The story of Eric Valentine’s Barefoot Studios

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The story of Eric Valentine’s Barefoot Studios

Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

The story of Eric Valentine, the biggest name in rock and roll you've never heard of, and the studio which produced iconic tracks from Smashmouth to Slash.

Eric Valentine is the biggest name in rock and roll that you haven’t heard of.

Cutting his teeth in rock and punk bands as a drummer in the 90s, Eric began by recording his own band’s music before moving onto making music for other people. He bought the building that would become Barefoot Recording in the early 2000s, the place he’d call home for close to 20 years, having just moved out in 2022. Eric Valentine is a mega-producer, having made records for the likes of Smash Mouth (yes, he produced ‘All Star’), Queens of the Stone Age, Good Charlotte and Slash, as well as Taking Back Sunday, Maroon 5 and Death From Above.

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It was in this building that Eric installed his first Undertone Audio console, born out of necessity after working on a larger format Neve, and wanting to push the envelope with his equipment as far as he did with his music. Undertone Audio (UTA) has evolved into entirely its own beast, producing rack-mounted preamps, their Unfairchild tube compressors, as well as custom consoles and other handy studio gadgets.

Before Eric, the studio had been used as a commercial recording studio for some time, being Crystal Studios in the 60s through the 70s and into the 80s, and housing some of the biggest names and sessions in music history. Crystal was born out of necessity in Los Angeles, and in a time when full bands were laying down songs live while disco, funk and rock were kicking off. Crystal housed multiple studios for tracking and mixing, featuring custom-made Crystal Consoles that served as both the heart of the studios as well as a precursor to the UTA consoles to follow close to five decades later. Tracking sheets left behind for Eric Valentine to discover puts names like Stevie Wonder, Carol King, Miles Davis and Barbara Streisand at Crystal Studios, as well as You’ve Got A Friend by James Taylor being recorded in the live room, well and truly ahead of the deadline for 1995’s Toy Story. Studio B was a dedicated mix room, complete with hand sculpted wooden mural custom built for Stevie Wonder. The building as a whole was reasonably standard for the time, being centred around a live room with a dedicated reverb chamber (which remains to this day and was used for uniquely surfy space on guitars), odd angles and an isolated control room to monitor it all.

Eric took over the studio in the early 2000s and for some time left the studio as is. The live room was carpeted, used to isolate and deaden the room that would’ve been filled with multiple musicians all playing at once, while more contemporary, isolated recording techniques allowed for more lively drum sounds without a mix becoming unruly. Before replacing the floor with hardwood, Eric had wood sheets and panelling strategically placed atop the carpet to capture some kind of lively resonance on records like Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf and Good Charlotte’s Young and the Hopeless. The newly floored live room allowed Eric to explore techniques to push his mixes to the next level, such as isolating drum shells and cymbals as well as his ‘drumbrella’, a hanging cloud above the drum kit on a pulley system that allowed him to tighten room sounds and bleed. The explosive sound of the drums in particular is thanks to the unique technique of recording the shells and cymbals separately. What this allowed, is for Eric to compress and distort the room and ambient mics of the drums (on the shells-only take) without the compressors pulling harshness up from the cymbals. This allowed for a very contemporary sound, explosive and precise without ruining the life of the recording with samples and countless, pointless overdubs or unreal expectations. The ‘drumbrella’ allowed Eric to tighten and control the cymbals without having to overdub different parts of the kit, while maintaining the explosiveness of the shells of the room.

Eric’s pursuit of great takes and unparalleled sounds speak to his methodology. He aimed to capture ultimately great takes, and augment them to sit in larger-than-life mixes. While well performed takes are one thing, Eric’s techniques, studio and equipment informed the finished sounds. Studio B of Crystal Studios was lined with custom rounded diffusers on the walls that created a super tight sound, perfect for mixing. These diffusers remained because of their function in Studio B, so it’s no wonder that Eric tuned Studio A with tube traps, used to diffuse and absorb sound waves for a supremely balanced output.

The acoustic treatment didn’t stop at tube traps and lively wooden floors, his Undertone Audio consoles featuring a unique finish designed to reduce reflections. Having previously used multiple Neve consoles, the reflections bouncing of the metal channel strips introduces additional brightness to a room, the Undertone Audio consoles are constructed from an Acoustically Transparent Material. Soundwaves coming off your speaker cones bounce off your equipment and into your ears, and the UTA consoles aim to remove this, by removing themselves from the room acoustically. If Eric can teach us nothing else, it’s that records really are the sum of their parts and little decisions along the way can make a good record great.

Eric’s work ethic is unparalleled, understanding what it takes to make a great record. His unique approach to recording, particularly drums, has helped shape the modern sound we expect to hear on records. From his ‘drumbrella’, to multiple amplifiers all being recorded, captured and blended for a unique sound, Eric Valentine is the embodiment of the creative tinkerer we all have inside us. While his signal routing, mixing and production is complex, the resulting sound is cohesive, effortless and impactful. You don’t need to know what he did or how he did it, but we can all appreciate the sound at the end of it, and the building that was Barefoot Recording gave him the space to explore new sounds and techniques.

Read more about Eric Valentine here.