I’m recording. But me personally? I dig big, roomy, real drum sounds and loud gnarly bass guitar. I like character. I’ll let all kinds of imperfections stay if they work. I don’t replace drums with samples.
And for whatever reason, sessions with me are fun. I am there busting my ass because I want to and I love it, and maybe that comes across. I’ve had a lot of bands tell me “wow, that was the easiest recording session I’ve ever done.” Fuck yes! I am very focused and we get a shit-ton of work done, but it doesn’t hurt.
What’s your ideal future for Antisleep? Do you want it to grow, or stay low key?
It’s too hard to make up an ideal future. I’m lucky as hell as it is.