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Producer Spotlight: Lewis Richards – ThePier.com

When the words “reggae-rock” or “reggae” are spoken, what comes to your mind? Maybe the bass lines and catchy melodies of legends Bob Marley and The Wailers come to mind? Or maybe the genre blending work of contemporaries Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, 311 or SOJA fill your head. But, what about the people and places behind the music, like the sound engineers, mixers, producers and studios? This is where you can fill in another name synonymous with “reggae-rock”—namely producer/engineer/musician/songwriter, Lewis “Lew” Richards and 17th Street Recording Studios out of Costa Mesa, CA.

The Beginnings: A Dream to Make Good Music
Although Richards has developed a much-deserved reputation in the music business, making music was not always his dream. Richards shares, “When I was younger, I actually wanted to make movies. I was going to go to film school, and then music kind of pulled me back in.”

Starting from a young age, music was always a big part of Richards’ life. He started by playing the trumpet and later switched to guitar. “I played guitar for a really long time to try and get really good. I just wanted to have a good sound when I was playing,” says Richards. After guitar, Richards switched instruments two more times by sitting down at the piano and picking up the bass.

Like many music lovers over the past five decades, Richards started as a fan of The Beatles. He would listen to the music legends everyday on his way to school, and on his way home. “It was The Beatles all the time for me. I had all of those songs in my head for a long time. That always drove me to make music like that—good music. I just totally wanted to do what The Beatles did.”

For many, to love The Beatles is to love music. Likewise, to love Bob Marley is to love music. Albums like, “Sergeant Peppers,” “Rubber Sole,” “A Hard Day’s Night,”along with “Burin’,” “Natty Dread” and “Exodus” defined, and inspired, generations. For Richards, these concepts couldn’t be simpler. Richards explains,“Bob Marley’s music is universal music just like The Beatles. There are really only two types of music, good and bad. I think everyone could say that both The Beatles and Bob Marley are a big part of the good music, rather than the bad side.”

Laying the Foundation: 17th Street Recording Studio
Richards’ journey in the Southern California music scene began as a musician. Richards’ band “Jesus Wore Dickies” drew the attention of some of the biggest names on the reggae-rock circuit at the time. These bands would later help to pave the way for his success as a producer. “…all the guys in Long Beach Dub liked our music. It wasn’t so much the Long Beach Dub All-Stars albums, but all of the musicians that made up the band,” says Richards. In the early days of the genre, Richards worked closely with Eric Wilson, Bud Gaugh, Marshall Goodman, Opie Ortiz and Jack Maness on their solo projects.

From these seemingly humble beginnings, Richards has worked tirelessly to make a name for himself in the music business. He has worked in varying capacities with the likes of Slightly Stoopid, The Dirty Heads, Rome, Micah Brown, and music legends Sublime, The Policefront man Sting and R&B diva Mary J. Blige.

As Lew Richards said, “You can basically describe Sublime as the American version of Bob Marley. Unfortunately, I came in later, after Bradley had already passed. I first started working for Skunk Records and Michael “Miguel” Happoldt. I was working with Slightly Stoopid on their early records. I was an assistant to Miguel for awhile…I would just be talking about computers nonstop, and he and I worked on computers together once ProTools came out. I want to say it was 1998 or ’97, somewhere around there.”

Now, with over a decade of being a producer, engineer, songwriter and musician in Southern California, Richards has established himself as the “go-to” producer for reggae-rock music. In the Jesus Wore Dickies days, Richards had a studio in Long Beach, CA, “we were right in the heart of Long Beach and Ras 1, Jack and Opie would always come over to jam and write music. It was a lot of messing around, you know?”

Out of these jam sessions 17th Street Recording Studios was born, opening its doors in 2001. “At 17th Street, we have tons of musicians coming in and out all the time. We still have lots of fun together, but there are new bands coming through every week.”

In addition to the impressive and ever-expending list of musicians to grace 17th Street Recording Studio, the studio proudly displays a piece of music history. The artwork from Sublime’s self-titled album graces the studio wall. Although the artwork doesn’t represent Richards’ contributions to the album—given he did not produce or mix the album—it represents a token of appreciation from one of Sublime’s founders. “Miguel (Happoldt) gave that to me when we were working together. He hooked me up with the Lou Dog plaque too. I worked with all those guys on the technical side when we did the mastering for the Sublime ‘Everything Under The Sun’ box set. So, I was just around during that time and Miguel was nice enough to give me that.” This gift by Sublime signifies, among many things, a token of appreciation and respect for Richards’ work and contribution to the music.

