NORTH BROOKLYN: As a correspondent for SonicScoop, I visit a wide array of Brooklyn recording studios. This installment features one of North Brooklyn’s most impressive new build-outs, as well as a studio that may be among the area’s oldest, and rootsiest.
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Studio owner Hugh Pool is a man who began his career busking in New York City’s subways, and ended up as the unlikely owner of one of Williamsburg’s longest-standing studios.
In a neighborhood now known for indie rock, contemporary art, and trend-jumping youth culture, this Dobro-slinger still has his heart deep in the gritty, visceral blues he grew up on.
As a guitarist, Pool has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Johnny Winter, Gov’t Mule and John Mayall, his tastes tending toward the rough and determined sound of early blues pioneers likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
“You listen to some of those old records and sometimes you don’t even hear chord changes,” he says, “Just these slightly dissonant guitar lines beating against each other. At times it doesn’t even sound like a band – more like one giant machine.”
Although he describes blues-based rock-and-roll as “what comes most effortlessly” to him, Pool’s interests and expertise don’t end there. Since opening its doors in 1992, his studio, Excello, has played host to projects from Richard Hell, Steve Albini, They Might Be Giants, Deborah Harry, Ellis Ashbrook, and Rufus Wainwright.
Bands looking to record live will appreciate Excello’s surprisingly ample recording space — a wide, open 40 x 25 tracking room with 17-ft ceilings.
“If I was looking for a studio, I’d track here,” says Pool, who’s accumulated a motherload of 35 amplifiers, to complement his six tape machines, Pro Tools HD rig and vintage Calrec console. Maintaining all this gear, Pool says, has helped keep in-house tech John Charette busy for years.
Continuously operating in one location for nearly two decades has also meant that Pool has seen plenty of new studios lay roots nearby as this neighborhood continues to gentrify and evolve. Eventually, this would even include a new room popping up right across the street. Almost 10 years ago, Oliver Straus opened the doors at Mission Sound (profiled in December 2010) a literal stone’s throw away.
“I remember when he moved in,” says Pool. “We didn’t know each other at first, but completely independently of us, our wives started becoming friends because we both had kids the same age who were starting to play together on the block.”
Excello’s control room, featuring the 58-input Calrec Series B OB console, 2-channel Neve 1063 sidecar and 10-channel rack of API 312s
As a pleasant surprise, the two grew to feel more camaraderie than competition.
“His room is great for what he does,” Pool continues. “Sure, there’s some overlap, but our interests and our rooms are completely different.”
“Given that everyone’s functioning on a competent level, it just comes down to where the best fit is. It’s important that the band goes for the right vibe, and once that trust is established, then you get going. In the 10 years we’ve been across the street from each other I don’t think we’ve ever had to slug it out over a client,” he laughs…