Homewrecker Studios: An Interview with Ryan Bram
All photos by Pablo Vigueras
Arizona has one of the most passionate, unique music scenes in the country, a fact I’ve been waxing affectionate about for years. Everyone involved, bands, fans, photographers, venues, all bring their abilities together to ensure each show, each event, is a work of love. There are those whose contributions are heaviest, felt by any and all involved, and Homewrecker Studios is one such contributor, to put it lightly. Run solely by Ryan Bram for well over a decade, Homewrecker Studio’s roof has sheltered the creation of innumerable Arizona bands, with the sounds of a very scene given life within its walls. That’s to say nothing of the bands outside the Grand Canyon State that Bram has helped (including his own bands, Languish and Territory). In a long, long overdue interview with Bram, I had the chance to finally discuss everything that makes Homewrecker Studios so integral to Arizona’s music scene and beyond.
How did Homewrecker Studios start out, what piqued your initial interest in your craft?
I guess it kind of started out of necessity? I had a pretty bad band in like 8th, 9th grade, and we had tried recording some songs with a handheld cassette recorder my dad gave me. It was terrible. Eventually we ditched it and the drummer bought some cheap mics and the other guitarist bought a Tascam 4 track recorder. Nobody really knew how to work it, and nobody else was reading the manual, so I ended up being the one to read it and figure it out. I happened to already know about Audacity, so we were able to dump the track to the drummer’s computer and put it on MySpace. Haha, we were so proud! As a result I sort of fell into being the recording guy in the band. When my dad learned I was taking an interest in it, he bought me an Mbox interface that came with Pro Tools. He thought I’d use it to record myself doing acoustic stuff or something. Instead, I started getting my friend’s bands to come over and we’d all try to figure out how to record them.
I think I was 16 when the first band paid me any money to record. They were a high school punk band called THO (Titty Hard On) and had songs about burritos and aliens.
In general, I’ve been a big tinker for as far back as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know how things work. How to break and fix them, make them better. When I got a taste of how much there is to recording, I fell down the rabbit hole pretty fast.
On the recording process, in all its broadest and finest points, which has interested you most, is there a specific passion point?
I think the most concise way to say what I’m most enamored with, is problem solving. At every point in the process, whether it be producing, engineering, mixing, whatever- I think of it as a puzzle that needs to be solved. I have to make whatever I have to work with sound like the sound I have in my head. Figuring out how to get there by any means is what I enjoy.
How’s that for saying “all of it” without saying all of it? But if I really had to pick one thing I have the most fun with- guitars. I fucking love guitar day.
What about guitar day?
Tone! I love pulling out a ton of my amps, having people try them out and find “the one” (or three) that help them realize the tone they’ve been searching for. There’s such endless manipulation with guitar tones between the player, the guitar itself, amps, pedals. It’s a ton of fun, and everyone likes to stand in front of a wall of amps… even though sometimes a small combo amp does the job just fine
Is there any particular set up you prefer, both as an engineer and a musician? What’s your favorite guitar tone?
Oh man. I’ve never really thought to narrow it down to one tone. I think I can give you a top three though.
The Swedish death metal HM-2 tone, certainly. I admittedly heard Trap Them before I first heard Entombed or Dismember, and thought the guitar tone was insane. It just encapsulated so much hate, it sounded like your guitar speakers were tearing apart. I’ve chased the tone on those records pretty hard and have tried to improve on them, particularly on the Gatecreeper records.
The tone on Only Live Witness – Prone Mortal Form. Finding out it was a Marshall 2203 was mind blowing. I feel like I have yet to achieve the tone that’s on that album. It’s flawless.
Boris – Amplifier Worship. That was one of the first records that it really hit me how gigantic a guitar tone could be. I wouldn’t say I get to attempt tones quite like that with a lot of the bands I record, but it’s the essential wall of amps turned up to 11 tone for me.
For my personal guitar rig, I usually gravitate to using both my Marshall JMP 2203 and my Ampeg V4. After seeing both Trap Them and Converge used that pair of amps at some point, I sought them out myself too. After using them for years now, I can’t think of any two amps I’ve tried that compliment each other better. The pedals I’ll use for them vary a lot, but that’s my baseline go to whether for myself or for bands in the studio. Almost every band ends up using my V4 for bass as well.
