On any given day this past year, if you happened to waltz by The Carriage House, you may have caught site of the lovely ladies from The Living Sisters, the kids from Useless Keys or the Fistful of Mercy trio, each exiting with a gem of a record. Oh, She & Him has been around there too. As has Warpaint.
Given the sheer tastiness of the music coming out of the Silver Lake recording studio as of late, thought it was high time I strike up a conversation with the man at The Carriage House console, established bassist turned music producer extraordinaire - Sheldon Gomberg.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Gomberg graciously opened the doors to The Carriage House so I could snoop around and ask a few questions about his start in the music biz, Hendrix, and how the indie magic gets made.
JM: Here we are at The Carriage House. How did the studio get its name?
SG: Because it’s a carriage house! It’s literally a carriage house. Built in 1917.
JM: And you started the studio here in 2003.
SG: Right. In October.
JM: Back-to-school time.
SG: Yeah, exactly. Time to learn how to record.
JM: Were you in Silver Lake before that?
SG: Yeah, I’ve been in Silver Lake for ten years.
JM: Have you noticed changes since you arrived?
SG: You know, it’s becoming a little more homogenized. I liked all the inter-racial mixtures here. I mean, obviously, I’m the white guy moving into what was more of a Hispanic neighborhood. But you know, you start seeing things like restaurants and buildings get Melrose-ized. The beautiful thing about Silver Lake is there’s funky stuff everywhere. It’s old and funky and it’s cool. As real estate people come in and think, ‘Oh we’re going to make money off this. We’re going to build a new this, that, and the other’, well then you’ve just kind of ruined it….Also, I know there’s that whole Silver Lake scenester thing that people talk about with a negative connotation.
JM: The hipster thing.
SG: Yeah, but you know, I love Silver Lake. It’s a real artistic community. Give it another ten years and that may be completely gone. I hope not. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, right?
JM: As long as we never get an Americana…
SG: No, hopefully we won’t get a mall here.
JM: Jimi Hendrix is all over the walls in here. What is it about Jimi compared to everyone else?
SG: I don’t know, he’s the best! He changed music. Man, he was so great. When I was a kid, I bought Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits, and I didn’t really like it. I didn’t listen to it for a while and then I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to take this down to the used record store and sell it but let me listen to it one more time.’ I listened to it again, and I thought, ‘Holy shit, this is the best stuff I’ve ever heard.’ And I became a Hendrix freak.
JM: Do you have a favorite Hendrix track? Is that even possible?
SG: No. Just all of them.
JM: So I wanted to ask you how you got into playing bass.
SG: Well, I started playing guitar, and I was trying to get into this band in Seattle called The Tupperwares which became The Screamers. But Tomata du Plenty, he recommended me to Satz and his new band called The Knobs. They called me one day and they go, ‘So our bass player quit. You wanna play bass?’ I was like, ‘I don’t play bass’ and they said, ‘We’ll teach you.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t have a bass,’ thinking I’d get out of it that way. And they said, ‘We’ve got a bass.’ ‘Well, I don’t have an amp.’ ‘Well, we have one.’ So I thought, ‘I’ll get in the band, ace the guitar player, and move over to guitar.’ But the drummer was fantastic. He taught me a lot about what drums and bass do together, and I ended up loving playing bass. Bass really became the thing. JM: Is there a particular drummer you’ve gotten on best with throughout your career?
SG: That’s a tough one. There have been so many. I did a record playing with Rickie Lee Jones with Jim Keltner, which was obviously a great thrill. Don Heffington was always one of my favorites. Dave Raven. Danny Frankel. Rob Brill (he and I were a team for like 15 years). Chris Layton from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band. I played with him and Kenny Wayne Sheperd. Who else? Kendall Kay is a fantastic drummer. Ah, there are so many! I’m forgetting! Dorian Crozier. Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello & The Attractions…there are so many, and that’s not scratching the surface.
JM: And now you’ve also worked with a bunch of artists as a producer. How would you describe your style?
SG: Well, every producer has a different style for sure. I was a session player so a lot of times I got to work with some fantastic producers, and then I also worked with guys where I was thinking, ‘Wow you’re not getting it. You don’t understand who the artist is.’ Being a bass player, part of the reason I think I got to play a lot was I could get the vibe of who the artist was. So I didn’t go in and say, ‘Here’s my thing over your thing.’ I mean, I had my thing but I could adapt it to their style and help their thing, rather than just getting in their way and showing off what I did. Since I started producing, my thing has always been that I wanted to make the artist’s record. In other words, I would be the vehicle for the artist’s vision rather than the artist being the vehicle for mine, you know.
