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Back in 2015 when we first interviewed Johann Scheerer on the Vintage King blog, Clouds Hill Recording stood out as one of the world's best representations of the analog recording approach. Just a few years shy of a decade later, that statement remains true as ever.
While the Hamburg-based studio sits near the bustling city center, there is something distinctly homey about Johann's space. Clouds Hill has a warm and comforting vibe without any gear even being turned on. Fire up the analog power, and things start cooking with the API console, Neve console, Pultec EQs, and Neumann mics.
Enough of us talking about Clouds Hill, let's let the man behind the studio talk for himself! Here's a bit of a convo from when we recently sat down with Johann.
In the years leading up to opening Clouds Hill, what made you decide this is what you wanted to do with your life?
It feels like this was always part of my life. I started to play music as a teenager, got signed to Sony when I was 17, and started my first project studio while simultaneously learning to engineer in a professional environment. I officially started Clouds Hill in 2005.
It's clear gear-wise that Clouds Hill is into all things analog. What do you prefer about the gear of the analog era over more modern pieces of studio equipment?
It’s like working with humans. Perfection as the equivalent of failure-free does only exist in a sterile non-living environment. Weirdly some artists and producers are aiming for perfection. Why? I am aiming to capture an interesting, unique moment. The analog gear helps make the moment interesting. It's simple as that.
I bought my first Pultec EQP-1A from Mike Nehra back in 2004. You had to send him an inquiry e-mail and then you would get a .TXT file with the gear and the prices. It was such a different time and the Pultec only cost like 2000 bucks or so.
Vintage King has always been supportive. The API 3232 I got for Studio 2 came by way of Vintage King making a connection to the seller and the team helped me with the process without any benefits for them. That was nice. Being a customer for over 20 years now, it feels strange that I've only visited Vintage King Los Angeles once, but at least it was to pick up a pair of vintage Telefunken ELA M 251s.
You own two incredible vintage consoles between the aforementioned API and the Neve, in addition to the 19 Telefunken V76/V72 preamps and countless other pres. What's your favorite desk? What's your favorite pre and why?
For recording, it's the combination of the API 3232 and my modified 8-track, 2” Studer A-820. The API is so tight and punchy and has extremely low noise, which is really important when I sum 32 inputs to 8 tracks while recording. I love to record full bands to 8 tracks! It makes everything so much easier and more fun!
For mixing, the 48-channel Neve 8068 MKII with our two ATC SCM 110ASL Pro and custom subs sounds incredible. If it was good enough for George Martin, John Lennon, and Daniel Lanois, it should be good enough for anyone.
I stopped comparing pres a while ago when I realized that picking the right mic makes a much bigger difference. I have a handful of secret weapon mics that I found over the years that work really well with any preamp. I will tell you which ones they are when we work together.
I never adapted to any industry demands. It‘s not how I work.
In addition to being a fully functioning studio, Clouds Hill is also a record label. How did that come about and what are the benefits of having a studio and label working together?
It just grew naturally because the artists I worked with as a producer needed a label they could trust. When the artists I worked with grew bigger (from Gallon Drunk to Pete Doherty to Gone Is Gone to Omar Rodríguez-López to The Mars Volta …) the label started growing. It‘s like a family. You grow together and adapt to each other.
There's been a lot of amazing gear to come through Clouds Hill. What's your favorite piece that you've used and why?
Probably a unique Fradan guitar amp with a build in tape echo that I often use for vocal recordings.
What's a favorite memory or story you have from the last few decades of being in the world of recording?
A unique moment in a mixing session was when an artist asked me to solo all channels at once. You can‘t make that up…
I am putting together a mobile recording setup for traveling. I am planning to record an album in various places. My favorite setup would be:
Neve BCM10 with a Studer A80 1” 8 Track, Avid Carbon, MacBook Pro, and my 10 secret mics. I haven't decided about the speakers yet. Would love to try some Ojas NYC even though they are hi-fi speakers I bet they are fun working with. Devon Turbull – hit me up!
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