Stickup Kid with Chris Dugan at JingleTown Recording Studio
It's like a fortress. That was my first impression as I approached JingleTown Recording Studio on this dead-end street in Oakland, California. A deceptively dilapidated building surrounded by high walls obscured by vegetation and overgrowth, and a security gate scarcely revealing the parking lot full of vintage cars and motorcycles, amid a working-class residential neighborhood, I was sure I was in the wrong place, or, at the very least, a big-ass rottweiler was coming around the corner eager to turn me into lunch. Owned by Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool of the band Green Day, and operated primarily by Grammy Award-winning audio engineer Chris Dugan, what I found on the inside was a state-of-the-art facility newly opened to the public in November 2012. Stoned out on decongestants and barely recovered from a bout with the flu, and still deaf in one ear from the subsequent sinus infection, I'm not exaggerating when I say it was a challenge to keep the fangirling at bay and stay focused as Dugan walked me through to the inner sanctum.
Purchased by Green Day before their last record 21st Century Breakdown, Dugan, a casually affable guy who graciously tolerated my befuddled, bordering on ignorant quirkiness with a grace I am forever grateful for, describes the fledgling beginnings as "more of a home base, sort of a club house for them [Green Day]" that has been refurbished into a full-blown studio they want to share with local bands, "'cause it's really cool... it's really high-end stuff and it'd be really nice to let those guys, the people who are local, use it." Not that they're limiting it to the local music scene. The studio is already booked by musicians as far away as South America and welcome to any musician who wants to make the trek to the Bay Area.
If the possibility of getting a glimpse of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt or Tre Cool and interacting with them on any given day is enough of an incentive for up-and-coming bands to vie for a chance to record at JingleTown, the massive studio filled to the brim with top-of-the-line recording equipment and rooms designed to ensure maximum sound quality is sure to send them over the edge. Trying his hand at music producing this time around, Dugan's latest project at JingleTown is the recording of the first full-length album for Adeline Records latest find, up-and-coming Stickup Kid, a pop-punk band fresh off the underground.
Departing from their self-produced first album Nothing About Me, John, Stickup Kid's bass player, describes the new record as more diverse, "more restrained, more controlled" than the underground, straight-up punk music of their past that was recorded in their friend's garage. Taking their friends along for the ride, they laugh about how it's still the same team of engineers recording, but "just at a ridiculously nice facility."
Expected to release in the "Spring... ish," the new album and songs are still in the working title stage, incorporating the expected and much-loved snarky, angry, attitude-laden vocals in the song "Ramen (yeah, as in ramen noodles [working title])" with the more mellow, introspective style of "What's Missing [working title]" that moves into "Artistry [working title]," a song bursting with fast hooks and change-ups the audio engineer, Ben Hirschfield, describes tongue-in-cheek, as being, at one point, "too sassy."
"They're easy-going... and fun, fun to be around... we've been working together now for the past couple of months, but this is our first project together," Dugan says of Stickup Kid as they spend this particular day overdubbing guitar. He expects mixing of the record to be finished in early-to-mid-February 2013 before it's sent for mastering and produced onto CD prior to its release.
Studio A at JingleTown Recording Studio (Photo Slideshow by Melissa Webster)
Seeing indie labels and bands becoming a more powerful force in the music industry, Dugan says without hesitation, if given the choice as a musician between a major label and an indie label "I would probably most likely go with an indie. They're sort of more out there for you, more, they can kind of sort of do more." He adds, "I think major labels, you know, are struggling as it is right now because they have so much money invested in certain things... somebody gets too much money dumped into them and somebody else doesn't get helped because there's just not enough money there... I guess I see it as less than a money game on the smaller labels and just more about helping a scene."
Moving away from JingleTown as just being about Green Day and opening it to lesser known bands, Dugan goes on to say the most important element for him as an engineer and producer is for the bands to just be prepared before stepping into the recording process. Have the songs ready to go and know what you want from the experience. In regard to Stickup Kid, "I'm really proud of them... they did a lot of work ahead of time in order to come in and be ready to go." He'd like to see more bands follow their lead and utilize the facility to its maximum potential, working together in ways that benefit indie artists and the labels that support them.