It may just be an admittedly childish love of flashing lights and knob-filled spaceship-looking consoles, but to me there's something truly wonderful about a nice recording studio. Even as the digital revolution has liberated musicians from the studio, to record anywhere, the potential inherent in a great studio environment remains exciting. Many artists have, to be sure, found ways to make great records without great studios, but to walk through Tiny Telephone -- modified amps aligning a wall, a set of drawers full of strange and exotic microphones -- one gets the sense that it is the sort of place where a great musician can, through skillful recording and production, transform great performances into something bigger, to make otherwise fragile ideas permanent and, in the best cases, transcendent.
There are certainly bigger and more luxurious studios within the Bay Area, but for the independent rock community Tiny Telephone is no doubt the most prestigious. Well-hidden within an Outer Mission industrial artist community that feels more Salton Sea than San Francisco, the studio was founded by local musician John Vanderslice as a place to celebrate his love of recording in an artist-friendly environment. To those ends, the studio has a wealth of great gear, including a much-envied analog mixing board originally used by the BBC, and affordable day rates that make it equally accessible to up-and-coming local bands and big names alike. Spoon, The Mountain Goats, Death Cab for Cutie, and Deerhoof have all recorded there and one senses that the studio is now busier than ever.
In addition to his role as Tiny Telephone's captain, John Vanderslice has had an accomplished music career, as a member of the band MK Ultra and a solo artist. Vanderslice's solo career spans six albums of uniformly high quality, the latest of which is 2007?s Emerald City on Barsuk Records. It's unsurprising, given his love for recording, that Vanderslice's all-analog rock-pop is as sonically engaging as it is well-written. In the past, he's called his aesthetic "sloppy hi-fi," a self-effacing name that captures his willingness to experiment with sound shapes, creating compositions that are deceptively rich without feeling overly crammed with ideas.
This weekend, Vanderslice performs at the Great American Music Hall, with a show titled Celebrating 10 Years of Tiny Telephone. Vanderslice will be accompanied by Tiny Telephone's house orchestra, the Magik*Magik Orchestra, for unique arrangements of songs from throughout his career, including some from an upcoming album expected later this year. It's a special performance appropriate for this special night celebrating one of SF indie rock's most treasured institutions. Rapper/producer Aesop Rock, who has released several excellent albums on Def Jux, will be DJing before and after JV's set.