Chris Galt's All Up In Your Venue, Recording Your Bands
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we get to know the people behind the scenes in Dallas/Fort Worth music.
Jill Noel Chris Galt
Chris Galt isn't always the most welcome person in a venue. He comes rolling in with his own console, often unplugging everything and rewiring the systems together just hours before a show. Cool thing is, once people get past his headbanger hair and see he's not only there to help, but brings a shitload of knowledge to the table, things seem to work out OK.
Galt is a live sound engineer who cut his teeth at Dallas Sound Lab and Mediatech Institute, and he's part of a small club of soundmen in our local music scene who tackle the arduous task of attempting live recordings. Like Chad Lovell at Curtain and Lee Russell at Trees, Galt's trying to capture those great live moments. Of course, without a zillion dollars in mobile recording equipment, that can be a real bitch to pull off, and takes not only someone extra knowledgeable but damn supportive of the cause.
He started off simply a fan of live shows. Metal ones at first, then prog. Then his tastes, interests and fascination with live music completely encompassed his world. He's not only run sound, but tackled the backbreaking chore of recording bands live all over Dallas, at places like LaGrange, Double Wide and House of Blues' Cambridge room; in Fort Worth at Wherehouse, Lola's and The Grotto; and in Denton at Andy's, Dan's Silverleaf and Abbey Underground.
It's quite a difficult mission, but he's good at it. It's also a monumental way to capture and archive some of DFW's great local music performances.
So live recordings are your passion. Seems like a challenging endeavor for the lower-budget world of the local music scene.
I really do love recording the evolution and progress of dynamic bands and performers, whether that be in a Double Wide trailer, like I did with The Phuss, or at The Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff to record Allan Holdsworth. Or Trebuchet in a cool loft on the Square in Denton, around Christmas for a DVD performance, where we tracked live. It sounds so cool. That's currently being mixed. Coming soon!
Anyway, as a student at Mediatech, I was able to record in a multichannel environment. At the time, it was housed at the legendary Dallas Sound Lab. So, as you can imagine, with that as my training ground, it was easy to get spoiled with luxuries the big dogs have. Not to mention their incredible recording truck. That's how it's done, son. However, I'm not afraid to step outside of tradition to see if I can keep my footing. In 2009, I got myself a Presonus Studiolive 16-channel board from Greg Narkiewicz at Sound Productions in Dallas. You want to talk about a paradigm shift.
Your first experience recording music was also the first show of a pretty well-known local rock act, yeah?
The first stuff I did was just a stereo mic in the back of the room at the mixing console. It heard what I heard, which sometimes isn't as good as you might think! It was for The Phuss, when they played their first show at The Door in Fort Worth. I was The Phuss' sound guy, because Josh Fleming was also going to Mediatech Institute at the time. So I show up with headphones and a box with all my two-track recording gear, and an arsenal of what I still call "problem solvers," basically a bag of adapters and connectors, just in case. I was a little anxious, because we were the first band on, and I had about 15 minutes to learn a new console I may have never seen before. Like I said, it wasn't just the band's first live show. It was mine, too.
So how were The Phuss the first time they gave it a go?
The guys put on a slamming performance, and pretty much played every song they had. So to me, that was a perfect example of recording history as I saw it develop. What if The Phuss goes on to do something really big? How cool would it be for them to maybe release their first show ever as some kinda bootleg? [Trees sound engineer] Lee Russell understands exactly what I mean about capturing these bands as they develop, or catching these guys at pivotal moments of their careers.
So then you went on to record more local shows?
I started recording every performance of a band in Denton called Hatch, and since they're an improv band, every show was unique. However, I met a new challenge. If you're going to close-mic everything like it's the studio, you're going to have interference from all the other microphones on stage. So now I'm challenging everything I've come to know as a recording engineer. There is no isolation and, by the way, Hatch has two drummers, a percussionist, bass, guitar, keyboards, trumpet and saxophone. So now you've got to figure out where to put these guys onstage and put microphones on things you normally would not have to in a small club, like snare or cymbals or, in that case, bass. So I've got a small orchestra onstage, and I have to plug everything into my console (out of sight, on the side of the stage), and then come out of the console so the venue can have something to put through the speakers.
Whoa. There was a feed coming from the recording mix to live? That doesn't sound right.
That is not how you should ever do things. Jimmy, the house engineer at Dan's Silverleaf, was very keen on how absolutely wrong this all was. However, the band stood by me, and I worked with Jimmy very closely to make sure we didn't break anything by sending an already amplified signal through his equipment that was prepared to be the amplifier. Essentially, if I recognized a deficiency in my levels and moved to adjust it, everything changes for the house sound, as well as the mix onstage for the band. If Jimmy turns it up because the signal is too weak to work with, and suddenly it turns up without his knowledge or preparation, it could overload the preamp, break his console, blow speakers, etc.
So I could absolutely ruin the show, the venue and the reputation of the venue in the eyes of any patrons present. The best part of all is Hatch had a bi-weekly gig there. So that was suddenly a regular occurrence for Jimmy. He not only mentored me but also informed and instructed me on a method that was something he wanted no part of. But allowed me to explore. I still record every show for Hatch, and we've really got it down to a science. The guys are just now releasing all kinds of recordings from the best shows. I'm thinking of trying to put them in Dallas stores like In Accord on Main and Crowdus in Deep Ellum. I think that's a perfect shop for something so artistic.
You were quite the headbanger when you started getting enamored with music in your youth?
In my teens, I was one of those kids who was interested in music for the shock value. Not so much the Marilyn Manson and whatever else was popular among people trying so hard to be impossible to relate to. I was more into death metal like Obituary and, funny enough, Death. Which when I heard the album Symbolic, my world changed completely. I got into Type O Negative really really heavily, and they're always going to be one of my favorite bands.
And from your metal tastes came a direct tie to the local scene. Through a drummer?
Gene Hoglan, a Dallas native, known for his work with Dethklok, Strapping Young Lad, and the new Fear Factory and Testament, proved to me that drums can be musical while being completely crushing. Not to mention the content of the lyrics weren't about the standard Cannibal Corpse nonsense. It was about exploring your own soul, reflected on the world you've found yourself in. That stuff broke my mold in the best way possible.
Who else mentored you? Seems like they did a well-rounded job.
As far as mentors, I gotta say there were some incredibly influential engineers who gave me tips, tricks and character-building experiences through these last five years, and taught me important things like this: The craft is the psychology behind your position with the artist. Everyone is someone, and we all have hopes and dreams. I think anyone who's got the guts to bare their soul, or showcase their art and really give it the beans, is someone who probably has more on their plate than you'd expect. Being diplomatic and making sure the band doesn't break up during your session is a consideration of respect. Just a few names, because there are so many of them: Jim King, Brad Cox, Tim Kimsey, Randy Williams, Mike Musal, Perry Schrag, Wes Pitzer, Chad Lovell, Greg Narkiewicz, Kirk Gilfillin, James DuMaine, Robbie Alvis, Ryan Urbanovsky and Greg Goodman.
What are some of the more recent projects you've been involved in?
Most recent was the Escaping the Ordinary Volume 3 launch party at Club Dada. The Phuss, The Commotion! This is great stuff. Our lives are so fleeting, and you never know where you'll be tomorrow. So don't forget to take a picture if you think it'll be special. Maybe it'll be goofy, or downright godawful. I've also thought I should maybe start a band detective agency, now that I can solo that backup vocal from your guitarist - see if he's speaking English! It's kinda funny, but it's all part of that magic in the moment.