From the outside, Firebrand Recording is an unassuming space nestled discreetly between the office spaces of a nondescript business park. But through its doors lies an audio enthusiast's dream treasure trove: world-class recording gear, drums and guitars galore, acoustically controlled rooms and one damn comfortable couch. Since 2006 some of the city's beloved bands have crafted some of the city's best records at the local recording studio. Three acts who consider Firebrand their home — the Blind Eyes, the Humanoids and Kentucky Knife Fight — will be celebrating the studio with a showcase on November 13 at Off Broadway. Co-owner Brian Scheffer took a break from mixing the debut record of local wunderkinds the Ocean Rivals to discuss the studio's history and reputation and the joys of watching a band play just for fun.
B-Sides: With a show like the upcoming Firebrand Recording Showcase at Off Broadway, is it strange to see the bands who you've worked with so intensely in a live context?
Brian Scheffer: I wouldn't say it's strange. We're in the business of constantly picking apart audio, so it's nice to see a show and know the songs forward and backward but not have to look at them through a microscope. If I liked the record, I'll like the show. Lye By Mistake is a good example. We spent hours doing tedious perfectionist-type stuff, so going out and being able to hear a song all the way through is great.
Where do you think Firebrand fits in the local studio scene?
We definitely have our niche. We'll work with a band, and they'll recommend us to their friends, but there are also cold calls from bands I've never heard of before. In the local community, I think we end up doing a lot of the weirder, noisier stuff. We have a reputation as a live-off-the-floor kind of place. We're not going to immediately start producing a band. Bands who are looking for that experience tend to find another place to go.
Locally, your reputation falls in line with the honest, transparent aesthetic you tend to see in Chicago with places such as Steve Albini's Electrical Audio.
I'm definitely a fan of Albini's work and that Chicago "thing," whatever words you want to use to describe it. But someone like Albini is so militantly analog, he isn't going to touch a computer. I'm not so locked into the aesthetic. A band like the Flaming Lips wouldn't exist without being able to construct their songs in a studio. I'm more open to that experience. I default to the documentarian approach, but if the band wants to do a million overdubs, I'm not going to say no. Ultimately, the band is the boss, and I work for them. It's their record, and I'm not here to tell them how to make it.
Some studios have been struggling since the economy turned. How's Firebrand managing?
Most of the records we do are self-funded and self-released by the bands. And a lot of the bands are just scraping money together to do it in the first place. But we're in the kind of industry where people are involved in a creative endeavor, and they really push themselves to make it work. If you're a band, and you have to make a record, you'll find a way. It's completely different than other hobbies, so it's not like, "Oh, times are tough. Looks like I can't buy as many stamps this year."
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