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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Thom Monahan

Thom Monahan

Producer, Engineer, Musician
Thom Monahan

Thom Monahan transitioned from a successful career as a touring and recording musician into an equally prosperous life on the other side of the console. Based out of his Golden Void Studios in San Fernando Valley, California, Thom’s production and mixing credits include Peter, Bjorn and John, Fruit Bats, Stevie Nicks, Pernice Brothers, Vetiver and many more. He is a big fan of vintage and analog studio gear – and Aston microphones.

Peter, Bjorn and John, Fruit Bats, Stevie Nicks, Pernice Brothers, Vetiver.
Thom uses these Aston mics:
Origin
Spirit
Boombox to 8 track

“I was always the kid running around recording things on his boombox. One of the first things I ever did was to make a 60 minute cassette of strange noises for late evening listening and stoned friends. I always played music, I was in bands, and I was interested in microphones and recording. I was in a band in ’92 called Monsterland that got signed in the Nirvana Goldrush. When we got our advance I spent it on a ½” 8 track and a Mackie board and started recording demos for anyone who would have me.

I built my first microphones; I loved that boombox so much I stole the mic elements from it when it stopped working. I put them in little tubes and I had to figure out how to power them; I had 9v batteries strapped to the side and little switches to turn the power on.

I moved to Massachusetts and I did a record for a band called the Scud Mountain Boys. We just did it in the dining room of their house, minimal micing, windows open, there's a song where a rainstorm rolls through on the bridge. It eventually got picked up by Sub Pop in 1999. At that point I’d been hired as a staff engineer at Slaughterhouse Studios outside Amherst MA. We did a lot of hardcore, death metal, a lot of folk records, it was crazy – I didn’t know what was coming in the door!”

Stacking the fuzzes

“I was in a band called the Lilys and then in the Pernice Brothers. I spent the rest of the 90’s and into the 2000’s van life touring with them and making records with people I knew. I moved to LA in 2005. I’d just got married and I figured if I went back on tour I’d be gone for nine months. I thought ‘that’s not the way to start this’. I knew I just wanted to record music and spend my time chasing lightning strikes in the studio. I had a record to make with a good friend Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver and that was about it. That was the only plan. But then for the next 5 or 6 years it was just mayhem; it was records all the time, and it’s been like that ever since. I feel very honored and lucky that people put so much faith in me to help them with their music.

We moved to the current place, in the valley, in 2007. I was in the middle of this Lavender Diamond record for Matador. There was this converted garage that someone had half-heartedly tried to make into a studio so I just moved in a started working. LA’s been an amazing place to be - always surrounded by a group of people who are trying to bring their version of crazy beauty in the world.

I don’t gig so much now but Monsterland did some reunion shows in 2017 which were hilarious. I had to manage my energy to match the idiocy of a young man. Putting my pedalboard together was a great joy, having a reason to stack that many fuzzes was awesome!

Back in the day I found it difficult transitioning in and out of touring and making records so I was happy just to stick with one.”

Mixing Stevie

“A musician and composer friend of mine Ryan Miller called me out of the blue one day and said ‘what are you doing tomorrow? How would you like to mix a Stevie Nicks record?’ I said ‘are you f****** kidding me??’ He’d written a song for the film ‘Book of Henry’ and had her track it the previous day so I got the chance to mix this Stevie track.

What was really exciting for me was that there was a time element – they were doing the final mix of the film the next day!

Ryan rang me and said ‘Dude, I don’t know WHAT you did but they put it on at the end of the film, and people started to cry.’ It was a beautiful song, her vocal was fantastic, and I heard she was happy with the way the vocals sounded. It was one of the best compliments I could get.”

Survival of the nicest

“I’ve found the community of recording people in Los Angeles is a lot kinder and nicer than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s like ‘survival of the nicest’. You’ve got to be cool because you’re going to need help from somebody at some point.

One of the real joys of being in the valley in LA is that the film or TV studios will build these insane recording studios and just tear them apart a few years later and the wiring and everything goes into these electronics graveyards. My place is wired with stuff I would never have been able to afford if I hadn’t pulled it off reels in some of those places. The power’s really good here and I live in a weird spot on a cul-de-sac where I don’t have neighbours behind me. It’s super-quiet so no-one cares if I’m doing guitars at three in the morning.

