SEATTLE — The Avast! Recording Company, the final stop on our “Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics” tour, jokingly proclaims on their official site, “We pledge to have a website by 2010.” Of course, they’ve got one, but the humor lies in the fact that the pledge is a very Seattle statement: slightly self-effacing, sure, but also steadfastly defiant. This is a town that, when it comes to music, likes to adhere to the old standard that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Which is why, in the many studios that dot the landscape here, you won’t find a whole lot of high-end gadgetry. Instead, the rooms are packet with rickety pianos, dented Fenders and, in Avast!’s case, a massive Trident A-Range console, a legendary bit of gear (only 13 were ever assembled) that has attained near-mythic status in the recording industry. It’s just part of the reason local bands have flocked to the studio over its 20-year history — everyone from Soundgarden to Fleet Foxes have recorded here — and it’s most definitely why Chris Walla decided to take us here.
Because not only is Walla an unapologetic studio guy (he operates his own, called Hall of Justice, which was in the middle of a rather messy overhaul when we were in town), but he’s worked here too: DCFC’s Transatlanticism was mixed at Avast!, and he used the studio to put the finishing touches on their just-released Codes and Keys. And, above all else, he considers Avast! to be a second home … and a key cog in the city’s studio scene.
“I think Seattle has my favorite collection of studios and studio community of any town I’ve worked in,” he said. “This is really a town where you can call the studio down the street and say, ‘My tape machine’s broken; do you have something you’re not using?’ And someone will probably say, ‘Yeah, we can totally help you out.’ ”
And the epicenter of that comfortable, community feel seems to be Avast!, which, with its wood-paneled walls, vintage consoles (in addition to the Trident, they’ve also got Lenny Kravitz’s old API Legacy board in Studio B — “I feel like I’m sitting at the captain’s chair of the Enterprise,” Walla joked from behind its expanse) and delightfully worn décor, recalls nothing more than a massive rec room … albeit one that comes with an espresso machine. It’s where bands come to work on their records in a way that’s largely unchanged from 20 years ago: no bells and whistles, just time-tested methods and well-aged gear. And it will probably never change.
For further proof of that, Walla showed us the studio’s tape library — shelves of precariously stacked master recordings that contain a large portion of the recorded history of Seattle. And, somewhat fittingly, it’s located in the bathroom.
“It’s like half of what has ever been recorded in Seattle, I think, is probably stored in here,” Walla laughed, ducking inside the tiny room. “[It's a] tape library; Seattle style.”