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« on: August 21, 2010, 11:36:36 am »

"When people work here, it's their private workshop"
The Fray, Howie Day among artists quietly recording hit works at low-profile, high-caliber Echo Park Studios

by James Boyd
The Scene
September 14, 2006


You may never have heard of Echo Park Studios, but if you've tuned into any Top 40 radio station over the last nine months, then you've most likely heard some of what's been going on there.

And judging by who's been in recording recently, you'll probably be hearing even more in the next nine months.

Echo Park, the collaborative brainchild of legendary audio producer Mark Hood and studio wizard (and guitarist for John Mellencamp's band) Mike Wanchic, has been quietly establishing itself as the place to produce chart-topping hits.

The Fray, a Denver-based pop band, recorded the No. 1 hit song "Over My Head (Cable Car)" at Echo Park last year, and platinum singer-songwriter Howie Day just wrapped up sessions for his next release last month.

Hood said he and Wanchic wanted a place they could bring both A-list and local clients alike.

They found their space, a small but inviting building, on the city's west side. There are no signs for the two studios (there is a secondary studio building on the lot in addition to the main facility), and you won't find it in the phone book.

That's just the way they like it.

"When people work here, it's their private workshop," Hood said. Artists can re-arrange equipment, hang tapestries and light whatever candles they want to make it feel like home. Provided, of course, they don't burn the place down.

So far, so good.

Both Hood and Wanchic's respective schedules keep them away from home for certain portions of the year, "so we built this studio to travel less," Hood said.

They moved into their current location in 1993.

"We grabbed a bunch of hammers and got to work," Hood said. The facility keeps a low profile to allow artists to work uninterrupted and to keep would-be tourists away.



In the 13 years they've existed, Echo Park has been able to attract a diverse range of clients, from local bands making their debut albums to mixing widespread releases. Ben Folds, Lisa Germano, Juliana Hetfield, Over the Rhine and the Why Store have all come to record here.

What makes the studio so unique is its vast array of vintage equipment. Artists can find toys here (from one-of-a-kind microphones to tube amplifiers) that can often only be found in Los Angeles, Nashville or New York.

And Echo Park offers something none of the big cities can: cost effectiveness. Sessions here run about half what they would anywhere else, and Bloomington itself is more of a draw to an artist than you might think.

"They're here to work, and the fact that it's a small town doesn't bother them," Studio Manager and Engineer Kevin Loyal said. Hood pointed out that with Indiana University and the diverse community, artists can find big city amenities in a small-town setting.

Wanchic said he tried to get the Black Crowes to come record at Echo Park in the mid-1990s, after the band was suffering from distractions in Los Angeles (most notably from having the Rolling Stones recording across the hallway.)

"The Black Crowes were disappointed when they didn't get to come here," Wanchic said. "Believe me, I would've loved to bring them."

Having developed A-list artists has created opportunities for even more big name talent to come utilize the studio. But both Hood and Wanchic said they want to retain the open-door policy to local bands, too.

But with hit after hit being cranked out in a discrete building on the city's westside, Bloomington's best kept secret is about to get out.
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« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2010, 11:41:23 am »

Picture of Mike in Echo Park Studios
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« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2010, 11:43:48 am »

Mike Wanchic '74 Speaks at Conference, Earns Praise for Playing on New Mellencamp Album

February 2, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - Mike Wanchic, longtime guitarist for John Mellencamp and member of DePauw University's Class of 1974, was among the presenters at the fifth annual iHollywood Forum, Inc. Music 2.0 summit. The event, held this week in Los Angeles, is billed as "the leading U.S. conference about the future of the music business."

Wanchic serves as vice president and musical director of Digonex. Read more about the summit by clicking here.

The musician is also getting media mentions for his contributions to Mellencamp's new album, Freedom's Road, which was released January 23. "As usual, Mellencamp wraps his commentary in moody heartland rock, played with spare intensity by his longtime band and given plenty of bite by the twin guitars of Andy York and Mike Wanchic," notes an Associated Press review that was published in dozens of newspapers. Ohio's Akron Beacon Journal noted, "The whole album has a moody, '60s garage rock warmth, with Mike Wanchic's twangy guitar and Miriam Sturm's gypsy violin providing a psychedelic undercurrent." The Buffalo News opined, "Mellencamp has been a masterful record-maker ever since he and longtime guitarist Mike Wanchic began producing their albums themselves."

