TCOM students earn summer credit producing second album of L.A.-based rock band, Meow Meow
Sept. 7, 2005
By Anita Martin
Dozens of rhythmic wave patterns dance across two large screens above a deskscape of levers, buttons and knobs. To the right, beyond the window, stands a man with dark sunglasses, hair frizzed out into a downy white-boy fro, and a guitar in hand. He tickles the air with a few chords of sugar-coated metallic pop. Back in the recording room, J.J. Reed, a senior audio production major at Ohio University, leans over the control panel.
"Ready?" he asks. "Stand by."
Welcome to Rock Camp 2005, also known as Telecommunications 414, Advanced Recording Processes, hosted by instructor, producer and record engineer extraordinaire, Eddie Ashworth and emerging West Coast rock band, Meow Meow.
In the class, audio production majors like Reed learn the ins and outs of multi-track recording, editing and mixing, using the latest modern technology. This year, Ashworth's summer students earn more than grades; they get engineering and production coordinator credits on a real record by a professional band.
So, what's Meow Meow, a rock band from L.A., doing in the hills of Athens, Ohio, in the first place? Well, sometimes it helps to have a former L.A. record producer and engineer on faculty. While Ashworth was preparing his summer TComm class, he got a phone call from some happy former clients in California.
"Somehow two ideas crossed paths," explains Christopher O'Brien, band member of Meow Meow. "Eddie (Ashworth) told us he was going to have this 'rock camp,' as we call it, and he invited us to come out. At the same time, we were looking for someone else to mix our record, and who better than Eddie Ashworth?"
Tricks of the trade
Athens is no L.A., but you wouldn't know the difference inside the School of Telecommunications recording studio, designed by architect John Storyk. Storyk, an authority in studio design since 1969, also designed Jimi Hendrix's studio, Electric Lady. The school boasts top-of-the-line equipment such as Pro Tools, which can record up to 96 tracks. Ashworth's class gives students hands-on, supervised experience with one of the industry's newest systems.
"If you asked me three weeks ago, I wouldn't have known half this stuff, about Pro Tools and the way it's hooked up, the way music's recorded," Reed says.
Ashworth's students view the class as a chance to build expertise and marketability.
"You need this experience," says Doug Hill, a senior audio production major. "If you're just set in a studio that you are new to, and you don't have the experience working on a system like this, nobody's going to need you."
Learning the levers, buttons and knobs is only the half of it. In addition to technical training, the class offers what Hill refers to as "a social engineering aspect."
Ryann Hunt-Bila, a senior music production major, agrees. "I was able to learn a lot more about the technology, but also about how to interact with a band, how to produce a band who's actually co-producing the album with you, so I've also learned a lot about how to deal with artists."
"What it is like to work on a real-world record, with all its unexpected events, interpersonal things that you have to deal with, inevitable snags," Ashworth says, "these are the kinds of things that you encounter when you're walking into the studio one day, and you have to emerge, three or four weeks later, with a finished project."
Road to records
Ashworth should know. He's been producing records since the early 1990s, starting out with punk and hard rock artists such as Izzy Stradlin (former Guns and Roses member), Great White and Dokken. In the mid-90s, Ashworth moved into realm of reggae-ska with bands like Sublime and Pennywise.
"My love has always been what people would probably call alternative rock, underground rock or indie rock," Ashworth says.
Despite earning his UCLA degree in English literature, he couldn't resist the charms of another creative passion: music. Ashworth sees record production as a distinctive art form.
"I've always been fascinated about the kind of technology that went into recording music," Ashworth says. "I'd be the guy who, when I looked at album credits, I'd look first at the people who made the album -- the producers, the engineers, where they made the album."
Ashworth, like many people, began "at the bottom of the ladder, as a gofer," before moving up the production hierarchy. By the late '90s, Ashworth had his own "producer's workshop" recording studio.
At that time, he began working with Meow Meow on their first record, "Snow Gas Bones." This debut album so pleased the band and its reviewers that Meow Meow decided to follow their producer to Southeast Ohio to record their second album.
"To be totally honest, we had apprehensions about what it might be like in a class setting," O'Brien admits, "But, in fact, it was just like working with Eddie back in L.A., only he had students to help him with engineering."
Where Hollywood meets the Hocking
While the students glimpse a professional recording process, the members of Meow Meow take a welcome respite from the frenetic glitter of Los Angeles.
"Athens is a completely different world from Hollywood," O'Brien says. "I love how small it is, yet you don't feel like you're stuck in some little pinpoint of a town and you can't get out… I would love to put this as a stop on our tour someday."
Should that day come, Athenians can expect a blast of verdant harmony amid a jagged sun-kissed noise pop, straight from the West Coast. The melodic range and inventive sensibilities of the band defy description. Comparisons vary from the Beach Boys to the Flaming Lips to Pink Floyd.
"Our music is rock 'n roll with pop melodies and noise," O'Brien says. "Instead of just doing a straight pop song, we incorporate noise that might be unpleasant into a pop song, and make it part of the landscape of that song."
The lessons of this summer's TComm 414 class range from the technical to the social to the purely musical. Love of music and regular exposure to fresh sounds motivated many of Ashworth's students to choose the audio production major in the first place.
"Sure, I fiddle around with the guitar," Reed says, "Like almost everyone in audio production. We may be on this side of the glass, but we're itching to get on that side. It's always good to get some knowledge from the guys on the other side of the glass, playing the silver strings."
For more information about the band Meow Meow, visit www.meowmeowmusic.com.
Anita Martin is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.