When you’re around other studios it’s like an arms-race, you’re like ‘they’ve got this console, or that cool tube compressor, man, if only I had one of those….’ It’s only recently I’ve thought ‘that’s all cool, but I like my spot’. Because you can’t throw a rock in the valley without hitting a Neve. The closest studio to mine is my next door neighbour’s!

New Monkey, Elliot Smith’s old place is round here, Sound City’s not that far and there are studios all down Ventura Boulevarde. It’s nuts.

People seem to gravitate towards my space because, although it’s not huge, everything is hooked up; a lot of gear, instruments, synths, they’re just out. There are submixers everywhere, headphones and monitors everywhere so you can just get in the room and jam and then it’s a seamless transition to start recording.”        

 

All Spirit

“I have a two-rig system, an analog backbone and I’m mixing through Dangerous Audio stuff. It’s fairly hybridised. I have one rig that runs Ableton and Logic and all the non-Pro Tools stuff people bring in, and then the main capture rig running Pro Tools. I have a lot of analog gear from over the years. I’ve known a lot of builders. I have a lot of Overstayer hardware because Jeff [Turzo, founder of Overstayer] is a friend, is nearby in Studio City, and I'm really into his take on saturation and fidelity. All my tube gear has been built or fixed by Bryce Gonzales at Highland Dynamics, who’s another good friend. There are so many people in LA making gear, it’s great, you can repair everything, get everything modified to what you want.

Even though I do sessions where I go to larger places for a while and track, then come home and overdub and mix, you sometimes find yourself having to track drums in the room you’re in. I use Aston Spirits on drums all the time and they are the most forgiving and best-sounding mics in my room on drums. The Fruitbats’ new record ‘Gold Past Life’ just came out and that’s all Spirit, top of kit and kick drum. it’s a very minimal mic’ing scene but they sound really, really good.

It’s incredible, if you don’t really know what you’re shooting for, you grab the Aston Spirit and you’re going to be totally cool. It has a really forgiving top-end. It comes across the way I really like to hear things come off a microphone; it’s not too bright, the detail in transients is specific enough but not too specific so it sounds overly detailed. Also it doesn’t exhibit that massive upward tilt of certain microphones. I just really like them on everything I’ve used them on, and I’ve literally used the on everything; acoustic guitars, pianos, drums, guitar amps, ambient mic’ing.”

Made to be used

“One of my favourite things I’ve used the Spirit on is on a MiniMoog I have here running into a pair of KRKs. I’ve basically decided to see how long the KRKs will last under extreme punishment and completely unfair treatment. I just crank them until the speakers are flapping and that’s how I record the MiniMoog. I put the Spirit on that, and that’s a lot of air being moved. I’ve done everything to try and destroy those speakers but they just won’t give up!

I love the Spirits, I adore them, I’d use them on anything. And I’ve dropped them and mashed the grill and it all just jumps back into place! Totally killer. I’ve taken them on my travels because I knew they wouldn’t betray me in any way, that they would be solid on the low end, forgiving on the top end, the mid-range wouldn’t be too weird - and I’m not afraid to put them in harm’s way.

The first Aston mic I ran across was the Origin and that was at a comprehensive mic shoot out in a studio in Malibu. It was up against heavy, heavyweights, and really held it's own, surprisingly so. After that I started suggesting the Origin on vocals for people, and people started adopting it. I’ve used it on vocals and it sounds great.

The Origin is the easiest thing to recommend to people. I really appreciate the amount of care and thought that obviously goes into the construction. They just seem like they’re made to be used. It’s not like you’re giving them these fancy finishes where it’s like ‘Oh god I dinged my mic!’ “

Out-takes

Q. Which artists changed your life?
A. Song: Hüsker Dü ‘New Day Rising’; Show: My Bloody Valentine at the China Club in 1989; Record: Talk Talk ‘Spirit of Eden’

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?

A. Workhorse, durable, no-nonsense, great-sounding

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?

A. 'You Are My Sunshine'. It was the first song that taught me that a happy song isn’t always happy and that people write things to help deal with pain.

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