Wanchic has co-produced nine albums with John Mellencamp and played guitar in the heartland rocker's band for 30 years, leading the ensemble for much of that time. "For me, DePauw was a great experience," Wanchic told Greencastle's Banner Graphic in December.

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=18835
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2010, 11:51:28 am »

Q&A Mike Wanchic Guitarist, musical director for John Mellencamp's band

Interview by David Lindquist and Photos by Matt Detrich, the star

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Mike Wanchic is the longest-running collaborator in John Mellencamp's multiplatinum career.

Longtime John Mellencamp compadre Mike Wanchic is co-owner of Echo Park recording studio in Bloomington. Photos by Matt Detrich, The Indianapolis Star

The guitarist from Lexington, Ky., weathered lean years before hits such as "Jack & Diane," "Pink Houses" and "Small Town" became fixtures of 1980s pop culture.

At 55, Wanchic remains musical director of Mellencamp's band after an assortment of high-profile players -- drummer Kenny Aronoff, guitarist Larry Crane, violin player Lisa Germano and bass player Toby Myers -- left the group on friendly and not-so friendly terms.

Mellencamp's band is known as one of the most disciplined and best rehearsed in rock 'n' roll. When making current album "Freedom's Road," the musicians spent up to 70 hours arranging a single song. "The more preparation you do, the more comfortable you can be onstage," Wanchic says.
Meanwhile, the guitarist has a new multiplatinum credit on his resume: Wanchic co-owns Echo Park, the Bloomington recording studio where Denver-based rock band the Fray made "How to Save a Life," the most downloaded album at iTunes in 2006.

How did you first cross paths with John Mellencamp?

In 1976, I was wrapping up school at DePauw University and I visited a recording studio in Bloomington that I had heard about. Mark Hood, now co-owner of Echo Park, was my instructor for a course on recording engineering at that studio. I weaseled my way in as an intern, and John came in from Seymour and was making his initial demo tapes there. In the evenings, I was actually asked to play guitar on some of those recordings. I joined his band full time in 1978.

Did you sense that John would achieve the success that he has?

John had what so many artists have, and it's an intangible. But it's very obvious. Some people call it charisma; some people call it star power. Whatever it is, it's a drive that some people possess. When we were very young, making the "John Cougar" record in Miami, Johnny Depp was a resident of Miami and a fledgling rock star, or so he thought. His mom would drop him by the studio in the evenings, and he would hang out with us. He was about 16 and he had a band called the Kidz. Johnny Depp had the same thing John Mellencamp had. It was a drive, a talent that was going to be realized -- whether it was in music, acting or art. Somehow that was going to come through.

It didn't happen overnight, as the story has been told many times. During those struggles, what pushed you through?

Whatever John has in terms of star power, I have in terms of staying power. It never really crossed my mind that we wouldn't make it. It never crossed my mind to do anything different. If you're getting into music to make money, you're in the wrong business. It has to be for the love of what you're doing, because there's way too much adversity.

I can recall sitting with John and saying, "Man, if we just make it until we're 40." Then I can recall sitting with John and saying, "Man, if we just make it until we're 50." Who's to say music has to be made by people of a specific age? The truth is that John knows more now about songwriting, and I know more about arranging and guitar-playing than I've ever known in my life. I see no reason for us to stop doing what we're doing.

The vintage guitar sounds on "Freedom's Road" are a joy to listen to. Was it fun to put that together?

Yeah, it was right back to the roots. We were listening to a lot of 1960s music from San Francisco -- the Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas and the Papas. It's deep in my roots; I grew up with it. We also listened to a lot of the early British music -- the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. That was the heart and soul of where I learned to play guitar. So we decided that we wanted to make a record that sounded like what we grew up with.

