Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NovElder Interview: Engineer Rob Freeman Takes The Oath

Rob Freeman
Photo: Courtesy of Rob Freeman

KissFAQ/By Tim McPhate

KissFAQ: How is it that you got to work on the project with KISS?

Rob Freeman: The first project I worked on for KISS was Ace's solo album for Casablanca Records, Ace Frehley, which I recorded and mixed with producer Eddie Kramer in 1978. The album achieved a good degree of commercial success, with multi-platinum sales and a hit single, "New York Groove." It also garnered critical acclaim. But I believe it was the distinctive sonic character of the album that drew the attention of Ace's band mates and others in the KISS organization to my work (I'm in no way meaning to understate Eddie's unique contributions). Over the ensuing couple of years, I worked on a variety of smaller projects for the KISS organization such as radio spots and demos. Also during that time, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to design and install a 4-track home studio and a state-of-the-art home theater system in Paul Stanley's uptown NYC condo.

Then in December 1980, someone from the KISS office rang me up and asked if I would work with the band on a new recording project. I heard it might be for a new album, and naturally I was thrilled at the prospect of working with KISS again. In early January 1981, I began recording tracks with KISS at Ace in the Hole, Ace's home studio in Wilton, Connecticut. There was no producer-for-hire present, just the band and me, as recording engineer. These were the first recording sessions to feature Eric Carr's extraordinary drumming.

KF: What was Ace in the Hole Studio like?

RF: Ace in the Hole was bunkered into the hillside adjacent to Ace's house. John Storyk, of the renowned Walters-Storyk Design Group, did his usual exquisite job designing and constructing the facility. Ace had genuine love and respect for the recording arts and seemed to have spared no expense when it came to the acoustic quality, technical layout, and cosmetics of his studio. Ace in the Hole may have been a private recording studio, but it was as professional and fully functional as many major commercial studios of the day.

The studio complex included a spacious control room and a large, open recording room. The control room was appointed with lots of wood but had enough acoustic traps placed throughout to effectively reduce sonic reflections, making for more accurate recording and mixing. The studio room was also abundant with wood and featured a mirrored wall and a construction glass wall built at odd angles to each other so as to disperse standing sound waves. The acoustic characteristics of the wood, the mirror, and the glass combined effectively to give the room that sought-after "live" sonic quality. There was an acoustically deadened booth-like area designed for recording drums or other instruments that might benefit from a tighter, less open sound and some large "gobos" (movable baffles) for creating smaller areas of deadened acoustics where needed.

In addition, there was a tile and mirror bathroom that was wired for recording or for use as a live reverb chamber. For the latter, sounds could be selectively fed from the control room into the bathroom, played out through a speaker (adding natural bathroom reverberation to the sound) then mic'd and returned to the control room. At one point I put a guitar amp in there to capture one of Ace's solos in that lively acoustic environment. We might have also recorded some of Gene and Paul's background vocals in there as I can recall the sound of their voices singing and cracking jokes from inside that bathroom.

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