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The last time we interviewed Tim Jessup, mix engineer and studio manager of Studio One Sixty Four (owned by Chicago founding member and trumpeter Lee Loughnane), he had just finished work on the Chicago At Carnegie Hall Complete box set—a mammoth year-long project that involved restoring and mixing eight entire shows from the band’s legendary April 1971 six-night residency at Carnegie Hall, a historical first. A key piece of gear used in the restoration was a classic SSL 4064 G+ console, with Tangerine automation, that the studio had purchased from Vintage King.
We caught up with Tim two years after that interview, to find out what projects the Sedona, Arizona studio has been working on since our last conversation, how Vintage King has played a key role in all the studios Tim has built for Chicago, and what he thinks of when he looks back at his career and all the ways in which the music industry has evolved.
Tell us what’s been happening at Studio One Sixty Four since the last time we talked in 2021.
Chicago has been a non-stop production train since the end of the pandemic. We released a brand new studio album, titled Born for This Moment, produced by Joe Thomas for BMG. The album features the radio hit “If This Is Goodbye”, which climbed to #14 on the Billboard AC Chart. Not a bad showing for a 56-year-old band. We also produced a new documentary film titled Chicago, The Last Band On Stage, which features our activities during the lockdown, the making of the new album, and the Carnegie Hall mixes, with many scenes shot here in the studio. On the heels of the success of Carnegie Hall Complete, which actually sold out, Rhino Records has again enlisted us for another major restoration project from the early 1970s. I also did a 50th Anniversary re-mix of “Saturday In The Park” on the SSL console, which was featured in the hit NBC television series This Is Us. We’ve recently just completed a very fun version of Chicago performing the Beatles song “Magical Mystery Tour”, which was a staple in their early years as a cover band in the clubs around Chicago. It will be featured on SiriusXM radio, and Rhino is preparing to release it as a single for streaming and downloads.
On the tech side, we’re currently transforming Studio One Sixty Four into the first and only 9.1.4 Dolby ATMOS mix room in Sedona, Arizona—based on ATC monitoring, with subs from Barefoot Sound, including the brand new LFE15 subwoofer that was first demonstrated at NAMM in 2019. We are among the very first studios to receive the LFE15, which we’ve been patiently awaiting over the past year. We’re also employing the compact Barefoot Sub45s for bass management on the ATC SCM45As below 42 Hz. Trinnov monitor control and room calibration are being employed to ensure compliance with Dolby’s specifications. The Trinnov enables us to continue using our Burl Audio Mothership interface as our direct analog source to the ATMOS monitor system. Given our experience with several models of Barefoot monitoring through the years, I’ve always been impressed with the extremely tight, accurate presentation of their low end, due to the internally connected driver motors on each side of the cabinet. We’re very excited to hear how amazingly tight the new Barefoot LFE15 sounds in our control room. We view it as a perfect complement to the highly detailed midrange the ATC SCM45A nearfield monitors offer.
What inspired you to upgrade to a Dolby ATMOS setup?
We’ve been watching the evolution of Dolby ATMOS for a number of years from the sidelines. I’ve also attended some early Immersive Sound seminars hosted by Mix Magazine at Sony Pictures in Studio City a few years back, wondering if and when it would become relevant for Chicago’s catalog. Then we started getting requests from Rhino Records to be involved in a number of Dolby ATMOS remixes of vintage Chicago material, most recently their Greatest Hits collection. We’re hearing from the label that all of their distributors, from Apple Music and across the industry, are all actively pursuing Dolby ATMOS content. Obviously, it was time to step up to remain relevant. We were holding off on making the investment, to see how committed the industry was going to be with the format: was it just another fad, like the short-lived Quadraphonic, or was it really going to stick this time? I think the most important aspect of Dolby ATMOS is its accessibility to everyone; anyone with earbuds can experience ATMOS—anywhere. We’re very excited at the prospect of working on Immersive Sound projects, not just for Chicago, but also for other legacy artists that are featured in Rhino Records’ mammoth catalog—the label has quite a long list of artists who are all great candidates for Immersive Sound treatments. That's where we're headed. Studio One Sixty Four is not solely dedicated to Chicago’s music anymore. Like one of its historic predecessors, Caribou Ranch, we are beginning to open up to the wider music industry. After all, who wouldn’t want to work in such a magnificent place, among the Red Rock formations of Sedona?
Absolutely! And it’s so great that Vintage King has played a part in outfitting this world-class studio.