It's wonderful to have a career where you're making 21 records. It also becomes exponentially more difficult with each record, because you can't steal from yourself anymore. You have to go forward musically. Every time, it's a musical growth process for us. Even though this is kind of reaching to the past to go forward, it's an honest record. And that's all anyone can ask.

You can listen to country music on the radio today and hear a lot of influence from your records in the 1980s. Do you find that people in Nashville realize that?

It was very surprising to me -- even on my first trips to Nashville 10 years ago -- to realize the effect we had on Nashville music. I really wasn't part of that community. But there's a lot of respect. The Travis Tritts and the Tim McGraws and the Kenny Chesneys of Nashville were high-school kids at our zenith. We were what they were listening to. Those influences carry forward, and it's fantastic to have the respect of that community. Now, for the first time, we're actually making a conscious effort of introducing ourselves there. They have open arms, and it's been a good experience.

When you invite clients to record in the Midwest as opposed to one of the coasts, is that a difficult argument to make?

Funny enough, Bloomington's not that hard of a sell. The Mellencamp story has raised the profile of Bloomington. There's nothing in New York, nothing in Los Angeles, nothing at Kingsway Studios in New Orleans that we don't have at Echo Park. We have absolute compatibility with everybody. In most cases, we have more vintage gear.

It comes down to the talent involved, obviously. But you have to have the tools.

Everybody that comes here loves Bloomington -- the alternative nature of the community, the ethnic diversity, it just really works. Everybody's happy; everyone comes back. That's the real sign, if someone's willing to come back a second time. I work a lot of places once, but I rarely return to a facility.

What did you think when the Fray was in here? Did that seem like a band that would sell 2 million records?

Quite honestly, they were under 21 years old. They couldn't even go to the bar and have a drink, which is probably a good thing. They're good, clean kids. When Mike Flynn (a former Echo Park intern and current Epic Records executive) believes in something, I have to know there's something there. He recently signed a Kansas City band called Vedera that's recording here.

Does Echo Park collect royalties from the Fray's album?

No, we'll get a groovy double-platinum disc to hang on the wall. We get a bowling trophy out of it. But that's OK. Our place is to be here for the artist to sonically create a record, to have a great experience and to build a relationship.

When I'm working with an artist, it's not about making a record and throwing somebody back to the wolves. It's about developing them for the long haul of a career -- to let them know, "If you really want to do this, then you have to do this slow and steady." You have to be willing to do the work, because "American Idol" is a television show.

http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070318/ENTERTAINMENT04/703180333/-1/ZONES04
(there is also a good, short video interview with Mike on this site.)
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« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2010, 12:06:42 pm »







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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2010, 12:08:28 pm »


http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/ne...b8418f4&p=2

Even after decades together, Mellencamp band still a (commercial) work in progress
MARK LEPAGE, Freelance
Published: Saturday, January 26

Mike Wanchic is working in his studio in Bloomington, Ind., where it is "colder than hell."

It is 8 F, which is -13 C. The Mellencamp guitarist has recorded in Le Studio twice ("fantastic place"), and one of those times was "in the dead of winter." He has no fear of February.

Neither does he fear this interesting phase in the Mellencamp career. Derided for "selling out" in a Chevrolet ad, heralded by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the frontlines of the enduring American race issue... Regardless, Wanchic is well aware that classic-rock fame is a kind of obscurity. He knows they're not cool.
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"It's funny though. I don't think we've ever even thought of it as 'Hey, now we're cool, now we're successful, now we're not'. It's been a work in progress. And the only way you can maintain a long-term career is to challenge yourself, to acquaint yourself with a bigger musical vocabulary. To push forward."

The set list will include "at least three songs - maybe four - that no one's ever heard. We'll reach back into archival material. We'll play hits."

"By traditional product promotion standards, you know we wouldn't be out right now. We have an album coming five months from now - why in God's name be out now? Cause we want to be. We're not hit driven, we're driven by legacy, by passion to play, and I'm not shittin' you."

We are talking about longevity. So it feels entirely appropriate to bring up a 30-year-old album called The Kid Inside, released when the singer was known as Johnny Cougar, and featuring a cover photo whose garish - well, look it up.

