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The Great Analog Gamble 

Wednesday, Jan 13 2016
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Tiny Telephone serves the demand for analog recording, but it's possible that by creating critically acclaimed records, Vanderslice has also strengthened that demand.

The first band to record at Tiny Telephone was the San Francisco art-rock act Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, who coughed up $100 a day for 30 days. After that month-long session, Vanderslice realized that maybe he could go into business, although he continued working at Chez Panisse part-time to be safe. Five years and a few solo albums later, he was making enough from the studio and from his own touring and record sales to quit the restaurant industry for good.

All but one of his own records has been tracked at Tiny Telephone, which allowed him to become intimately acquainted with the gear and the space. While his songs often fall into the singer-songwriter-raconteur category, they also evince a dedication to production and an interest in experimenting with sound, often drawing from a palette of vocal loops, synthesizers, and drum machines. He's become known for fastidious yet dramatic arrangements and unusual pairings of instruments. On 2001's Time Travel Is Lonely, for example, he plays almost every instrument himself, but he also plays with classical recording samples, distorted drums, a plethora of horns, and, from time to time, an orchestra.

Vanderslice's music career has fueled the success of Tiny Telephone and vice versa. He's toured with several of the bands he's produced, played more than 1,000 shows in 14 years, and has often spent at least four to six months of the year on the road. Much of his earnings from touring and record sales were shoveled back into the San Francisco space.

Vanderslice applies a simple supply-and-demand curve to Tiny Telephone — he keeps prices under market to remain as booked as possible, and supplies services musicians cannot easily replicate at home. He shuns the common studio practices of giving away time or employing sliding rates — his rates are in bold font on the web site.

"You don't give away free time if you're actually a business," he says. "Imagine if you were walking down 20th Street and Flour + Water was like, 'Free dinner tonight.' You'd be like, 'There's something wrong with this restaurant.'"

Vanderslice has taken a hiatus from songwriting, and after he and his band narrowly escaped a car accident on their last national tour in 2013, he decided to quit touring, too. ("It felt super mundane to die on an American freeway."he said.)

An Oakland band called The Blue Hours will be the first to record in the new studio, followed by Dear Reader, a singer-songwriter from Germany who booked a 17-day session in Oakland at the end of January. Room C also features a small apartment to entice out-of-towners.

The studio is currently fully booked until the end of August.

While he predicts "continued decimation" of the music scene in San Francisco, Vanderslice has a more optimistic outlook for the East Bay. "Oakland has the fuck-you spirit of a place that survives, so I'm not going to count Oakland out no matter who moves downtown into what building," he says.

And even if every musician in the Bay Area moves away, Tiny Telephone will survive.

"The studios will be fine because it's a wonderful, lovely place to travel to," he says. "It's a great fucking destination."


About The Author

Jessi Phillips


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