JM: Totally. So what happens when you have a disagreement with an artist? Do you get pretty confrontational or just make the suggestion and leave it at that?
SG: I usually fire them and get some younger kid to come in and do it- someone who can dance better. No, I’m not really confrontational, and I haven’t really had that situation with many people. When there is something, I’ll push my point explaining why. But if the artist really wants something, it’s their record (and it’s their funeral too). I’m going to fight to make sure there’s something there that has the best quality with decisions I believe in. But it’s their record, and I want them to be happy. So, the stupid artist wins!
JM: Now that we’ve got this download culture, have you noticed artists coming through and kind of approaching the album differently? Does it seem less important to people to make a full album as opposed to individual songs?
SG: It’s starting to. I’ve seen it with some people. Maybe a lot of people don’t care, and maybe if you didn’t grow up with it, you don’t care, but imagine trying to get Dark Side of the Moon just buying a single.
JM: Well, it’s impossible.
SG: There are so many other distractions now that buying a song and listening to it on your iPod is the quick and easy way, I get it. But I still like it the old way.
JM: There’s that shop down in Echo Park, Origami, with new records on vinyl.
SG: Yeah, a lot of the records I’ve been doing, people have been putting out vinyl which I think is really neat. A couple of the records I’ve done with Eleni Mandell and her side band The Grabs, they’ve done vinyl. And then Fistful of Mercy, which is Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur, they’re doing vinyl- a small vinyl run.
JM: That’s awesome. Is there a project you’ve worked on that takes the cake for you? One where you thought, ‘Okay this is the best thing I’ve been a part of.’
SG: Yeah, all of them. I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten to play everything from rock to punk to jazz to blues, singer-songwriter. All kinds of music. And that same thing applies here. I’ve gotten to produce all kinds of music. I love music. Period.
So favorites, I mean obviously working with Rickie Lee Jones who I was a huge fan of and have been ever since I was a teenager- that’s been really great. The Living Sisters has been great. Everything I’ve gotten to do with Eleni (Mandell). I used to play with Eleni so I’ve known her for years. There’s a local band called Useless Keys I really like. And Warpaint just mixed their record in here, and I love that band. JM: You did stuff with She & Him, right?
SG: Yeah, I love working with him and Zooey. Zooey’s so sweet. Who else? Joseph Arthur I’ve been working with a lot lately, and he’s brilliant. Fistful of Mercy’s record is coming out this month. I hope it’s going to be huge. It’s a great great record. That was a really great experience…I can’t think of any records I’ve done that I haven’t liked doing. There have been a couple I can think of that have become more trying near the end, or even halfway through, where you’re like pulling your hair out but luckily, I’ve gotten to work with great people, and it’s been really rewarding.
JM: It seems like there’s so much music out there now even compared to MTV days when you know, there were very specific channels where people were being exposed to stuff. And of course, we’ve still got the Lady GaGa’s with major star power, but it seems to me there’s a lot more that’s accessible. Would you agree with that and if so, what do you think about it?
SG: I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh there were a lot of bands back then, you just don’t remember them.’ Well, I do remember there being a lot of bands. But not like now. Now there are so many bands.
JM: Are you happy that you got into music back when you did as opposed to now?
SG: I got into music because I love music. Even just a few years ago I was talking to someone who said, ‘I got into music to pick-up chicks.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ For me, once I found music it was what I had to do. Period. I didn’t care what was involved. It was like, ‘I don’t care if I’m sleeping with cows and making no money- that’s what I’m going to do.’ I’ve always thought- Music. It’s just a dedication. I was bitten, and that’s all there is to it.
There is so much stuff now. One good thing about there not being as much money (and everyone has been through this argument), but when people are not paying for music, artists are not making money and if artists don’t make money, they can’t continue to do what they do. You can’t go work a job at McDonald’s all day long, five, six, seven days a week (or go to two jobs) and then have time to be creative. That’s really really fucking tough. So a lot of good music will go away. But it will also weed out people who are in it for the money. Maybe. Not the people who are in it for the chicks. But the money, yes.
In the photos:
- Fisful Of Mercy + Jim Keltner (who played on it) + Sheldon G.
- L to R: sitting: Jim Keltner, Ben Harper. standing: Joseph Arthur, Dhani Harrison, Sheldon Gomberg.