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Picture Perfect

Charles Dye was always drawn to the creative arts, trying his hand at painting, drawing, and sculpting in college. But he would ultimately gravitate to photography, a hobby he picked up in high school. Back then, he lived on the Mississippi gulf coast. So, there were plenty of grand old houses and wildlife on which to focus. Elements of natural photography were appealing to him because his subjects were active and unaware. And like the old houses, their true beauty was revealed in the imperfect details. While he did snap the occasional photo of a venue for its visual appeal, the thought of capturing the performances within them had not crossed his mind. And the irony lies in that Charles was a big fan of music. Nearby had always been the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, a place where he frequented whenever there was a live show. 

Throughout college, Charles’ affinity for photography never left him. But as with any college exodus, it was time to get out and earn a living. He attempted to remain in the realm, serving for years as a photographer at weddings and other family functions. And although it did pay the bills, more and more he found it mundane. Settings and emotions felt contrived. All the posturing turned him away. He longed for the days of his youth when he would wander aimlessly, camera in hand, capturing the unexpected. To him, this felt more like art unrestrained.

Later in life, he made the move to Louisiana. And once COVID hit, weddings were no longer an option. Public functions came to a halt. And what once left something to be desired now left nothing. This became the catalyst for the merger of his two favorite things in life, music and photography. As Charles explained, “New Orleans’ musicians struggled. They had nowhere to play. They had no venues to go to. They had no outlet. So, in their downtime, I started contacting a few of them and said, ‘hey, would you be interested?’” Charles began meeting with musicians at small gigs and family get-togethers. And as word-of-mouth accelerated his demand, a new found craft reignited the passions he had as an adolescent.

With a camera always close by, Charles noticed how people were drawn to the lens. Random people would frequently ask him to take their picture. Common to this exchange, the resulting photo was theirs to keep. Being that this hobby brought him joy, he carried this ideal into the music photography world. While he realized that this would become, in effect, a business exchange. His “business” model remained something of an anomaly. Charles never charged for his work. And he still feels that what he captures belongs to the subject. Being that he now finds himself in a more professional world, he respects the ideal that these musicians are professionals. And they expect professional results. But his pursuit of the perfect shot as a hobby has made easy his transition into the professional world. And exceeding the standard has become effortless. Due to the nature of the art itself, photography provides a differing perspective simply because each photographer possesses a viewpoint that is solely their own. But the results of still photography in a moving landscape preserve the atmosphere unlike any other medium. And in doing so, provide the subject with a truly unique, singular moment in time. Being that so much occurs simultaneously during the chaotic endeavor of performing live, many voids in time are seemingly created. The ability to give that back to the musician is what’s at the core of Charles’ fixation on this art form. The results are indelible, unable to be recreated, and so, in his mind, priceless. His motives are sentimental and his work, evocative. And in my opinion, “professional” as a metric of quality, holds no court with emotion; never mind the standard. 

In fulfilling the visual desires of others, Charles has found himself opening one door after the next. He’s enjoyed the opportunity to work with many in the ranks of Louisiana’s music royalty. Members of Down and Crowbar, Rockin’ Dopsie, Grammy Nominated Corey Ledet, Papa Mali, Galactic, Jonathan “Boogie” Long, and Dash Rip Rock are a few in his catalog of talent. And he’s always made sure to extend the same courtesies to the lesser known up-and-comers in our state. Given his appreciation for multiple genres, Charles remains receptive to all prospective music experiences. Never quite finding his own musical talent has always seeded within him a deep respect for live performers. His own lively attire, as well as his intimate involvement with the experiences he captures makes him feel a part of the spotlight. And leaving behind the doldrums of matrimonial subject matter for this excitement makes him feel free.