We've been staunch supporters of Vintage King for about fourteen or fifteen years now. I actually flew out to the Vintage King showroom in L.A. a number of years ago, just to spend the afternoon auditioning nearfield monitors. When I got to the ATC SCM45As, I needed to look no further. I thought they were just so unique as compared to all the other brands; they have a sound that is all unto themselves and very natural to my ear. The SCM45As were exactly what I had hoped to find to complement our vintage restoration work with Chicago—all Class A electronics, no digital conversion, no modeling, just pure old-school analog monitor design, taken to new heights with their in-house-built low distortion motors.
ATC is the perfect complement for what we do with Chicago, particularly for the brass ensemble and all of the low midrange information embodied in the vintage archival recordings from the early years. Our fans were astonished at how we were able to transform the original Carnegie Hall brass—which notoriously sounded as thin as Kazoos—into a rich, bold, powerful ensemble, with every nuance of the tonality plainly audible. We attribute much of that transformation to the infamous dome midrange drivers housed in the SCM45As. That’s where our love affair with ATC began and now we're expanding on that in our 9.1.4 ATMOS system.
I'm sitting here now in the fourth recording studio that I’ve built with Lee over the last fourteen years. It's been an evolutionary process, with each new equipment acquisition built on what came before. Our early projects together were mixed in my old home studio, then we moved to a converted 6-bay Nascar garage, and finally three years ago, Lee acquired this beautiful 4,000 sq. ft. house, with views that nearly rival the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We converted the entire house into a world-class studio, featuring a perfect complement of traditional analog outboard gear, the SSL 4064 G+ console with an Atomic S2 power supply, a Burl Audio Mothership interface (32 x 48), locked to an Antelope Audio 10MX Atomic Clock. Vintage King has been at our side every step of the way.
How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?
I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, working in some of the big rooms that once existed out there. I was first hired as a staff engineer at Kendun Records in Burbank, now known as Glenwood Place Studios, and Encore Studios, down the street, which was Studio D at the time, with a wonderful and rare SSL 4000 B series desk.
I had the honor of assisting many of the amazing engineers of the day: Joe Chiccarelli, Barney Perkins (Motown), Taavi Mote (Solar Records), and Chet Himes (Christopher Cross), to name a few. Through the years, I first became aware of Vintage King through your very earliest advertising, way in the back pages of industry magazines like Recording Engineer/Producer and Sound On Sound. I believe at the time, Vintage King was focusing on vintage console restoration, rare outboard gear, microphones, etc. That little quarter-page ad near the back of the magazine stuck in my mind, and I always remembered Vintage King as the company that offered something very special and rare to the industry. So that seed was planted with me a very long time ago, and when it came time, for instance, to find a large format vintage console, I remembered that was one of the premier items that really put Vintage King on the map. It was their electronics shop and their focus on refurbishing these wonderful old 80 Series Neves, SSLs, and Tridents, that gave me great confidence in working with Vintage King. The company has a very deep legacy in the Pro Audio industry.
Chicago is one of the busiest touring bands, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. They are still performing, I would guess, roughly 150 shows a year, at least prior to COVID. We started working with Vintage King right from the beginning when I built our first little mix room in Sedona in my house and designed a remote system that we would take on the road with us. Once assembled and fully tested, I delivered “the Rig” as it was known to the band, at a show in Tucson, Arizona, expecting to go back to my hotel room that night. I was not expecting to be kidnapped by the band and whisked away on the tour bus to Texas that night, or wherever we were headed across the lower 48 states. [Laughs] We did our first remote recording during that tour leg, which turned out to be an unexpected pleasure, and really helped to prove the system, gaining the confidence of the band that we could actually produce high-end content on the road. The very first song we ever recorded on the tour bus was “Dialogue” (Part I and II). I have a memory of Robert Lamm indelibly burned into my brain, as he stood playing his keyboard and trying to maintain his balance as the bus traveled down the highway at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning.
What were the components of that early rig?
It started out as the most portable rig we could put together, while still producing the quality that was essential to the band. The rig was built around an Avid Omni interface and Mac Laptop running Pro Tools HD Native, with some UAD Firewire Satellites. We had the interface ‘hot-rodded’ by Black Lion Audio, so it had both an upgraded clock and analog signal path. Although I have to say, when I first heard that interface from the factory, I was astounded at the quality of it–as compared to earlier Digidesign interfaces, or even my Apogee AD 8000–but we upgraded it anyway, just because we could. We added API mic preamps, some high-end mics, a Hear Back hub, headphone mixers, ADAM Audio A7X monitors, and stand-mounted mic isolation from sE Electronics–to minimize hotel room acoustics as well as reflections off the glass in the rear lounge of the tour bus.