The Craft: Producing, Writing and Recording
Working with new bands and musicians is all part of the fun for Richards. “One thing about recording is (that) every single studio session is different. No matter what, it is going to be totally different with each band. Each time someone comes into the studio, we start fresh.”

As a producer Richards works to coach and mentor younger bands to find the sometimes elusive ‘right sound.’ “I try to guide these guys and help them as much as I can. You are not going to write a hit song every time you record. Everything has to be just right for it to happen,” says Richards. But for those bands lucky enough to have that ‘just right moment,’ Richards knows it immediately.

“Obviously, when we heard ‘Lay Me Down’ with The Dirty Heads and Rome killing it—that was a hit right in the moment.”Richards continues “…that song we knew was going to be pretty big. It had all the right ingredients to reach that success that it did. That one definitely sticks out for me.”

Richards considers himself a “hands-on” producer, especially when it comes to writing and recording. For Richards, the studio process is very much a “co-collaborator process.” “I am a co-writer so I am always writing, whether it is for me or for another band. For Rome, we came up with ‘You Better Listen’ together in the studio. I came up with the chord structure, and he was jamming over those chords.”

Richards often finds himself infused on the song writing and creative process. “Same with The Dirty Heads, we write a lot together too. (In the studio) It is a lot more like a co-writing collaboration that I have with the bands.” But, when it’s good—it’s good. “Don’t get me wrong; if a band comes in with a song and it is really good, then I will record it,” laughs Richards.

Richards is always excited to work with new collaborators, especially ones as talented as Matisyahu. The song, “Dance All Night” has become one of the strongest tracks from Dirty Heads “Cabin By The Sea” album. It was Rome who came up with the hook for the song, which was later completed by Richards and Jared Watson. But, the “cherry-on-top” was guest vocalist Matisyahu. “It was cool to have Matisyahu in the studio to write and collaborate with him. He is a really talented writer and singer, and was really cool to work on that song with him. He just went right to work on his part and was really professional. I hope we get to work together again!”

Success: Hard Work Paying Off
While there is no way to know whether or not Richards could have experienced the same success in the movie business, it is quite possible that if not for The Beatles and Bob Marley, we may be watching a Richards’ produced blockbuster instead of dialing-in Slightly Stoopid or The Dirty Heads on our iPods.

However, what is clear is that Richards’ ability to create music has further expanded and advanced the reggae-rock genre as a whole. And, luckily, the successes of the bands with which Richards records and writes have been shared with him. Recently the Orange County Music Awards honored Richards and 17th Street Recording Studios as “Best Record Label of 2012″.

Like most of us, Richards wakes up day-after-day and goes to work. However, there are some not-so-subtle differences for Richards. He doesn’t report to a typical office job that is eerily similar to the cubicles on Office Space. Richards’ concept of paperwork is most likely different than those TPS reports.

For Richards, he gets to report to his studio, where his “cubicle” is filled with the same instruments and gear The Beatles used to make their sound. And Richards’ concept of “paperwork” is writing catchy melodies and collaborating on hit songs with some of industries best talent. With recent awards and accolades only reaffirming what many already knew, Richards has stayed true to his original vision of make good music.

“I am just trying to stay good at my craft. I think we all try to get better every day. In music it is the same situation. If I am honored in any way, I will gladly take it,” reflects Richards.

17th Street Recording Studio Links:
17th Street Recording Website
17th Street Recording Facebook

Article By: Kris Siuta
Photos By: Amanda Zancanella

Ease Up @ 17th St Recording Studio New album this summer

Ease Up has been making a name in the So Cal reggae scene over the years… with just 2 EP’s the boys are finally headed to the studio ready to record a full length album!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPw6W5LyrUU

Like them on Facebook if you haven’t already!

www.facebook.com/EaseUp

 

Check em out!

Musical stylings on 17th Street – Daily Titan

Anik Dang wakes up at 17th Street Recording Studio to begin another day of work. Putting in 20-hour days and sleeping in his office is not unusual.

“I crash here four or five times a week,” Dang said. Even though he is just 25 years old, the Cal State Fullerton graduate is already on his way to establishing himself as a powerhouse in the music world.

