Preston Pope is the audio engineer working directly for Rick Allen, the (in)famous one-armed drummer from rock super-mega-ultra legends, Def Leppard. He also shreds lead guitar for an L.A.-based band, Lunar Sway. And he started it all in a warehouse so empty and desolate in Northern California that it would’ve been better suited as the final scene in an installment of Halloween, than it was to recording rock music. Happily, Pope was able to record some bitchin’ tunes and avoid being murdered. Now, he’s hear to tell you how to do the same thing.
MM: Tell us how this all started.
PP: Well, my dad made his living, before he was a teacher, by playing in a band. So there was always guitars around the house, and then their band, when I was growing up, would always rehearse there. So, they had all the instruments there and I was able to mess around with them. It was like a fun-house for a music kid, ya know?
MM: When’d you start recording legitimately?
PP: Well, my dad had a 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorder and I’d record stuff on there. I’d ping pong tracks to be able to get more than just four tracks on there at a time. I guess the first time I started doing it on something that wasn’t a four-track reel-to-reel was in high school. My dad has a technology academy that had Pro Tools, er, I “urged” him to get it. It’s the software we use to edit that stuff. So I used that to make some really bad music for a little bit.
MM: When did you leave that studio to build your own?
PP: Freshman year in college, I got a small business loan and rented a 1000 square foot warehouse out by the airport. And, proceeded to build a room-within-a-room. Er, rooms within the warehouse. And we h ad no experience at all so we built everything at least twice. Build it; take it apart. Build it; take it apart. Do it again. It was actually pretty ambitious. We had a big drum room. And, then, above we had the control room which looked down onto the drum room and there were two iso rooms on the other end.
MM: What did the construction amount to? Just a wooden frame with tires in the walls?
PP: Well, no, it was actually constructed really well by the end. It was basically its own freestanding structure within the warehouse. The walls were wafer board, soundboard, another piece of waferboard, then insulation. Then the same thing on the other side. We also had to build these big doors that were basically made of that, too. Because the walls end up being around eight to 10 inches thick. So we had to build these doors that were sections of the walls on hinges.
And we didn’t do it that well, so, where we grew up in Chico, [CA], it gets really hot in the Summer and cold in the Winter, so we’d have to adjust the screws holding the door jamb up because the wood would shift enough where you couldn’t close the door all the way or it wouldn’t open very well. And, then, you know, once you adjusted it you were good for a couple months. Then you had to go back and do it again.
MM: Why’d you run out of money?
PP: It took us so long to build the thing cause we had no idea what we were doing. What I mean is, we got the whole thing build, we dry walled the whole place, and then we ran out of money from that business loan. So, what we did was we went around to the carpet stores in town and asked, “Hey, can we just grab carpet from your trash bins?” So, the walls were just covered in every different type of carpet you can think of.
MM: How does that compare to how you’d build one now?
PP: Yeah, that’d be great, but I’d try not to run out of money. The construction, though, worked really well. It was in this complex of warehouses, and in one of the shops a little ways down they’d soup up these tiny little Honda cars, ya know? They’d be racing them up and down the alleyway there. but the space was sufficient enough was the only time you’d ever hear that in a recording was if you did something really, really, really, really quiet. But we were just mainly doing rock music, so it didn’t matter.
MM: What advice would you give to somebody looking to build their own studio?
PP: Well, what we did was more than you needed. more than most people need. But, the advice is to just do it (Ed. note: another beer opens)
MM: You mean build everything twice?
PP: Actually, my advice would be to enlist the help of your friends if they have any construction experience. It’ll save them a lot of time and headache.
MM: And if they don’t want to build a studio?
PP: Technology has gotten so good – I mean you can go online and get free, multitrack recording programs. I mean, if you have a Mac, it comes with Garage Band. Which, for free, is an unbelievable program. So, I mean, you could do that. And there’s tons of options. Protools has like LE systems which are scaled-down versions of their enterprise product. And that’s great because you can, like if you’re working at a studio with a full system, you can take the sessions home and work on them on your own system. There’s a ton of companies with solutions on home recording, though, just look around.
MM: After you built and recorded there, what was your next gig?
PP: We moved to a new studio in Chico. it’d been there since the 80s, and it was actually professionally built. So, we moved into that one. Then, at the end of college, I moved down to L.A., cause in Chico there’s just no industry. then I started going to the Los Angeles Recording Workshop – which is now called the Los Angeles Recording School. Then I got the gig with Rick, so I stopped doing the workshop.
MM: Is the workshop something you’d suggest for an aspiring recording artist?
PP: Absolutely. Absolutely. it’s a nine-month – well, when I went there was two tracks. there was the six-month and the nine-month. So, basically, if you’re working part time you’ll wanna do the nine-month route where the six-month is more like full-time school. but they teach you everything from how to solder your own cables all the way to how to use the Sony Oxford (the million dollar console). So, what’s great about that is an employer knows that after you’ve graduated from there, they know exactly how much time you’ve had on this gear. And they have everything there, it’s really comprehensive. So, you go there with little to no knowledge, and if you have the knack for it you can pick it up quick. And the really great thing there is that 2/3 of the way through your stint there they set you up with an internship. For instance if you want to go the route of mixing live music, they’ll try and get you an internship with one of the live music companies…etc. So, that’s the best part. And they’ve got connections with all the companies. I mean, not to turn this into a commercial for them, but, you know, it’s great.
MM: Did you get the job with Rick through the school?
PP: No, I got it through a friend of mine that I’d grown up with in gymnastics. His sister ended up being best friends with Rick’s wife. So when I was in college, we came down to visit her and I had a demo disc with me. My friend just showed up to the studio and we just left from there, so I had it. Anyway, they made me leave it there cause they were friends with them, and then I didn’t hear anything for a long, long time. Then, when I moved back down here she contact me and said, “Hey, rick and his wife are looking for an (Ed. Note: you hear a beer opening here) in-house engineer. “
And, actually, what the ended up hearing was I had re-recorded a bunch of songs from “Hysteria” and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals myself to try and figure out how they did it. One or a couple of those songs are what rick eventually heard.
MM: What’s the best way to get work as a recording artist?
PP: Best way to get work as a recording artist? Heh. Is there work for recording artists? That’s usually the dream If you have the ability/drive, it’s really good to have a technical skill. That allows you to be useful in the music industry, so you can be involved in it, and meet people. And then hopefully, when all the planets align, you might get a break.
MM: Anything else you want to add?
PP: Domino’s new recipe pizza is not that much better. (Ed. Note: it’s worth noting that Pope was a big fan of the Fiery Hawaiian to begin with).