The remote system started with just a few cases and by the time we were recording on the road around 2017, it had grown to fourteen cases that I was taking out, including our Burl Audio Mothership interface! Who takes a Burl Audio Mothership on the road? [Laughs] I don't know, but we were obsessed. We had several road cases that weighed over two hundred pounds, filled with various pre-amps from Neve, API, SSL, some vintage compressors, etc., and the cases had to be carried up the narrow staircase of the tour bus and then lifted up over the passenger front seat to get them into the front lounge, and then rolled into the “control room” we had built in the rear lounge of the bus. When the band had a few days off between shows, we’d pull the whole system off the bus and set it up in a hotel suite, record brass for a full day and night, and then tear it down and re-assemble the system back on the bus, before leaving for the next show. It was a tremendous amount of physical labor. Oh, the things we do in service of achieving uncompromising sound!
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King?
I'd have to say my favorite piece would be this SSL 4064 desk right here. This is a G+ series console and includes a bucket of E channels as well. It was originally built for NBC studios in New York in 1988. Starting its life as an 80-channel desk, it was re-configured over the years by various studios. We were very pleased to acquire this desk at a great price through Vintage King. I understand it served Babyface in his studio for some time before we came across it. The console has a great lineage.
Rather than using the original G+ computer, which we still have for posterity’s sake, we're using a Tangerine Automation System, which ties the Ultimation faders and mutes directly to Pro Tools automation lanes. It’s a beautiful thing, incredibly convenient, and enables us to mix all of this great material that Chicago has written over the years, on the same desk that many of their biggest hits were mixed on by Humberto Gatica and David Foster in the 1980s. The SSL is the ‘Sound of Chicago’ and we're very happy to achieve that same larger-than-life character here at Studio One Sixty Four.
So that is one of my favorite pieces we've acquired from Vintage King. They made the purchase and the commissioning very seamless, also assisting with the patchbay design, and delivering pre-assembled DL cables for plug-and-play connection to our outboard racks and mic lines. Vintage King also set us up with Bruce Millett from Desk Doctors, who graciously came out to Sedona for the commissioning; Bruce has been an invaluable support for us ever since, especially as we upgrade and modify the console going forward.
How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and what is, for you personally, the most significant change in terms of workflow?
Continual software upgrades! [Laughs] It just gets in my way! That's probably the biggest downside to keep up with. On the positive side, no more physical media for distribution of high-resolution audio has had a huge impact on project workflow. It really speeds up the production process and eliminates distance and travel. Our latest album was recorded in about 10 different studios across the country and in Canada. If I need a last-minute vocal from Neil Donell, he can go across town to his preferred studio in Toronto, cut the vocal, and send me his takes an hour later; I finish a 192 kHz / 24-bit mix of a fifty-year-old recording here in Sedona, and Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering has received the flat mix in Portland, Maine within minutes. Later that same afternoon, Adam sends the mastered track to a television producer in Los Angeles to be mixed into the soundtrack of a show currently in post. Digital distribution is rapidly shrinking the planet!
What is something people might not know about your studio and what sets your studio apart from other recording spaces?
Well, it is a world-class studio, soon to be 100% solar-powered, located in this wonderful, breathtaking environment of Sedona, Arizona. Sitting right here at the console, gazing out through a wall of angled double glass, the view looks like I'm sitting on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, looking across the expanse to the north rim at a wall of 3000-foot red rock cliffs–just 5 miles to the north of us! The rock formations fill our entire view from one end of the space to the other. The views here are actually more breathtaking than most of the resorts in town, due to our higher elevation. It's a really wonderful, artistic, and inspiring space to work in – not just to record, but also to write, to arrange, to spend countless hours mixing, while simultaneously enjoying some of the most dramatic sunsets on the planet.
Most do not know that we have several guest bedrooms onsite and a full kitchen, so artists and producers can really immerse themselves in the vibe, and we can be creative 24/7 without leaving. The Marriott has also built a brand new upscale hotel within walking distance just up the road, for larger groups. We’re located on the very edge of town, bordering a National Forest region, so it tends to remain very quiet, even during high tourist season.
