Stories from a Pro: Husky Höskulds

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Husky Höskulds has spent his fair share of time at recording studios throughout LA. Working with artists such as Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Fantômas, and Meshell Ndegeocello, among others, has helped him adapt in new settings on the fly.

Getting to know a new room every time a new studio is used has often been the trick to using the space to his advantage, but often times, it's the smaller issues that can halt creativity. "Being in someone else's studio especially the smaller ones, there's always that one missing adapter or cable, so you skip it for the sake of moving things along," he says. For someone like Höskulds, who likes to have free reign in the creative process, it's not an ideal scenario. "There was always that unknown when mixing in different studios about the sound of the rooms. Was the control room a little bass heavy… What's the condition of the two-track... Would the record become one in need of a 'band aid' from the mastering engineer?" Höskulds is glad to be rid of “those x-factors” that cause creativity to come to a halt in a new space all his own. "As the budgets shrank, I found myself doing a lot more records in home studios… and even if it's all doable, it does limit creativity," he says. "So I put together a studio where I could do it all, in house."

Höskulds' Groundlift Studios now has two locations—one in Los Angeles and one in Reykjavik, Iceland, his native country. "I have access to many more colors [at Groundlift]. That's something that would take hours to set up in another studio," he says. "I've spent the time to fine tune the monitoring, listening to different speakers and cables, different A/D converters, different monitor controllers and pots, and different interconnects, so there's no mystery anymore." Having everything just so at Groundlift Studios was the means to helping creativity flow freely, but being a studio owner is not without its disadvantages. The amount of control has proved difficult at times. In recording avant-garde music, he's found that "freedom is a tricky thing." There's a pressure to create something that hasn't been heard before that Höskulds is acutely aware of. For his recent project, the Kickstarter-funded Groundlift Modular Orchestra, Höskulds recorded a four-piece improvisational piece with only a "vague road map" to guide them. "We did ten minutes of heavy heavy stuff, ten minutes of ambient, ten of afro beat, and so on, and I would then piece it together –musique concrete style." The piece, which is now available for sale as Volume 1, proved a nerve-wracking mix. "When I was done chopping, looping, and gluing, and I started mixing, I suddenly got this feeling of—but what if it's not good?!" he explains. Thankfully, Höskulds has had plenty of experience to pull from allowing him to focus on the task at hand. "I try to remember that everything I do has to serve the song. There has to be a reason something happens. It has to create a reaction, bring up some emotion," he explains.

Working on both commercial and avant-garde records has given Höskulds an arsenal of musical perspective. While working on out of the box records like Fantômas' Delirium, Höskulds had the opportunity to create something unique with the band. "We tracked drums, bass, and guitar fairly quickly and then spent weeks doing overdubs and in many cases, pure sound design. I love that!" Höskulds opts for a more organic approach to designing sound in a studio. "On Delirium, which was quite ambient, a lot of the sounds were things [Mike] Patton and I came up with together, in the studio, as opposed to resorting to samples or sound libraries. We even had a real wind machine in there at one point," he says. On more commercial records, Höskulds has learned to adapt to "today's norm" of applying elbow grease to records to help calm audio chaos. "When people record (and produce) a lot themselves, they'll come to me to make it 'fit together' in the mix," he says. "In many cases they've never really heard the song work because there's so much stuff going on in the arrangement. They simply can't ever get a decent rough mix together to see if all the needed parts of the song are there. As a result, they'll keep adding parts, when in reality, they should be subtracting –carving out space." Despite his frustration with more commercial recordings, Höskulds has learned much from his experiences mixing them. "I am very lucky to have had an opportunity on 'both kinds' of records… In a way, one workflow influences or informs the other… If we need a 'pop' vocal sound, or a clean, punchy drum sound, it's right there in the toolbox. It's not a mystery to me how to get there."

Höskulds Groundlift studios are set up with ease of use in mind. "It's all set up for speed and flexibility—maximum creativity and minimum interference with my brain," he says. Both studios are equipped with Pro Tools for tracking, Sequoia for mixing and mastering, monitors, and A/D conversion, allowing him to be completely flexible between locations. "The studio in Reykjavik is a digital copy… and I just bring the computer with me when I go there to work."

"RX Advanced has become my 'go-to' for audio repair and restoration," ... "I've used most of the ones out there and this suite provides a much needed step forward in that department."

For the main studio in LA, Groundlift boasts an analog console used for tracking and monitoring, with half of the inputs for tracking, and half for monitoring. "It's just faster for me, getting sounds (drums in particular), with the tracks up on faders in front of me and having headphone mixes sent from the analog mixer to the artists is key." As far as analog gear is concerned—it's few and far between. "There is some analog gear, of course, for recording. I just got the UA Apollo and that's been a total game changer for me." Working in the digital realm has also played a large part at Groundlift studios—including iZotope's Ozone and RX.

"RX Advanced has become my 'go-to' for audio repair and restoration," Höskulds says. "I've used most of the ones out there and this suite provides a much needed step forward in that department." Using RX 2 on many recordings, Höskulds has been able to save mixes with the De-Click and Spectral Repair as well as Noise Reduction module. "It comes in handy almost daily when mixing… sometimes, the nice quiet vocals are recorded next to a refrigerator—so it's a great addition to the tool box." Husky has also been using RX 2 as a sound design tool. "It's so much more than a restoration tool… It's pure sound design!"

In the mastering stages, Husky gets down and dirty with Ozone 5 Advanced, using the IRC-3 rate conversion algorithm combined with Transient Recovery. "It's great for those masters where the mix needs to get pushed beyond and at the same time, when dialed in right, it can be very transparent and clean," he says. In situations where he needs Ozone in a mix, he finds that Ozone 5 Advanced's component plugins are a huge help. "The Multiband is now my go-to De-Esser and they have excellent M/S support," he notes. "The Stereo and Exciter modules are very useful too—great for adding dimension, depth, and space to lifeless 'bedroom' tracks."

"Another great addition is the Blend control. It's a great example of thinking outside the box… something so simple, but yet so effective. Being able to increase or decrease the overall processing of al the modules with a single slider is fantastic!"

Nowadays, Husky finds himself behind the helm of a new endeavor, Groundlift.org, an artist collective and online outlet for its artists' audio and video projects. Hand picked by Höskulds, artists can share their creations with the world. Artists are also given an outlet to sell their music to a targeted audience, something very hard to do in today's industry. "The idea of 'shopping' something like these projects to a major label is not worth the phone call or the gas for the drive, so that's where Groundlift comes in," he says. Groundlift.org, which shares the same moniker as his studios, affords him the opportunity to create a community of like-minded artists willing to collaborate. "I think it's valuable today in a landscape of quantity over quality."

On his "1x5" audio/video project, the concept was to create a one-minute short film in HD and have five different artists compose the music. "None of the artists had any idea what the other was doing and when the music was done, I put all five pieces together, one after the other to make a single five minute piece," he says. "I've done four volumes now, and it's been great fun!" Dave Pilch and Friends, another Groundlift.org artist, has also collaborated with Höskulds to create a live listening experience impossible to recreate in a studio. "I went and recorded 5 shows with my Caldrec Soundfield microphone. The result is an incredibly visceral and unique listening experience…You can hear the sound bouncing off walls, the audience responding—a complete stereo picture."

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