“My basement is my favorite place to make music. It functions as a studio, percussion storage space and label warehouse, so I’m never short of things to hit. It’s where the most recent Cougar and Youngblood Brass Band records were recorded as well. It’s quite small, with a low ceiling and the limestone foundation of my house is constantly crumbling… it really looks like a completely ramshackle arrangement. It basically is – especially in these pictures, when I am fresh home from a Cougar tour and random percussion instruments are scattered everywhere.
Along one wall are all ‘small’ things to shake and hit, which is hidden here and along another wall are all the ‘big’ things to shake or hit. Then there are things that fall in between, like the berimbau, which always stays close by. You can see the gourd for the berimbau chilling on the monitor right now and on the other monitor, a ‘Rock on’ sign we got in South Africa.
I try not to get too regimented or connected to any kind of superstition, so it’s hard to say what things are most important down there. My laptop, good headphones and plenty of things on which to make noises. I tend to either collect or acquire random noisey trinkets from around the world, and I really prefer using organic sounds as opposed to synthesized or processed sounds, so I spend much of my time just doodling around trying to find the sound in my head. Even when I’m looking for a specific effect or sample-type sound, I try to combine acoustic sounds and find creative ways to prepare the instruments or make things sound like ‘real’ produced tones… I’m not sure any of it ends up making a difference to the listener, but to me it gives our records a very warm feeling.
There’s very little production on Cougar records, contrary to popular belief. Almost every sound is real, every guitar and bass tone is naked. We’re not studio geniuses, so it is almost a product of necessity at first. Sometimes I don’t record for days or weeks on end, and sometimes it’s easy to spend eight to 12 hours a day here, depending on how inspired I’m feeling. I also teach private lessons down here for the High School students that are in my drumline programs.
I do prefer to work alone, or at least prefer to have plenty of time to mull things over and make mistakes, and then edit and make more mistakes on my own. I like having the band nearby though, to bounce ideas off. Having alone time isn’t too hard anymore, as most of the guys in the band live in New York, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana… and I’m up in Madison, Wisconsin keeping it chilly.
The thing I like most about my basement studio is that it’s home. I bought this house a few months back, and though the studio is cluttered and cheap and lo-fi and all that. It’s my place, and I love being able to wander around the room hitting whatever I want and just enjoying the sounds that wood and metal make. Sometimes I just sit and listen to a cymbal’s overtones for minutes, or play crappy kalimba or ukelele parts, or make soft little whale sounds on the congas. I just like making sounds, and it’s nice to have a safe, warm, happy place to do it. I feel like this is probably all I ever wanted as a kid; to wander around a room filled with ways to make interesting noises. Every now and then I stumble across something I really love, and it makes it onto the record. Most of the time though, I just listen to the sounds things make because it makes me feel nice.”