Photos by Pablo Vigueras
What unique approach do you bring to recording certain genres? What qualities do you try best to flesh out?
I think I offer bands to get things as big sounding as they want to go, regardless of genre. As a result, I’ve ended up with some more unique sounding “softer” records in particular. I’ve recorded an emo band with a wall of like 5 amps going at once, and I’ve had a more shoegazy record with maybe 14 mics on drums for a pretty meticulous drum sound. But in general I do try to just be malleable and help the band achieve their vision to the best of my ability. I try to be very well versed in the genres of the bands I record and I try to keep on hand a lot of tools for them to get those sounds.
Is there a specific genre you enjoy working with most?
Honestly, not really. If it gets me excited to record, I’m having a great time. If there’s a chance for me to do something I don’t normally do- record a new type of instrument, experiment, even better. I do happen to get a lot of metal and hardcore though, and it’s fun to always try to improve from the last project. Plus there’s typically more emphasis on guitar tones in those genres, so back to guitar day love.
What’s the wildest experience you’ve had recording?
Haha, I actually get asked this pretty often. I was recording Sovereign, a black metal band from Phoenix. They had brought a bunch of stuff to help them get in the right mindset- candles, incense, animal bones and furs- stuff to have little shrines in the corner to set the mood. Weird, but no big deal. Whatever helps you to get the best performance, you know?
When we were tracking guitars, they had a small “shrine” setup on top of one my rack mounts in the control room. In the middle of the guitarist playing through this long solo, one of the candles burnt low enough to catch the rabbit fur it was sitting on top of on fire. The guitarist had no idea, and I’m sitting there mulling over that he’s NAILING this take, but in the corner of the room there’s a fucking fire on top of my gear. He sees me freaking out, sees the fire, blows it out while still playing and finishes the take. That was the take we ended up using on the record. It smelled like shit for days. I think the next time they came back they skipped the animal furs.
What are your favorite recordings you’ve worked on?
The Beautiful Ones – Jaded Love really felt like a milestone record for me. We worked extremely hard on it, and it came out exactly how we wanted it to. I’m still very proud of it. Similarly Gatecreeper’s Sonoran Depravation is certainly another milestone. It was also the first time I got to work with Kurt Ballou. That was a trip.
But I think this new Gatecreeper record coming out this year is on another level. We worked harder on that record than anything I’ve done before, and it was a different experience being able to truly take the time we needed to with it to get it how we wanted. I’m really looking forward to people hearing this one.
What was it like working with someone with a recording history as storied as Ballou?
Humbling and inspirational. I haven’t really been subtle about being inspired by him in the past. He’s one of the few people that did it. Dude started recording out of his parents, just like me, and he fucking made it. And like… my studio is named after a Converge song. That was kind of awkward talking about with him haha (I was like 15 when I picked it!).
It’s already intimidating to work with someone you’ve looked up to, then you get their tracking requirements and you’re like…. shit. Back then he had some kinda aggressive and very specific things he wanted in the tracking process, and you know, he was right. Everything I took away from working with him has made my recordings better. It’s important to get checked by someone with much more experience than you from time to time. You have to soak up that wisdom like a sponge.
I’ve worked with Kurt on a few Gatecreeper records now and every one has been better than the last. I’ve tried to take techniques and such I’ve learned from him and apply it to my own sound and methodology, and I think this latest creeper record is certainly a great showcase of both of our sounds combined. It’s been interesting having someone you idolize morph into a colleague, for sure.
That’s so awesome, honestly. Where do you see yourself taking Homewrecker in the future?
I’ve been in the process of planning out moving and expanding the studio for some time. It’s been a slow development though, as there’s a lot of considerations in the construction and location to achieve what I want. I’m not keen on having numerous temporary locations, so I’ve been working on figuring out Homewrecker’s hopeful forever home. I’d like stay in Tucson or at least Arizona if possible. There’s a lot of bands from the Tucson scene that deserve to be heard, and I’m thrilled to have helped as many bands as I have do so. Upwards and onwards.