Whether it be zydeco, heavy metal, or good ol’ southern rock, Charles finds himself drawn to it all. And you can bet his camera is right there with him. As long as its good music from a talented musician, he’s focused. With the variety of genres comes a variety in atmospheres. Some encounters entail low light, small bar settings. And others may occur at an outdoor festival, sunshine and all. Being from an era where people developed their own film and you weren’t sure exactly what you captured until that moment, the digital age has only increased his reach. When he began his hobby in photography, the highest ISO rating was approximately 1,600. This rating referred to the sensitivity or light gathering ability of the physical film. Fast forward to the digital age, and this ISO rating now refers to the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. Which has increased exponentially to a whopping 52,000! It is these leaps in capability that have allowed him to navigate in a world of darkness and arrive at enough light to capture the moment. And as he pointed out, stage lighting technology has advanced equally as fast. The locations where high watt bulbs served as the maximum source of light on a stage now house packs of intensely colored LED’s. This has made for some incredibly striking imagery in his line of work. For all my techies out there, he ran down specifically what he uses to accomplish his goal. He really enjoys the Canon R Series gear. His go-to set ups consist of either the Canon R or R5, both of which are mirrorless DSLRs, coupled with one of the following lenses: Canon 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8, or an 80mm 1.8 (all Canon R mount). For software, he sticks with Adobe products, Photoshop and Lightroom. Which, as he explains, are industry standards. While Photoshop does have the ability to completely alter an image, one of the selling points of Lightroom is that it’s “non-destructive”. Which means it does not alter the original pixels in the image. This aligns perfectly with Charles’ efforts because although he may sharpen the image a bit or change colors for a band’s desired effect, he prefers to keep modifications to a minimum.

In closing, Charles left us with an instance he observed while at a live show following the height of COVID. “They finished their first set. Everybody stood up and started applauding. This woman started crying, just because of the sound of the applause after two years of not hearing anything. You know, and being there to capture that on film, or in pictures, that’s what turned me on to all this; just capturing that emotion that music can bring out in people. The reason we listen to music is it makes us feel a certain way. No matter what type of music you listen to… To be able to capture that for somebody to be able to look at later, that’s what I’m all about.”

N.O.M. provides free business pages for those that are of use to musicians, such as photographers like Charles. Should you be so inclined, you can find Charles Dye Photography on our website at https://neworleansmusicians.com/vendor/39.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Neworleansmusicians.com Podcast can be found on these platforms.

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OCD Recording & Production

If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see the inside of his studio on album covers and inserts for many bands throughout the state. And that’s because for fourteen years, Duane Simoneaux has dedicated his life to producing some of the best music to come out of Louisiana. Before this interview, I hadn’t seen Duane in years. Sitting before him that day, my mind kept going back to middle school where we met. With hair descending languidly onto a stone-washed jean jacket that hung off his shoulders, he slid down hallways through a sea of kids. In a world where children our age were often pre-concerned with a quest to be different, Duane was only concerned with being himself. Back then, there was a comfort I took in being around someone where individuality was not contrived. And this day, I sat in a building that might as well have been a shrine to that sentiment. Guitars, customized hardware, OCD produced albums and self-built acoustic treatments ornamented the walls of a building that he basically resurrected from the dead.

Back in 2008, the location that now houses OCD Recording and Production was described in a word by Duane as a dump. He likened the place to a World-War II barracks, complete with ceilings and beams at full tilt. He saw potential in the place and began to design his vision. Next, he gutted the whole place; walls were moved, and ceilings and overhead beams were stripped of their ability to threaten human life. And eventually the place actually became something of use. With news of his intentions, bands were already anxious to rehearse there. So, he was able to enlist the help of several bands’ members to assist in the construction. In just three months’ time, OCD was up and running. Now, when you walk through those doors, the walls, ceilings, sound treatments, even the desk console in the control room was built by Duane. 

