Masterer of the 916 universe
Sacramento, CA 95814
A long, strange trip:
Until Eric Broyhill hung out his shingle locally in the late 1990s, mastering engineer was an arcane job only inveterate scanners of album liner notes might recognize. You made an album, recorded your songs, mixed them down to two-track stereo and then shipped your music off to Bob Ludwig in New York or Bernie Grundman in Los Angeles to get “mastered,” whatever that meant.
Then Broyhill set up shop as Monster Lab Audio inside The Hangar recording complex in Alkali Flat, and you could take your completed and mixed tracks there, sit on an overstuffed couch, and not only get a before-and-after perspective of what a good mastering engineer does, but also have those differences you were hearing explained to you by one of the nicest guys in town. And you could get doggie love from Gypsy, Broyhill’s affectionate black-and-white border collie, while her dog dad tweaked the knobs. Broyhill demystified the process for Sacramento musicians.
At the beginning of June, Broyhill tore everything out of his room at The Hangar—a suite formerly occupied by Heckler magazine—to be shipped off to Stockholm, where he’s moving, personally and professionally, the third week of July.
Halfway around the world, yes, but technology, and the ability to transfer large sound files online, not to mention visual-phone interfaces like Skype, make it possible for Broyhill to move his business to somewhere so far-flung. Already the bulk of his work had segued from mostly locally generated projects to recordings from elsewhere, with an admitted 30 percent coming from Los Angeles. “It’s time for me to do the whole coulda-woulda-shoulda deal,” he said. “From the infrastructure and the way the website interacts with people.”
Broyhill already had set sights far outside Sacramento, traveling to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and was planning work in nearby Abu Dhabi, along with Mumbai, India, when the worldwide recession brought the projects to a halt. But he’d already restarted a relationship with an old flame from years ago in San Francisco, a Stockholm native who was living in Dubai. So when it came time to move in together, they settled on Sweden, stamping grounds of ABBA and Britney Spears producer Max Martin, after passing on the prospect of setting up his mastering lab in Barcelona, Spain.
“Stockholm is a series of islands, and there’s water all around,” Broyhill enthused, relishing the prospect of kayaking into town in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. “The people are amazing,” he said, describing the highly educated and technically astute culture. “And I need to be somewhere where I can get a really great engineer.”
Broyhill’s most recent projects include work on Far’s reunion project for Vagrant Records. But he’d already worked on its 1992 indie release, Listening Game. Before that he’d played bass in a “Love and Rockets” band called Outside the Pale, then started recording other bands at his New World Studios; he also launched an indie label, Insert This Way Records. He and friend Mark Malakie swung their efforts behind Sacramento’s stoner-rock juggernaut Kai Kln, releasing its Rythym of Stranger cassette in 1990. Then John Baccigaluppi recruited Broyhill to engineer at his Enharmonik Studios, precursor to The Hangar, where he worked on the band’s breakthrough debut, Back to the Grotto. From there, Broyhill worked with lots of locals—Deftones, Filibuster—before working on Davis band Knapsack’s debut for Alias Records. After months of tension between band and label, a frustrated Broyhill decided to switch to cab driving and he went back to school. “I hated the way it sounded,” he recalled.
Fortunately, he didn’t stay away too long, and Joe and Lesa Johnston lured him back into the studio at Pus Cavern. “Slowly, I got sucked back in,” he said, working with local band Seventh Standard. But going to school got Broyhill into math, and acoustics. Which led to mastering, and Dubai, and now Sweden: A long, strange trip, as they say. (Jackson Griffith)