In 2009, Dang graduated from CSUF with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and was working with the school as a consultant.

Through the consulting program, Dang was equipped with the tools and skills he needed to succeed in business. He transitioned from the CSUF program to being a consultant for a record label. It was during this time that Dang fell in love with the music industry.

“Pretty much all my friends and everyone around me at the time was into music, so it was kind of a way for me to get involved and still get to work with my friends every day,” Dang said.

Dang started a record label with a friend and began managing artists and promoting their music. It was around this time that he met Lewis Richards.

“I met Anik through the discontinued erotic services section of CraigsList,” Richards said. The story is half true.

Dang and his partner were looking for a studio and producer for an electronic reggae artist they were managing when they stumbled upon Richards on CraigsList.org. His partner found out that Richards had worked with Sublime on their platinum self-titled album, and since Dang’s artist was getting comparisons to Sublime singer Bradley Nowell, it seemed like a perfect fit.

“For us to find the guy who has the (platinum) record for the Sublime self-titled album, we figured this is where we need to go – and his prices were super reasonable, way too low even,” Dang said.

The meeting proved to be instrumental. For several months Dang was coming to 17th Street Recording Studios and paying for studio time. However, when he and his partner parted ways at the beginning of 2010, Dang began the move that would eventually launch a new label, 17th Street Records.

“I just kind of started talking to Lew every day and just figuring out what his whole situation was and how he would fit into what I was doing – we just decided to merge,” Dang said. “I was going to run the label out of here, and he was going to do the studio.”

With the beginning of the new record label, Dang set out to create a community of talented artists and successful music – but doing so has provided him with unique challenges.

“Your first gig at a place, you are probably not going to get paid unless you name drop pretty hard. Just getting paid in general from venues is pretty tough,” Dang said. “More than that, it’s hard to get your fans out to every show. Say you have four shows in a week and they are all at dive bars, you’ve got to have some pretty loyal fans to come out to four dive bars in a week.”

However, Dang has been able to cultivate several of his artists into rising stars – one such artist is Micah Brown.

Before meeting Dang, Brown was simply focused on his music and developing a catalogue of songs that people would enjoy hearing and didn’t have “any idea of what to do with the business side of my music”.

Through the guidance of Dang he just released his first E.P., Down Like Hail on iTunes and is nominated for “Best Acoustic Artist” at this year’s OC Music Awards.

“Right now it’s Micah’s thing, and since he is nominated at the OC Music Awards that are coming up, we are going to do a lot of shows with him,” Dang said. “His stuff is really taking off right now, so he is going to be the focus point.”

One of Dang’s primary methods of management is focusing on the artists at the label that are generating the most buzz and working the hardest.

“Whoever has the best stuff is what we are going to promote,” Dang said.

But the community at 17th Street is also important to Dang and he is building a group of young artists with the aim of making hits and taking the Orange County music scene by storm.

“We’ve got everyone singing on each other’s tracks, and we are cross-marketing through that,” Dang said. “For us to come up I think it’s going to be a group effort, and we are going to get noticed as a group rather than individuals.”

The future is looking bright for 17th Street. Dang said that largely because of the skills he learned in the consulting program at CSUF, he has been able to take the label and turn it into a profitable business in only a couple of months. In an economy where the music industry has been hit especially hard by the recession, this is a rarity and Dang’s work ethic is largely responsible for the success.

Dang said that on a day-to-day basis he does everything from graphic design and booking to working on business plans and models. He also works on things he says they should have interns for, like wrapping cables and repainting the floor.

“Anik’s work has been awesome; he’s helping make the studio one of the best around,” Richards said. “I look forward to the future projects being more and more successful.”

Currently the studio is working with the Dirty Heads, recording their next album.

Richards has been integral in the bands development and is helping them with the songwriting process and also serving as the recording engineer.

Brown was also able to lend his talents on some of the new tracks, an experience he credits Dang for.

“A year ago I was doing open mics and bar gigs,” Brown said. “Today, I am in the studio working with the Dirty Heads on their next record.”

Through the experience of Richards and the dedication and business savvy of Dang, 17th Street Records is on its way up.

“This is a fun job. I have done a lot of shit – social media, consulting work, a clothing line, selling graphic art – and this is one that is definitely a challenge,” Dang said. “Plus you get to work with great people. The biggest draw is the people.”

About Keith Cousins

 

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