It's really a new direction for us because we originally built the studio to serve the band Chicago, exclusively. For the first time, we are now offering the studio for projects by other legacy artists who would love to be working here in Sedona. The studio is essentially a partnership between Lee Loughnane, trumpet player and founding member of Chicago, and myself. Together, Lee and I have built four studios in Sedona over the past fourteen years. Now we are looking at expanding our vision to support other legacy artists, whether it be tracking new recordings, doing extensive audio restoration, or mixing archival projects that have been locked in a vault for fifty years; and now, we will be offering full Dolby ATMOS production and mixing.
Studio One Sixty Four is a fully equipped tracking studio. We have a number of live rooms and a variety of different acoustic spaces that we've created to support many needs. We have a dedicated piano room with a Steinway B that enjoys the same magnificent view from the piano bench that you are immersed in from the control room–a wonderful space to just sit and compose at any hour of the day or night. We have a well-treated drum room downstairs, with a custom DW kit, mic’d up and ready to rock. Walfredo Reyes Jr. has put our drum kit together for us. Wally has been the drummer for Chicago going back at least ten years now, starting out as the band’s percussionist, and touring with Steve Winwood prior to that. We have a replica of the drum kit that Wally uses on stage. We currently keep it mic’d up using the same microphones that the band uses on stage, primarily so the drum sound translates consistently on the console, regardless of whether recorded here or originating from a series of live shows. In addition, we have the same Latin percussion set that Ray Yslas uses with Chicago on stage. We also built a larger, well-treated live room we call “the horn room”. It can be seen in our recent documentary film Chicago, The Last Band On Stage, featuring scenes of the Chicago horn section cutting tracks for our most recent studio album, Born for This Moment, on BMG. This is a really well-balanced multi-purpose recording space and serves us very well for intimate vocals, acoustic instruments, brass, strings, or a Marshall stack pushed well into overdrive. This room was inspired by the original live room at Artisan Sound Recorders in Hollywood, which was part of the Kendun Recorders acquisitions in the early 1980s.
In addition, there are a number of acoustic and electric guitars on hand, vintage amplifiers, basses, mandolin, vintage & modern keyboards and virtual instruments such as Keyscape, Omnisphere, much of the Spitfire orchestral collection, the Arturia V9 analog synth collection, and a few gems like my original 1984 Oberheim OB-8 synthesizer, a DX7IIFD with personal Jan Hammer patches, an early 1970s Fender Rhodes 73 from the Chicago’s own warehouse, and my 1964 Ampeg B-15 bass amp, with tube rectifier output—a true Motown staple. We’ve put together an island of creative tools to cover most recording needs we encounter out here in the high desert.
There are not many studios in existence these days that were originally designed as a ‘resort studio’, where you could go and stay and enjoy the atmosphere, the creative environment, and the views. I remember reading once of a studio being built on the top of a mountain on an island off the coast of Greece, in the early 1980s. They even installed mic inputs outside, on a stone terrace, with 360-degree views of the Mediterranean. Of course, Compass Point in the Bahamas is another example. Sadly, limited recording budgets these days have caused the demise of most of these dream studios, but Studio One Sixty Four in Sedona is a grand geologic version of such a studio, just about a seven-hour drive from L.A., or a one-hour flight to Flagstaff and a 30-minute drive down through beautiful Oak Creek Canyon. For visiting artists who enjoy the full-on majesty of Sedona, we also maintain a Toyota FJ Cruiser—a lifted 4x4—so we can easily get out into the back-country, do some rock climbing on four wheels, explore the many off-road jeep trails, nearby 1000-year-old Indian ruins, or just enjoy some of the coolest hikes anywhere on the planet. In addition to nearly fifty years of studio work, I am also a professionally-trained off-road trail driver.
The majority of the studios I've worked in over the decades have never had windows to the outside, but here in Sedona, it looks and feels like we’re in the National Forest all around us. You can enjoy amazing Arizona sunsets from the control room or on the rear deck with a Mango Margarita in hand. Sedona is also legislated as a Dark Sky City, meaning that night lighting and street lights are subdued and highly regulated. While sitting on the rear deck, you can see every star and planet in the night sky. We keep an 8” telescope on the deck for the curious-minded, or if you want to keep an eye out for alien spacecraft that are said to visit the Bradshaw Ranch, a straight shot from our deck.
Looking back on the last 30 years, what are you most proud of?