At first, his business didn’t make any money. But over time he was able to build up a clientele. And slowly but surely, he began to see a profit. He also gave credit to Kirk Windstein for his initial success. Kirk took a chance on Duane and OCD years ago, before Duane had really been able to make a name for himself. And he’s stuck with Duane ever since; even in his solo efforts. Not only was Duane accredited with producing, engineering, mixing and mastering Kirk’s solo album, Dream In Motion. But he played keys and drums on it as well. (And another solo album is currently in the works) His meticulous nature can be contributed to, in-part, his obsessive compulsivity. As you’ve probably realized by now, the studio name wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. The OCD in him always wants to start a project and see it through to completion in one sitting. But because of the nature of the process, that never seems to happen. And he finds it especially challenging to stop mixing one track to start mixing on another. Differing schedules amongst the artists and himself tend to dictate Duane’s calendar. As he explained, a band member might come in to record drums one day. And then he has to put that away until the rest can be recorded. But summing up his overall work-flow, it seems as though he is able to adapt quite well. All things considered, one rule that we could both agree on was that you just can’t force creativity. It might be a two-day process to get into the mood and mix a track. And this is not out-of-scope for the jobs with which he is tasked. In speaking on what a “normal span of time” is for most projects, he’ll very quickly tell you there isn’t such a thing. Some projects progress quicker than others. Budget dictates as well as the purpose of the project. For instance, efforts toward a record label submission will usually take longer than a project going straight to press. And working with seasoned professionals doesn’t necessarily shorten the span of time needed to complete a project either. Duane explained, “I mean you’re working with artists. So, there’s moods, and whatever is going on that day (for them), or equipment failures. Or sometimes we’re writing the stuff in here. Like a Crowbar album… they’ll come in here and start recording. And nobody knows what the vocals are going to do while we’re recording it. And then, the day of, Kirk’s writing vocals and he comes in here. And we start banging it out. So, some of the creative process happens right here.” I couldn’t help but voice the idea that it must be inspiring to come into work and not know what great creative results you may find.

Kirk Windstein’s first solo album, Dream In Motion, produced at OCD Recording & Production with Duane co-writing, playing drums and keys.

In speaking on spans of time for different projects, he brought up the last Exhorder album, Mourn the Southern Skies. This was their first album in over 30 years. So, there’s no question why it became a labor intensive, four-month process. A month of pre-production was followed by three months of recording and editing. And as this venture unfolded, there were regular check-ins from Exhorder’s label, Nuclear Blast. One thing absent from this process was such a thing as a day off. In the end, Duane was ecstatic with the results, as was the band. Exhorder’s bassist, Vinnie La Bella, even ended up working with Duane to co-produce his next project, Blackwater Canal. This would be Vinnie’s first time wearing the producer’s hat, and a stark contrast to the time involved with his own project. This was to be a five-song EP debut by four guys from Louisiana with countless years of experience under their belt. And the whole project, from start to finish, was completed in three days. And honestly, after reviewing Exhorder’s album and Blackwater Canal’s EP myself, both are masterpieces in their own right. In form and in fashion, and as he illustrated, you really never could tell how long a project was going to take or what might be involved in its creation.

Something that remained the same throughout the years was that he never did advertise. Which I find surprising in today’s atmosphere. His jobs have always come by word of mouth. He does admit that there are nervous times when the current project he is working on is coming to a close and there’s nothing booked. With a smile and a shrug, he’ll tell you at random the phone will ring and then he’s booked solid. But don’t let him fool you. His work ethic and the results he delivers are what has made him the constant success he is today. And now “OCD Recording & Production” can be found on the back of a lot of albums.

Many of those albums can be found on display at OCD. Walking in the front door, you find yourself in the waiting area. Two couches line two walls under framed CD’s and records that he has produced. There’s a bathroom and a kitchenette across the room. One doorway leads into the recording area, and the other to private rehearsal and storage spaces. And more rooms are accessible from there. The other doorway leads to where the magic happens. Upon entry, you immediately pass a vocal booth and the room opens up into a dynasty of sound. Guitars and acoustic treatments line the walls. Colored lights accent amps and speakers. A mic’d drum kit sits at center with speakers and other hardware filling the corners. The control room sits in the rear with a couch across from the main console, and a window looking out into the room and in through another window to the vocal booth. The room is so, so quiet. I can only imagine what a glorious feeling it must be to come and audibly light it ablaze with guitars and drums and thrashing screams!   

