Producer, engineer and musician Dave Catching is a founding member of his band earthlings?, a touring member of Eagles Of Death Metal, as well as the owner of, and resident at, Rancho de la Luna in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. Murray Stassen caught up with him to find out more about the legendary studio...
It’s 1:30pm Pacific time when we speak to musician and producer Dave Catching.
He’s at home at Rancho de la Luna, in Joshua Tree California, about two hours drive from Los Angeles.
“It’s pretty warm and I’m staying really busy with a lot of different sessions,” he tells us, when we ask him how it’s going and what he’s up to.
“There’s a lot going on right now,” Catching continues, adding that the studio’s “pretty much booked most of the time” - and it’s not hard to see why.
The place has become something of a myth and a legend in the rock community and the wider music industry, having hosted the likes of the Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and Iggy Pop in recent years, as well as being the famed location of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal recordings among many other notable rock and roll acts.
“I mean, it’s not [booked] like every day but you know, I’d say at least 20 or so days a month,” he says.
Part of the studio’s appeal, explains Catching, is that “Joshua tree is a very special place”.
“It’s changed quite a bit. I mean, when we first moved out here, there were a hundred thousand visitors to the park and this year, they’re expecting three and a half million. So that kind of tells you that there’s definitely something here that’s pulling people this way.”
Here, Dave Catching explains how the studio started, tells us about some of his favourite projects to have been recorded there and gives us a brief glimpse of the studio’s extensive gear list…
Let’s start at the beginning. How did the studio come to exist?
Well, my friend Fred Drake, who was a really great musician, engineer and artist moved out to Joshua Tree at the end of 1992 and then early 1993 I was living in New Orleans, running a restaurant. I got a call from Fred asked me if I would like to be partners in a recording studio to his house in Joshua Tree and I said, Yes and we bought some gear and we started our studio.
How did you end up in New Orleans and what kind of restaurant was it?
We basically served everything and we were open from Wednesday noon through Sunday noon. I ended up there because a friend of mine took me to the bar and introduced me to people and then that place was offered to me for so cheap that I had to do it. So I moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans and opened the restaurant.
What was it like playing music in LA at that time?
It was awesome. There were so many great bands and so many people were going out to see bands a lot. So all the shows were pretty successful. There was a cool family of bands that always played together and supported each other and it was just a really exciting time to be playing in Los Angeles in the ‘80s.
It must have been a pretty big adjustment moving from New Orleans to Joshua Tree...
It was pretty big, but at the same time unfortunately, we had a fire in our restaurant and the owners of the building weren’t insured. So as soon as we were out of that I was invited to go on tour with Kyus as their guitar tech. They were going to Europe and I’d never been. This is before Daniel had come in and when I got back, luckily, I had a friend that I was living with in New Orleans after the place burned and she also had her house in LA so I started going between LA and New Orleans and Joshua Tree until 1998, when I decided to move out to Joshua Tree next door to the studio. It was a it was a slow transition, but it was it was pretty smooth.
How did you get into engineering?
When I was 15 I took a recording engineering class at a place that had a studio in it, and I learned the basics of recording there. I really didn’t do much other than that. When we got the studio here I started experimenting with Fred and learning a little bit more about how things work.
So it was mostly just once we got the studio. I kind of reverted back to what I had learned when I was a kid and then Fred taught me pretty much everything that I know now.
What equipment did you have in the studio to start off with?
We had a 16-track half-inch reel-to-reel and we
had a Soundcraft board. We also had a few SM57s and 58s. We had a Yamaha SPX 90 (reverb effects processor) and Yamaha NS10 speakers.
We were approached by Daniel Lanois to record some stuff here and he brought in his Neve console and Studer tape decks and a lot of his gear. He had phenomenal microphones and outboard gear and his thing was that he wouldn’t pay us to record here, but he would leave his gear here for roughly a year and probably be in for a total of maybe two weeks in a year and we could use his gear. So we actually started doing a lot of cool albums with that gear which helped us buy more gear as we went along.
What were some of the first paid-for sessions?
We did a Victoria Williams album called Musings Of A Creek Dipper, which is a great album. Trina Shoemaker produced and engineered it and she ended up doing Rated-R, the Queens of the Stone Age record with me. Daniels Lanois recording here definitely put us on the map with people wanting to come and see where it is.
