WEST MILFORD, NJ—Much like Luke Skywalker never expected to meet a Jedi Master in the swamps of the Dagobah system, I never expected to find a renowned funk producer and engineer in North Jersey.
Indeed, underneath a modest house on a hill, concealed in the woods of West Milford, is Twain Recording. Owned and operated by former James Brown producer Bob Both since 1976, the studio was built as a personal space for his own projects and musical exploits. Since going commercial over 30 years ago, Twain Recording has been a destination for jazz and funk cats, punks, rock and rollers, headbangers and even classical musicians.
Beginning as an A&R Assistant at Polydor (now Universal) Records in 1971, in a time when you couldn’t go to school for recording, Both learned how to mix records by watching professionals do it the old-fashioned way.
“I started, as a producer, by basically going in with an engineer and saying, ‘Give me more of this, give me more of that and watching what they did,” he recalled. “I had an ear for it.”
Both found himself getting repeatedly asked to mix James Brown records and after a few years, Brown hired him as his producer.
“James Brown, after working with him for a while, decided that I should also record his records,” he said. “There was no point in me just mixing them; if I recorded them I would have more control.”
Both had a hand in fine-tuning the sounds to Brown’s million-sellers like Get On The Good Foot (1972) and Payback (1973), along with several others. By 1977, when the Godfather Of Soul was less prolific with his releases, Both began to look to his own studio as a viable commercial endeavor.
“My claim to fame became James Brown but I wasn’t just a funk/R&B kind of guy. I was basically into rock, but [funk was] just what I was doing with him. Once I opened [Twain Recording], most of my work began being punk and rock, because that’s what the scene was in the ‘80s.”
By the 1980s, business was doing well and Twain Recording became known for punk as the Jersey-based label Mutha Records began sending more and more of their acts to the hills to record.
“In the ‘80s I did a lot of punk records, in the ‘90s it became more alternative. Because this studio has been here for so many years, the trends in music have come and gone as well as the trends in recording technique from analog to digital.”
In the past couple years, as digital recording technology has improved, Both has given up using much of his analog equipment in favor of ProTools “for the compatibility with the major recording industry.” Both credits his adeptness with digital technology from his experience using analog hardware. He still uses analog equipment for recording but relies on digital equipment for storage and editing.
“Digital allows you to do things that could never be done before, but also what it has done is made people very lazy,” Both asserted. “I think [technology] should be a tool. I still love to record people the old-fashioned way; I like a band to go out there and play live. I like to record a performance. To me it’s like taking a picture.”
“People have even hired me to record them somewhere else. This studio is just a tool.”
Both said he encourages artists to make sure that they do not choose a studio or a producer based on price or based on equipment. He stressed the importance of finding a comfortable situation where both parties are able to communicate and understand how the record needs to sound.
“It’s all about feeling like you’re on the same level. I don’t sell the studio based on the equipment, I talk about the kind of music [an artist is] doing, their philosophy, their ideas,” he explained. “What do they expect to achieve with their music? What would they like to hear? What kind of sound do they like? So that we can be on the same page, so that I have an understanding of what the artist is trying to create.”
Keeping with the theme of comfort, all the rooms of the studio have a “living-room kind of vibe,” with lots of décor and lighting in 1970s fashion, which Both admits isn’t for everybody.
“That’s why there’s more than one studio. If you’re comfortable here then you work here, if you’re comfortable somewhere else then you work somewhere else,” he said.
“The engineer’s job is really to give the client what they want. It’s not about how I think a band should sound. The vision is the artist’s. I’m here to provide and implement his vision and give him what he wants.”
When asked if he had made one record at Twain Recording that he felt most proud of Both again stressed the importance of currency and sounding the way the music demands.
“There’ve been so many years of records made here. I’ve been here for so many years, I’d probably have to narrow it down to a couple records per decade. What was a great record in 1980 is not necessarily a great record today.”
Often, however, artists look to Both for some direction. Much more than technical guidance, many of the bands who come to him are unpolished and still searching for their voice musically.
“Thirty-five years of music have passed through these doors,” he said. “They come because they want to work with someone with experience who can contribute more than just turning knobs.”
“I like to enjoy myself. I’m motivated by working with people that really appreciate what you’re doing for them.”
Twain Recording is located at 18 Hiawatha Pass, West Milford, NJ 07480. For more info, go to twainrecording.com. You can contact Bob Both by emailing him at email@example.com or calling 973-697-7540.
UPDATE: First a correction, the phone number printed in last month’s column Music In 3D about Architekt Music was incorrect. To contact Architekt, call 973-291-8950.
Also, they are still compiling a roster of students for Breaking Benjamin drummer Chad Szeliga and a recording class that will be taught by Grammy-winning producer John Seymour. Visit architektmusic.com for more info.