It turns out a former boiler repair room is an ideal space to record rock ‘n’ roll. The Excello Recording studio’s “live room” retains one vestige from its industrial past: metal tracks fixed to the room’s ceiling. Broken boiler units used to move along these tracks. Now, big plate reverbs hang from them, picking up sound during sessions.
“It’s a throwback, man,” said Hugh Pool, a blues musician, music producer, and the owner of Excello Recording. “These kinds of places are fewer and farther between.”
Pool, his wife Jane, and Excello have been staples of the North Brooklyn music scene since the mid-1990s. In April, they will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Excello’s first-ever recording session—a milestone that bespeaks the studio’s success and near-mythic reputation around the world.
“We have kind of an old-school vibe and a ton of experience,” Pool said. “I’m proud that the studio has carved its way into New York City rock ’n’ roll history.”
Since opening in 1992, Excello has been the site of recordings by musicians of every stripe and stature. They Might Be Giants, Steve Albini, Taj Mahal, The Compulsions, The National, and, recently, Vampire Weekend, the Dirty Projectors, and Michael Pitt have all recorded at Excello. “Our client list is very impressive,” said Jane Pool. “So many amazing records have been made here.”
Excello has built its reputation on a simple premise: a passion for music and the perfect sound.
The studio reflects this passion. The live room is the facility’s centerpiece. Rather than utilizing several divided spaces to record tracks separately, Excello primarily uses a 25-by-100-foot, acoustically superior space that allows full ensembles to play and record tracks all at once. The set-up facilitates natural performances in the studio, and leads to records that aren’t too slick or overproduced.
“It’s the greatest asset of our place,” Pool said. “That room sounds good. Everyone loves it. It makes for a more epic, multicolored, textured layering in the sound.” Jane added, “We’re audiophiles. We love great-sounding records.”
Pool said Excello attracts bands with grassroots, DIY aesthetics. Excello has never advertised. The studio has survived solely by word-of-mouth, its name passed around among musicians, producers, and sound engineers. “We’re not even in the Yellow Pages anymore,” he said.
Part of that reputation may stem from Excello’s pioneering early days. At that time, the studio’s location—in a crime-plagued urban setting that differed drastically from today’s Williamsburg—signaled a bold departure from the norm. Excello’s website says, “the surrounding neighborhood was barely civilized.” If you went to buy beer at night, Pool said, there was one deli open where you would pay through a Plexiglas window.
Their reputation is also due in large part to the talents, both musical and managerial, of the Pools. Hugh performs all over the world as a musician with his Hugh Pool Band and with duo Mulebone. He became a partner at Excello in 1998. He served as a silent partner for two years before fully taking over. Jane served as the studio’s manager for years, after having organized punk rock benefit concerts in her native Ohio.
The Pools’ obsession with aural perfection has paid off. Hugh just signed a new lease on the studio space, despite the economic downturn and the troubled state of the music industry. “In the past two years, there’s been a lot of soul searching,” he said. “We have lived through a lot of changes.” The studio has even started to be more proactive in seeking clientele, reaching out to artists they want to work with.
“Excello’s like a university,” Pool said. “It’s been here for 20 years. We didn’t start it, and we probably won’t be the ones to finish it.”
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