The studio has a sort of mythical, or legendary status in the rock world. Would you agree with that?
I honestly agree with that and, not to sound like that like a braggart or anything, but there is something very special about the house, which is what drew Fred here in the first place. And then, when we became partners in the studio, that’s what made me commit my life to doing it. 99.9% of the sessions have been so easy and fun and things work really easily here.
It’s not the studio to work for four days on a snare sound. This is this is more of, you put a mic in front of a good amp with a good guitar and it sounds great and you just go with it.
So a lot of people have been inspired daily working here and things work very easy, and that’s why people like Arctic Monkeys come out here and have written a couple of their most successful records here. Same with Queens of the Stone Age and you know, that’s why the Foo Fighters came out here. To try to tap into that. So I really do think there is magic in the area, but especially in this house. It’s very small, but it’s very forgiving to the people working here.
How much has the studio changed over the last few years in terms of the layout and equipment that you’re using?
The layout hasn’t changed at all. We kind of got it down to what works best, you know? I mean, it does change where we are able to move things around and people can try different things, but for the most part we found what really works in which rooms. We have the drums miked up to what we feel is the best place for them, but you’re welcome to move them anywhere in the house.
As far as gear goes it’s really cool because I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of great gear makers are into a lot of the bands that have played here and they’ve donated tons of gear to make this place better. So I really can’t thank them enough.
What console do you have?
A Neotek Elan and I’ve had that for about 10 years.
Where did you get it from and why did you choose it?
Someone gave it to me, which is very strange and it turned into a bit of a strange thing. I won’t get into it, but eventually we did restore it and I love it. We’ve been recording a lot of stuff without anything, just drums directly into the Neotek and they sound phenomenal, really cool.
Do any of the bands take their own gear there or will they usually just use everything that’s in there?
Well, I’ve had some bands bring stuff in that they definitely did not need to bring and then other people will look at the gear list and go like, Yeah, I don’t really need it. When Arctic Monkeys recorded here once, they brought their own acrylic drums. I have two kits here. Both are amazing. One is an early 70s Gretsch kit and one is a newer Sonor kit and they both sound fantastic.
I think some people, you know, they haven’t had a lot of experience in studios, so they think they have to bring their own stuff and then they get here and see that there are so many cool vintage guitars and some people are very excited about it, but some just stick to what they have.
What are some of your favourite albums that have been recorded at the studio over the years?
Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug for sure. Masters Of Reality have done some really cool stuff. Every album that comes out I love though, really. I mean, I’ve only had a couple of sessions by bands that were, I wouldn’t say difficult, but not easy. The rest, 99% of all sessions here go really well and are easy and then people are happy with the result, including me.
My band Mojave Lords put out a great record, my band Earthlings? put out a great record. There’s been so many great things happening. The Afghan Whigs have also worked on a lot of newer stuff here. So it’s been very very fortunate that I have such great, talented friends that make such cool music and decide to come here to record it.
Could tell us your advice or equipment tips for recording instruments?
Well, first and foremost, have a great song. This is very, very helpful. Second of all, have fun. You shouldn’t get too caught up in perfection, you know? I don’t.
For drums, we typically just start going into it and make it better as we go along if we can. Right now I’m looking at the drum kit and I’ve got a Sennheiser MD421 on the snare with an SM57 on top, Sennheiser MD409 on the bottom. I’ve got a Royer mic on the high hat and a couple of Sennheiser MD421s on the toms. Mojave Audio stereo pair for overhead.
I’ve been having a lot of luck with my sE Gemini tube, placing it about six feet from the kick drum. I’ve got an AKG D112 in the kick and outside a Shure Beta 52. Then I have a couple of secret weapon mics here and one is the original prototype for the Royer tube mic. David Royer’s a good friend of ours and we have the first tube mic he ever made and that’s what I consider my secret weapon. I’ve put it up against every mic that anyone’s ever brought here and I still like it better. It just has an amazing tone. So that’s what we’ve got going on in the drum room.
We typically over mic and then bring it back to where it needs to be, but we always overdo it. It’s better to overdo it, because you can always strip back. Yeah, so that’s kind of our thing mostly: over doing things and then pulling back. For vocals we’ve been using the Royer mic a lot and that one’s been really good. I’ve also got a beyerdynamic like I that.