OCD has a sponsorship through SE Microphones. And many of these weighted, powerful gems can be found throughout his studio. But there are also several modified mics that he is proud to own. One in particular is the microphone in his vocal booth. It’s a piece built by Chris Prutcher of Barbaric Amplification out in California. Duane and Chris began speaking online about what it was exactly Duane was searching for. Chris offered to build him a microphone. And Duane began scouring the internet for parts. He happened across someone in forums that was known as THE tube guy with the handle “Bowie”. Bowie pitched Duane on a special tube he had for sale. While Duane dismissed the seemingly sensational claim, he purchased the tube and had it shipped to Chris out in California. The next thing he heard from Chris was, “DUDE! Where did you get this TUBE?!” So, Chris combined his circuit design with the tube from Bowie. And both Chris and Duane couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. Chris even named the mic after Duane’s studio. And so, the mic became known as the OCD-BA51. Duane has always gravitated toward the type of equipment that can’t be found on a shelf, so-to-speak. And rightfully so. It has given his studio a proprietary sound that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. He also has some microphones that were custom built by Michael Joly, of OktavaMod in Massachusetts. Though this guy serviced over 20,000 clients in a span of 13 years, OktavaMod closed its doors in 2018. I’d say, at that point, Duane’s equipment transitioned from unique to rare, furthering OCD’s place in signature sound.

The sonic absolute does not stop there. The digital console shares space with some API pre-amps, a Neve clone, and several compressors modified by Jim Williams, who is well known for augmenting existing outboard equipment. Jim’s most notable clients were John Mclaughlin, Stevie Wonder, and Frank Zappa. And Jim was how Duane came to use the 90’s era Soundcraft Venue analog console that feeds his digital console. According to Jim, once modified, it’s as close as you can get to audio perfection. Duane had the console modified in Nashville, as per Jim’s specifications, and now he swears by it. I pointed out that there is a stage-full of gear out in the recording area and asked if the accumulation of all this was as a result of being in bands over the years. He nodded, saying yes, and paused. “Yeah, a lot of it. But then, anything really nice guitar-wise, a good friend of mine that I work with constantly; his name is Hugo Miranda. If you see a nice guitar, it’s Hugo’s.” Hugo Miranda is a producer, musician, and songwriter that played guitar and sang vocals for his band RetroElectro, and came to OCD over seven years ago to record an album. Since then, the two have worked on another project, Daphne Moon, as well as countless hours of his solo material. Hugo was actually a transplant from New York, and so valued Duane’s hospitality and willingness to not only work with him, but to introduce him to other musicians in the area and show him the production ropes so-to-speak. Upon completion of Duane’s home studio, the two plan to work together to keep both locations up and running. Above all else, Hugo exclaimed, “His Pro-Tools editing Kung-Fu is INCREDIBLE!”

Duane cited more family time, less overhead, and the convenience of better choosing his own hours as motivation for building OCD’s second location at his home. And true to his obsessive compulsions, the second location is architecturally modelled exactly after the first one. I guess it’s like they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” His building design, his collection of unique equipment, his drive, and his business acumen have all worked well for him over the years. Some of the clients he’s enjoyed working with have been, Crowbar, Exhorder, Down, Blackwater Canal, Ashes to Dust, We Are Wires, Spacemetal, Stereo Fire Empire, Uprising, Bad Grass, Runoft, Misled, Motoriot, Sun God Seven, Wicked River Rising, and Them Guys. And those are just the ones framed in the waiting room. At the time of this interview, he was working on an album for a ska-reggae band by the name of Firebrain as well as Kirk Windstein’s second solo album. And starting the following week, he would be working on a project for Adam Pierce, winner of The Voice.

I spoke with a band that recently recorded at OCD to get a feel for their experience with Duane. They talked about how well he knew his gear and how personable he was. They also spoke about his level of focus. He adapts to the band in its entirety; not just the time frame and budget, but their moods, their personalities, the different schedules of each member, and the intended target for the finished product. Whether it be straight to pressing and releasing or to a record label, he addresses needs that possibly even the band doesn’t know they have. And to me this speaks to not only skill in his craft, but an intuitive nature for the process of creation. Combined with custom built gear proprietary to his studio and the sheer amount of gear available to customers, one could argue that the level of service bands receive at OCD has, and always will be, second to none.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Neworleansmusicians.com Podcast can be found on these platforms.