Super sonic

Shared space inspires musicians, sound engineers and other creatives

Alex Hay, Colin Christian and Jeromy Ainsworth love making great records.

Alex Hay, Colin Christian and Jeromy Ainsworth love making great records.

Photo/Kent Irwin

Sound Saloon is at 420 Valley Road in Reno. More info can be had at

As Reno grows, so does its ability to produce its own music. Local recording artists have gotten used to traveling to the Bay Area, Southern California, or even farther, to produce quality albums. It’s been a given for some time that for all of the positive things that can be said about Reno, it’s sparse in terms of recording options.

Enter the three prominent members of Reno’s Sound Saloon–Colin Christian, Alex Hay and Jeromy Ainsworth. The guys have been around town for a while and have been on each other’s radar for just as long. Together, they’ve been able to sustain themselves as lone recording engineers. If one of them was lacking a piece of equipment, inevitably another could lend it to them.

Recently, they came to the conclusion that it’d be much easier to house all of their equipment, as well as their diverse perspectives, within one studio space. When it comes to supplementing one another’s shortcomings, the trio’s different recording styles come in handy just as much as the types of microphones they wield.

Ainsworth, of local band Drag Me Under, leans toward the heavier end of the spectrum, feeling most comfortable with gravelly, atonal vocals, distorted guitars, and pounding drums. Hay works with the spacier, experimental side of music, specializing in post-rock and indie. Christian is an expert in the cleaner, melodic stylings of pop and rock. They all agree that working together has broadened their boundaries.

“Sometimes I find myself with a band that has a singer—you know, one that actually sings notes,” laughed Ainsworth. “I have to talk to Colin for advice.”

That’s a courtesy that extends in all directions. Whenever one partner needs a fresh pair of ears, one that’s unbiased toward his particular style, he consults with the others. The collaborative feel of the Sound Saloon is a way to circumvent the walls that many engineers, up late hours at night, often run into.

Sound Saloon is located at the artist’s co-op commonly referred to by its address—420 Valley Road. Shawn Carney and other longtime managers built the room as an art gallery and office, separated by a wall. The result is a long hall with wooden floors, decorated with professional instruments and amps. The aesthetic is lovingly referred to as having a “busted warehouse vibe.” It’s a fitting description, equally appropriate for the earthy, western sound of the title.

420 Valley has developed a reputation for being a fluid element of Reno’s artistic community. Walking through the building, you could find a sculpture studio sharing a room with a painter, with a band’s rehearsal space on the other side of the door.

Christian feels that some of 420 Valley’s signature chaos has been pared down into more of a professional outfit. There’s a photography and promotional company, and a few band rehearsal rooms. For the most part, the loose ends have been tied up, the remaining projects preparing to spread roots there.

However, Christian doesn’t believe all of the building’s unconventional charm is gone. In fact, he sees it as one of the Sound Saloon’s strengths, in the casual, stylish setting that it provides for its artists.

“With recording, you usually get one of two options,” explained Christian. “On one end of the spectrum you get a guy’s bedroom. On the other, is a big, stuffy spaceship. Artists spend a lot of time in a box. That can give you a closed-off mentality, but we try to keep things positive, and approach it from different angles.”

Christian and Hay continually experiment with ways to get the best music from their artists. For Ainsworth, most of his artists have a vision as soon as they enter the studio, and the question is how to get sonically to point B. Whenever he’s feeling adventurous, he walks into a session with one of his comrades.

“Sometimes I’ll just watch these guys get weird,” said Ainsworth.

Part of Hay and Christian’s approach involves coaching the artists into a unique and unprecedented emotional place for the recording. Hay likes to get people out of their comfort zones in order to draw out their best work.

Other times, the experimentation is purely technical. Christian and Hay successfully pitched up a bass guitar on a recording, so that it sounded like a keyboard. Other times, they’ll suggest that a band play the same parts on different instruments.

“It’s best when something unexpected happens,” said Hay.

Christian feels comfortable wearing both the musician and the producer’s hat, but he considers himself more of the latter, his primary goals being the creation of great records.

“Colin is as intense about producing and engineering as the artist is about crafting and creating their art,” said local musician Suta Bogale, who worked with Christian on an album with his band Postwar. “I’ve known him for a while and I used to think he was an engineer in a musician’s body, because he plays bass. Now I know him to be all engineer. He has really jumped into recording wholeheartedly.”

For the time being, the Sound Saloon relies on word of mouth to spread the business. No one feels comfortable posting an ad in the paper, or knocking door-to-door on rehearsal spaces. They believe that their work will speak for itself, and hopefully get artists to seek them out from not just Reno, but from anywhere.

The ratio of Sound Saloon’s local versus out-of-town artists is about 80/20. Many come from the Bay Area or elsewhere in California. One of Ainsworth’s clients comes all the way from Alberta, Canada. Visiting clients see Reno as a great place for people to come and record.

“People should be coming to Reno,” said Christian. “It’s cheap! One of my bands spent $25 on a hotel room. That wouldn’t get you a sleeping mat in San Francisco. They should be coming here to party and make records.”

Reno can come as a breath of fresh air to Bay Area bands, but Hay admits that building a sustainable recording studio here isn’t quite as simple.

“We’ve spent most of our efforts trying to get all of our equipment, all of our work under this one roof, starting a real recording studio. A tough proposition, especially in this town.”

One novel idea Sound Saloon plans to implement in the next year is renting their rooms and equipment to freelance artists and engineers who want to control the sound of their own projects. Christian has seen this implemented elsewhere, but to his knowledge, it hasn’t been tried anywhere in the Reno/Tahoe area.

Sound Saloon’s rates are $25 an hour for the rest of this year, and will be $35 an hour in 2015 once the studio is more developed. It’s a loose guideline, with a payment system that’s usually negotiable.

“Sometimes an engineer will want to charge you for a full hour if you go over just 10 minutes,” said Hay. “That’s always pissed me off.”

“A lot of engineers—for me, growing up—they were just punching the clock. If it’s the difference between 10 and 10:30, take it,” said Christian. “We just want to make great records.” =