After putting in time on the road as an aural sculptor for Soundgarden, Stuart Hallerman built a recording empire (albeit more living room than slick high-rise). Over the last 17 years, his studio, Avast Recording Co., has doubled in size (from one to two record-making clubhouses) and been the point of creation for works from groups like Band of Horses and Built to Spill. Get to know the man who makes sandwiches while listening to Fugazi and conveniently can't define the word "are."
Break Avast, as well as your day-to-day routine, down for us.
Avast Recording Co. is my little recording studio that I started in 1990. Recently, Avast grew [because I bought] another, much larger recording studio. As a result, I am working behind the mixing board a lot less and spearheading some major remodeling and management stuff. Day to day...well, after sleeping late, I rush to work and make some cappuccinos. There's some socializing to do, and always some music to listen to. It's exhausting, almost like a full-time job.
Where did you attain your skills behind the board?
I picked up a lot of it doing [live sound]: 200 shows with Heliotroupe and then about 300 shows with Soundgarden. Mixing for a live concert means that you grab and sculpt the sound immediately, starting with an image of the sound that the band wants. Between and after touring, I spent as much time as I could in the studio.
What prompted you to go in that direction?
In part, opening a studio was an experiment to see if it could be self-supporting and enjoyable. It was kinda neat to watch riffs congeal into songs [and] develop into albums that debut high on the charts and earn the band a Grammy.
At what point did you decide to own your own studio?
In the very late '80s, the professional studios were a bit too expensive for the rock/punk bands that were making noise in the Northwest. You could get time at night for cheaper, but that was not comfortable for anyone. It was actually the Soundgarden guys that sketched out the idea that a cheap rock and roll studio would have a niche here. Their suggestion was low rates, no ad-agency guys, no marble desks and leather sofas. The result is a very homey, comfortable vibe. I was buying up obsolete recording gear: all the old analog stuff that I knew made great-sounding records just a few years earlier—the old-timey stuff, y'know? Musicians walk in at one end, and hits come out the other.
What are some of your favorite records that have been made at Avast?
Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism.
The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow.
Band of Horses, Everything All the Time.
Favorite records you've made yourself?
Steven Jesse Bernstein, Prison.
Treepeople, Guilt, Regret, Embarrassment.
What's your most memorable Doug Martsch story?
The time producer Steve Fisk left me with the Treepeople for an evening and we tracked all the guitars for an entire album side? Or seeing the wire-sculpture mobile he made out of guitar strings. It's been hanging here since the second Built to Spill record.
What's the biggest disaster that's ever happened at Avast?
The day I bought Avast 2 was the same day that the very last recording-tape manufacturer announced they were out of business. That was a shock, but there is tape being made again.
Do you find that there are inhalable audio enhancers?
Could you define "are"?
When you were 12, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was 6, I answered, "I wanna be a millionaire!" At 12-ish, I was thinking teacher or architect. Projecting ahead at that time, the plan was to retire at 45 and have a little backyard studio to goof around in. I'm 46 now....
What was the first concert you went to?
John Sebastian opening for Jefferson Starship. I did not ride the tiger.
Top five records to listen to while making a sandwich:
1. Miles Davis, A Tribute to Jack Johnson.
2. Talk Talk, Laughing Stock.
3. Fugazi, 13 Songs.
4. Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix.
5. The sound of the sandwich melting in the Deluxe Toast-R-Oven.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.