Self-imposed boundaries

Audio engineer Bryce Gonzales explores sound

Bryce Gonzales in his element.

Bryce Gonzales in his element.

Photo By john baccigaluppi

Some might have been starstruck, but when Kanye West visited the Hangar Studios in 2008 to record for an upcoming album, engineer Bryce Gonzales was a little annoyed.

“It was fun, and they were nice—really cool—but they came back after [West’s] Arco Arena show at midnight and worked until 7 a.m. I was here the whole time, and a few times I’d be thinking, ‘Well, this is just enough. It’s 4 a.m. We’re done,” Gonzales says, crossing his arms and scrunching his face into a petulant expression by way of demonstration.

“But I’d walk into the room and then just kind of back out again. I mean, what could I do about it?”

Gonzales, still baby-faced at 28, is relaxing in a control room at the Hangar on a recent weekday afternoon. He can laugh about that all-nighter now, but admits there are moments when he operates from within a very carefully defined comfort zone.

As such, he’s spent much of his career, whether working with local acts such as the Stragglers or critically acclaimed national artists such as West and Devendra Banhart, trying to push himself beyond those self-imposed boundaries.

Born in Woodland, Gonzales started playing the bass, trombone and tuba as a teen, following his father who played around town in country bands. Around the same time, Gonzales’ dad took him to Dixon to see Skip Simmons, the esteemed vintage-equipment repair specialist.

“My dad would take his amps for him to fix, and [Skip] would give me tips and tricks and old amps to work on,” he says. “I’ve been into it ever since.”

After high school, Gonzales took recording classes at American River College and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he worked at studios that did production for cartoons and commercials.

It was a blast, Gonzales says, but eventually he realized he needed to get serious.

“S.F. had a lot of distractions. It was totally fun, too much partying,” he says. “The studio where I was working closed, and I could’ve [gotten] some crappy job or else I could really do something with myself, I could go further in my career.”

At the suggestion of longtime Sacramento engineer John Baccigaluppi, Gonzales set up shop at the Hangar, where he now balances engineering and producing with repairing and building equipment.

Gonzales says the work divide can be daunting, but if he can get just enough of one thing before moving onto another, he’s content.

Gonzales got his first try at comfort rezoning when he was asked to work on the Stragglers’ latest CD. The Sacramento country-rock band wanted to hike out to a remote cabin to record the disc—an idea at which the young engineer initially balked.

“It was like, ‘What? I have to lug all my equipment out to the woods—I don’t want to, it’s pointless,’” he says. “But then we got there and it was out in the middle of nowhere, and within an hour it all made sense. It was amazing.”

Since then, Gonzales has traveled to Los Angeles to record with producer Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Broken West), recorded with the Devil Makes Three in an old Davis basement and, last year, trekked out to a Bolinas beach house for three months to record renowned freak-folk artist Devendra Banhart’s album, due out this fall.

“It was me and six other guys for days at a time, and when I was there I just wanted to come home to Sacramento and just go back in my shop and build things—but then when I got here I realized I just wanted to go back [to the beach] and record.”

Finally, he says, he realized the benefit of both. “If you’re just making gear but you stop using it in sessions, then you get really off base. Luckily, I have this studio, and I can make records using whatever amps and I can hear what changes need to be made to a piece of equipment,” he says.

“If I was just in the back room, solitary and tinkering by myself, I’d never come up with that insight.”