Jason McEntire, in discussing the time spent with the Psychedelic Furs at his Sawhorse Studios, moves through the multiple rooms of his complex, which is located in an unassuming storefront in south city's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. He points to the places where various members sat and smoked, or where they tucked away to get some peace, or where singer Richard Butler holed up with a laptop in order to sketch out lyrical ideas.
At one point, McEntire notices a couch where Butler's bass-playing brother Tim sat for a good chunk of their sessions, simply plugging in there rather than in the primary working studio. Today, the studio's house dog, a remarkably relaxed weimaraner named Joey, is sound asleep on the space, which is normally his own homebase. Poor Joey had to find other hangs during the Furs' stay at Sawhorse, a fascinating experience that speaks well to the modern music recording landscape.
As first reported by the RFT, the members of the Psychedelic Furs came to Sawhorse to record their first album in 29 years, the forthcoming Made of Rain, due to producer Richard Fortus wishing to spend time in his hometown of St. Louis after an extensive year of touring with his longtime band Guns N' Roses. Encouraged by his wife Stephanie, Fortus called on his old friend McEntire and signed on with the studio, with McEntire initially slated to be the album's second engineer. When the group's members were eventually able to settle on studio dates that would accommodate their own touring needs, the recording process began in earnest, with the Butlers, drummer Paul Garisto and guitarist Rich Wood assembling at Sawhorse, and the band's other members — keyboardist Amanda Kramer and sax player Mars Williams — adding their digital fingerprints elsewhere.
McEntire calls the experience "a real feather in the cap" for his studio. It was also a long-running situation, dating back years.
"They'd reached out to Fortus and he wanted to stay in town," McEntire recalls. "The first email was just to make sure the equipment list would suffice. You want to have a good amount of proper gear. God forbid they get here and say, 'This is all you have?' Fortus and I got together in March of 2018 and were talking as far back as October of '17, or even earlier than that. The Furs were touring, in and out. They were kicking demos around with Fortus and he kept saying, 'Don't worry, it will happen.'"
Along the way, McEntire became the first engineer, to boot. According to Fortus, that was a natural outgrowth of working at Sawhorse.
"What I liked most about Sawhorse is Jason," Fortus says during a hometown break from his G N' R duties. "He's the biggest asset. It's a nice room, but not real fancy. He's a very talented engineer and I liked working with him."
According to Fortus, the decision to lay the record down in St. Louis made more sense than one might think. Though the Psychedelic Furs is traditionally thought of as a U.K.-based band, its members live across the U.S., making St. Louis a good central location to set up camp.
"It made sense for us to record in St. Louis," Fortus says. "Everybody in that band is spread out. One guy's in the desert in California, one's in upstate New York. You've got Tim in Kentucky, I believe, and Paul in D.C., Mars in Chicago. It made perfect sense. Not that hard of a sell."
Fortus' time as a collaborator with the Furs dates back a ways. His band Pale Divine (nee The Eyes) parlayed their too-brief run on Atlantic Records into an opening slot with the group, before Fortus would eventually split from Pale Divine to form Love Spit Love with Butler. Eventually, as that act ceased, the Furs would come back together, and Fortus served a stint as guitarist in the band before leaving for Guns N' Roses and an insane amount of session and touring work across every genre imaginable. Being sought out as a producer isn't a completely new feeling for Fortus, and he's been able to dabble in that successfully through the use of a high-quality home studio.
"What we did with the Furs is having the basic tracking done at Sawhorse," Fortus says. "Then I did overdubs and some vocals at Dreamland in New York with Richard and eventually redid most of those vocals at my place in St. Louis. Probably for nine out of ten things that I do for other people, I do at my house. I've got great mics and pre-amps and obviously all of my guitar gear there. The bottom line is that, in this day and age, things have sort of leveled out. Because you can have great studios anywhere. But when it comes to drums, that's the one thing I'm not capable of at my house."
At Sawhorse, the Furs' seasoned drummer Garisto was able to play across two studios, with a larger and a smaller kit available in different rooms in order to gain different feels. Tim Butler found his home on the couch. And guitarist Wood was treated to something special, in the form of Fortus' personal selection of vintage and modern guitar pedals, so many of which were brought in that Wood eventually wound up creating a small walking path into the corner of Sawhorse's primary studio room.
"It's insane, the stuff Fortus would bring in here," McEntire jokes. "He's got such a selection of gear that it was like Christmas for Wood. And he has this crazy, encyclopedia-like inventory in his head. He'd say something like, 'Have you ever heard of the Klondike 4000? There were only twenty of these made and I have two of the twenty.' 'Well, no, I didn't know about that. How would I know about that?' But Rich Wood was in heaven, and every day I'd walk in and there'd be a new row of pedals."
A lot of this work took place well over a year ago, though there's an end in sight. With sixteen tracks fully sketched out at Sawhorse and beyond, twelve cuts will make up the final version of Made of Rain, slated for a May 1 release. Remarkably, it'll be the first record under the Furs name since 1991's World Outside, with the single "Don't Believe" released at the end of January.
Fortus' role, he says, is part of the new reality "of going to where the producers are," which is what McEntire is finding, as well.
"He's a super nice guy and really, really bright," says McEntire of Fortus, one of three Richards in the Furs' camp. "I was almost more intimidated by the fact that he's a St. Louis contemporary and I didn't want to disappoint him. I wanted him to feel like this is as good as working with any New York cats.
"I'm really happy that they felt content enough to come in for a second visit, and I'm happy to have pleased Fortus as much as the other guys," he adds. "The producer is who you are trying to satisfy, while making sure that the band is content."