I first started working in studios in 1974 in upstate NY: first near Rhinebeck, then at Bearsville Studios just outside of Woodstock. I was very fortunate in my early years, to be hired on as a staff engineer at Kendun Recorders in Burbank. Before I was hired at Kendun, I also worked as a staff “tonmeister” at a studio in Munich, Germany, called Olympia Studios, which is where I worked on my very first SSL 4000 E series console, in 1980. My old friend and college roommate Curtis Drake was working at another studio across town called Union Studios, where Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder had recorded many of their hits. They happened to be building a B-room at Union Studios at the time and hired Sierra Audio and Tom Hidley to design and build the room. So I was able to see the design work within that room as it came together, before the walls and traps were put up. It gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how the active trapping worked inside the walls, and in the ceiling. Tom Hidley optimized his live rooms for specific instruments in different parts of the room, according to how the trapping was placed and tuned within the room. I’ve never forgotten those concepts and of course, I love the sound of the old Tom Hidley rooms. Kent Duncan had partnered up with Hidley, creating Sierra Audio to represent his studio designs worldwide. Kendun Recorders then became a showroom for Tom Hidley’s acoustic designs. To one degree or another, every studio I have designed over my entire adult life, including Studio One Sixty Four, has incorporated some of Tom Hidley’s concepts in active trapping, built into the walls.
Also memorable, is working with the fabulous audio engineers of the day—assisting Joe Chiccarelli in his early years, and especially Barney Perkins, who is no longer with us. Barney was one of the most sought after engineers in the early ‘80s, essentially living in Kendun Recorders Studio D, down the street from the main complex. Barney was primarily bringing in major R&B mix projects for Motown and he had asked studio management that I be assigned to all of his sessions, as his assistant. So I have many great memories of those Motown sessions with Barney: the Temptations, DeBarge, Gladys Knight, Cheryl Lynn, Atlantic Starr, The Gap Band, Dr. Strutt, The Isley Brothers, and many others. I especially loved the fat sound that Barney was able to get out of our SSL B series desk, perhaps rivaled only by Bruce Swedien at the time. His whole way of working became an integral part of how I work, as my job description was to stay one step ahead of Barney at all times, 18 hours a day. It was foundational for me.
What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?
Generally, all of the sales reps with Vintage King have a very long tenure with the company. You develop a relationship with your sales rep and they are with you for many years. They're intimately familiar with how you work and what your preferences are. We are now on to our third sales rep after 14 years and I have never noticed any kind of lag in the amount of passion and knowledge that our sales reps put into their work. The support that we have received from Vintage King has been consistent throughout the years, no matter whom we have been working with from the company. They're all top-shelf audio engineers in their own right, some owning SSL consoles themselves, and other rather expensive gear. They are seriously hands-on professionals. So we have always had the utmost confidence in whomever we're working with.
If there's ever a problem, they provide an instant solution. If they need to send something out to cover us in the meantime—while we're waiting for a piece of gear or something—Vintage King always has our backs. So I have a great deal of confidence working with them. Just as our clients need to have a great deal of confidence in what we do as engineers and producers, and we need to make them look good, Vintage King makes us look good. They understand and deliver that same dedicated work ethic that was essential to keep your job at any major studio in Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville.
What are your plans for the future of the studio?
Well, as I said earlier, we would like to open up this beautiful space to work with other artists, in addition to the projects that I do for Chicago and Rhino Records. Whether artists want to work with our team directly or bring in their own engineer or producer, we’ll do our best to accommodate the situation. We have many instruments here, so people can come in and literally create great music without bringing anything with them if they choose. But Rock-It Cargo also knows where we are located.
We continue to work on other archival projects for Chicago, recordings made over fifty years ago, that fans have never heard before—I’m not quite at liberty to discuss titles at this point, but people are going to be hearing more of the original band in the near future, mixed and mastered with detail that they have not heard in vintage Chicago recordings before. We’re currently finishing a number of major projects right now, as well as the upgrade to Dolby ATMOS.
I do tend to wear a lot of hats around here. I'm not just Chicago’s mix engineer—I am often enlisted to do some string arranging, play guitars, play keyboards, bass, background vocals, on various new Chicago projects and in support of other artists I work with. As I mentioned earlier, we now have a new version of Chicago performing the Beatles song “Magical Mystery Tour”! The original members are jazzed about it because they have a nostalgic history with this song. When Chicago began back in 1967, they were a cover band known as The Big Thing. They were playing clubs around Chicago and were not allowed to play any of their own original material or they would be fired! So of course, they played Beatles songs in their set, with “Magical Mystery Tour” being one of those cover songs. While producing this recording, the band got so excited with the nostalgia of it that they’ve now added the song to their live set on the current tour. Lee Loughnane and I are constantly working on new material, and the “Magical Mystery Tour” recording is among that line-up. Keep an ear out for it on SiriusXM, it's a lot of fun to listen to!
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