Q + A

Q+A: Vinegar Hill Sound

Reed Black, the owner, mixer, engineer and producer at Vinegar Hill Sound, has been in DUMBO since 2010. We sat down with him to learn more about his studio, and why he loves the neighborhood.

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Tell me about Vinegar Hill Sound and your role in it.

The [studio] was started by the musician, producer and engineer Justin King.

Producing is…I always describe it like being the director of a film. You don’t actually hold the camera, but you are in charge of the big picture. I often produce. I often engineer, which means making all the technology work. Then mixing–the mixer is like the editor of the film; we take all these recordings of various instruments and make them fit together like puzzle pieces to form this cohesive larger unit. So, I’m all three of those; I’m also the owner.

Justin King is also all of those three and a great musician as well. He started the studio in 2010 and back then it was just a big open warehouse. He started the place and I joined on a couple months after he opened as the house engineer. I was working here until the end of last year doing that [engineering, producing and mixing], but not owning the place. At the end of 2014, Justin’s lease came up for renewal and he decided that he had done his time in New York City and wanted to move back to his home state of Oregon. He asked me if I wanted to take the place over and I said ‘absolutely!’ Since the beginning of 2015, that’s what I’ve been doing. I did a bunch of renovations–gave it a face-lift and then took care of a bunch of issues that were up in the air.

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What’s the most exciting project that has happened at VHS?

The thing about a recording studio is that everything is exciting. The people that come here bring in something that is as close to their heart and soul as anything else in life; this is their baby and they bring it in and you help them bring everything up to its final format. There’s this electricity that comes along with that, with every single person you work with. This is part of why I love what I do, because everybody comes in to do the thing that they feel they were put on this planet to do. Even if it’s some kid who’s busking at the York Street – F Stop and I just say, “Hey, would you like to come record a song? I like what you’re doing. Let’s just do something really quick just so you have it.” That’s the the reality of it.

That’s the general answer, but then there’s also been some really cool things. I did a track with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jim Thirlwell was the producer on that one, I was the mixer and engineer. That was for Tim Burton’s film, Frankenweenie, several years back. That was fun because it all came together so quickly; we recorded what we thought would be a demo. We sent it to Tim Burton, he listened to it on his iPod and said, “That’s not the demo. That’s the final recording, mix it!” It turned out the deadline was a lot quicker than we thought, so it became one of those sessions where you come in clean shaven, work for 30 hours straight, and come out with a stubble beard and everything. That was just the adrenaline of it. The movie was opening in 3 months; it was really the skin of our teeth.

The end of last year I got to record Pussy Riot. They came in and recorded, the producer was Lenny Kaye, who is Patti Smith’s guitar player. That was just incredible. I’ve recorded a lot of protest music before, but never with anyone who sacrificed so much for it. They are still living in Moscow; it’s not like they moved to New York and now they’re safely in exile. They are still very much in the political thick of things with the same issue that put them in grave danger for a while. It was a really thrilling to get to be a part of that and just sit back and watch and do as little as possible just to make their music leap through the speakers. It’s all about them. You don’t want to get too much of your own flavor on it; you want it to be purely them.

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What do you hope to see in DUMBO as it continues to grow?

This is really like a natural artist community, it feels so great to be around the corner from a graphic design firm. I get clients all the time who found me, not because of anything I’ve worked on before, but because of proximity, and then it’ll turn out that their graphic designer is three blocks away or there are companies around here that need to do voice over work and they’ll come in. It does have this feel of a community of young artistic professionals that is the type of thing you’d find in Chelsea or Tribeca. I feel like that is what this neighborhood came from and that has been preserved, which is really nice. I’m really psyched when I hear that a certain percentage of a building is going to be reserved for artist spaces. A friend of mine got a grant to have studio space for about a year at 68 Jay which was from the building’s owners. That kind of stuff I think is really neat and is what I hope stays here.

What do you frequent the most in DUMBO?

I feel like everyone goes to The Archway and Brooklyn Bridge Park, the little extension that comes all the way out to Brooklyn Roasting. I have a young child so I’ll often take him in to the park and play in the playground or go out and look at the water. Often, I’ll take my lunch to the Archway and eat in there; I really like that because it just feels like everyone else is there eating lunch too. It feels like the whole neighborhood rolls up their sleeves and comes and eats a sandwich, then we all head back to our respective holes in the city where we do our work. And the parks are just great either with my kid or with one of the bands we work with. It’s so nice to have it three blocks away and have it extend for so long.