Does Wanchic remember it? "Hoo hoo! I was right next to him!" But all Kid Inside kidding aside, the point behind the jibe is "Even if it was sophomoric at best when we were young, we meant it. We were never trying to write above ourselves."

In that era, mistakes could be made that would not destroy a career that might one day pull itself into the Hall of Fame for permanent veneration. "When we started out, there were creative development departments (at record companies). That doesn't exist anymore. Nowadays they're just looking for the next pop commodity. They may as well be looking for the next G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip."

"We can't chase radio. There's no point in it. Radio doesn't exist for us."

And certainly, the notion of merchandising leads us to discuss the Chevy Silverado issue. Though this interview occurred after the main essay above was written, Wanchic confirms its basic details.

"The future of the music business, especially for any legacy artist, is branding. You have to brand yourself, or you're not gonna get heard. You have to be able to put (your music) in front of people in some form. Intelligent branding. And for us, the great American band from the Midwest - Chevy, I can't imagine a better fit. We did resist it for years, but when Bob Dylan does a Victoria's Secret ad, all bets are off. It is now an integral part of promoting music."

If the Mellencamp oeuvre has a sub-theme, it is race. The band's always-inclusive shows were a direct product of its composition - of what people saw onstage. To these eyes, Mellencamp's was the first rock band to play arenas with the kind of onstage diversity - he had prominent African American women in his band - that everybody likes to preach in song. "But good God, I'm from immigrant Slovak parents," says Wanchic. "It's a melting pot."

And it has led his songwriter to consistently address the issue in the body politic. Witness Jena, the song on the Louisiana

"All we did was put that song on our website - and the flak was ungodly. But anytime you approach race, you're gonna cause a problem. In fact, no, you're not causing a problem. But there will be a problem.

"If you reach 20 years back, the song Cherry Bomb - I don't know if you ever saw the video for that - it's all based around a teenaged black boy slow-dancing with a white girl. And you wouldn't believe what happened. Threats on our lives, the Aryans and the Klan threatening. And here we are 20 years later with Jena, and it's the same stuff. Racism is alive and well here."
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« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2010, 12:09:51 pm »

http://lubbockonline.com/stories/080209/fea_473787000.shtml

Wanchic has been lead guitarist for Mellencamp for 30 years
By William Kerns | A-J ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
Sunday, August 02, 2009

Never let it be said that a person cannot juggle sports and the arts, especially during one's younger years.

Mike Wanchic is one of the great examples.

After all, Wanchic is known primarily as a good friend, career adviser, recent co-producer and, most important, lead guitarist for John Mellencamp for more than 30 years.

He also stays in shape during the current Dylan-Mellencamp-Nelson tour with a rigorous biking program each morning, mapping routes to ride with Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson's harmonica player.

Bob Dylan, Mellencamp, Nelson and the Wiyos will perform in concert Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock.

Wanchic also played college football for his college team at DePauw University.

He explained during a recent telephone interview that his interests were split 50-50 between sports and the arts while growing up.

"My mom was deeply supportive of the arts," noted Wanchic after a morning phone chat with family. "I remember being that little boy who had to take piano lessons. I also sang in the choir, and she even enrolled me in ballet for a time."

On the other hand, Wanchic added that his dad (Nick Wanchic) "was a well-known athlete, a star at the University of Kentucky who played for Bear Bryant."

"So I grew up with a split appreciation."

Still, he said, "Both demand creativity. I might be trying to create an opening on the field, or trying to come up with a new guitar part. And you have to know how to compete in the music business if you want to succeed. You definitely cannot be passive and endure."

But it was Wanchic's father who helped him grow as a musician, thanks to his work after college as the director of a federal heroin addiction facility in Kentucky.

Wanchic would end up taking up guitar at age 13. Yet he had an early opportunity to talk with many of music's greats.

He explained, "It seemed like all of the country's great jazz musicians, Gene Krupa and all the beboppers, were sent to that facility, either when they were busted or when their (drug) habits just got out of control. I grew up going out to my dad's hospital and watching bands kick ass.

"You'd see the best players from New York crowded into a cigarette smoke-filled (hospital) room, playing straight up bebop jazz."

Wanchic added, "I was so young back then. I remember one of my favorites being Bill Jennings. He was an old black man (actually, Jennings was born in 1919), but he was such an amazing jazz guitar player."

Not amazing enough to keep Wanchic interested in jazz over rock 'n' roll though.

"Hey, I saw the Beatles and that was the end of that," he said. "I was into rock bands."

His introduction to Mellencamp arrived in two stages.

When he graduated from DePaux University in Greencastle, Ind., his first inclination was to study to become an audio engineer, and he began working at Jack Gilfoy's studio in Bloomington, Ind.

Wanchic said, "Gilfoy's was the highest rated music school in the world. He played percussion for people like Henry Mancini and Johnny Mathis. By 1976, he was operating a state-of-the-art studio.

"It was the first place to teach audio engineering, and I badgered him for an internship.

"As it turned out, John (Mellencamp) came in to make some demos, and I played better guitar than the guy he was using. John would come back late at night and I added some replacement parts for him. That was the first time we met."

In 1978, Mellencamp was headed out on tour with Robin Trower, one of Wanchic's "heroes." He accepted Mellencamp's invitation to join the band, and they've worked together ever since.

Wanchic said that the two "shared a similar musical language from the start."

They grew up in different towns, listening to the same black gospel radio station located at a point between their home towns. Both enjoyed Motown in junior high; a few years later Wanchic drifted toward The Grateful Dead while Mellencamp liked Hendrix.

"We remained respectful of each other and we didn't ever have any major personality differences," the guitarist added.

"The one thing I still love about this band," he said, "is that we are all highly disciplined. We are a well-oiled, rehearsed machine. I know a lot of bands that go on stage unprepared, and we don't have to worry about that. Thus, the only thing I worry about is just participating in the moment."

Indeed, the Mellencamp band has earned rave reviews for years for being one of rock's tighter ensembles.

Improvisation is not something the band is known for, with Wanchic comparing Mellencamp's musicians to actors on Broadway who would "not think of changing one of the lines in 'Les Miserables.' "

Wanchic said the "cumulative tools" he developed - such as being a player, an arranger and a band leader - all led to him taking production duties.

On top of that, he's played big brother more than once, and he said, "It's like Dylan told us: You gotta serve somebody."

Mellencamp did not want to include his recordings of "Jack and Diane" and "R.O.C.K. in the USA" on albums "American Fool" and "Scarecrow" in 1978 and 1982, respectively.

Wanchic said, "John wants to be regarded as a serious songwriter, and he thought those were both just joke songs."

Wanchic was among those who convinced Mellencamp that the songs could become hits ... which they did.

That said, he remains extremely loyal to Mellencamp, who had to fight "very bad management" during the first years of his career, back when he was being sold as "Johnny Cougar" and was not allowed to record under his real name.

Wanchic loves the idea of the playing field being labeled nowadays, saying, "We may see the demise of the rock star. But who cares? The world doesn't need more rock stars, but it always will need good music. ... Now musicians can even craft a business for themselves; they can earn enough to raise a family or buy a house."

Describing Mellencamp as an employer, Wanchic says, "He is an absolute taskmaster all the way. But then, I suffer from the same disease. A great rock band needs a benevolent dictator as its leader. That's John.

"I feel the same way as a producer. Records made in democratic situations usually suck."

On the other hand, said Wanchic, Mellencamp "will listen to anyone who has an idea to make things better."

No one ever has had to mention the importance of conditioning twice to Wanchic.

He explained, "You're talking to one of the biggest fanatics. I ride with Mickey. I weight train three times a week. I'm on a sports diet and have a sports trainer. I am drinking a protein drink right now, and my vitamin tray is ridiculous.

"John works out every day. In fact, yesterday every person in the band, down to the violinist, were all in the workout room.

"I will not be a casualty to this business. No way."
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« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2010, 04:21:12 pm »

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