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mike miller

Westend Recording Studios Presents Amplify KC Vol. 1

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
“Heavier punk or metal is aggressive and comes from a need to tap into that primitive feeling inside of you,” says Justin Mantooth. Mantooth is the house engineer at Westend Recording Studios, a state-of-the-art recording facility tucked into the West Plaza area of town. Westend boasts professional recordings from some of KC’s most well-known rock lineage, from Shiner to Frogpond to Season To Risk, and current groups like Shy Boys, Radkey, and Making Movies. On Monday, the studio released a compilation called Amplify KC Volume 1, featuring some of the city’s heaviest acts.
Eleven forceful tracks make up the album, ranging from noise rock to punk to metal to hardcore, skillfully recorded, produced, and mixed by Mantooth and mastered by Mike Nolte (Eureka Mastering). Read our Q&A with Mantooth and get it as a free download here.
The Deli: One of the goals of this compilation was to highlight heavy-minded artists. Why do you think these artists tend to be overlooked? 
Mantooth: It's not for everyone. It’s less approachable than your electro-pop hipster thing might be to a casual listener. 
The Deli: This compilation also showcases the production quality from Westend. Tell us more about the facility.
Mantooth: Westend owner Mike Miller has built a professional environment that has a vibe of a time before streaming and MP3s. A time when it was more about the music and not YouTube views. We try to push for "real"-sounding records rather than slick overly produced ones. I take full advantage of new digital tools, don't get me wrong, but my goal isn't to quantize performances into robotic perfection. One thing that may set us apart from other studios is that we still use analog tape often, something that isn't really happening in most studios today. 
The Deli: How did you select these particular artists? Highlight a few of them.
Mantooth: We put the word out that we wanted to do this compilation and had bands submit to take part. From there I chose the bands I thought I could make a solid production with in a day’s worth of studio time. That wasn't easy to narrow down! I wish I could have recorded 20 bands, but you know it's a lot of work. I'll just highlight the first 3 tracks on the comp because I enjoy everyone on there. 
Hyborian: These guys can play and write very slick songs yet keep it heavy. The mix of smooth vocals over raging guitars and big drums is just excellent. 
Walking Oceans: Just listen to their entire track. It is a rollercoaster ride of badassery. Instrumental music that doesn't leave you wondering when the vocal section is going to start. Really good band. 
Bluehealer: These dudes are young and they play like it. With no fear at all. They throw down. Taking somewhat simple chords and ideas and just thrashing them hard. They remind me of some of my favorite bands and I enjoyed getting that sound for them. 
The Deli: What can we in the KC music scene do to support bands in the hardcore/metal/punk/heavy rock scene? What should bands do to get their name out there? 
Mantooth: That's a good question. The biggest thing is go out and see bands live. Buy their merch. We live in a time when there are a million reasons to just stay home. We don't have the same attendance at shows that was the norm 15 to 20 years ago. I think one good idea is having more diverse lineups at local shows. We don't need to see 5 similar metal bands at 1 show. I played a show on NYE with Jorge Arana Trio, Sharp Weapons, Sundiver, and Bummer. All very different, but it went really well. People like to hear diversity and sometimes bills are stacked with too much of the same. And usually half of the lineup is terrible just to keep the genres the same. 
The Deli: Name a few must-see KC bands that people may not know about. It doesn't have to be limited to bands on this compilation; perhaps even some that didn't make the cut.
Mantooth: All of these bands are bands I want people to know about. Bummer is a must see. They always bring the beef. Hammerlord didn't work out as far as being on the compilation, but they are great. 
Check out Amplify KC Vol. 1 on Bandcamp!
--Michelle Bacon


Behind the Board: Justin Mantooth at Westend Recording Studios

(Photos by Todd Zimmer)
Everywhere you turn, another local band is releasing another recording. In 2013 alone, the KC/Lawrence area has seen over 200 mostly indie album releases; that doesn’t even include singles, and who knows how much more is out there that we just don’t know about yet.
Technology is becoming more accessible than it used to be, and the music industry has transformed. It used to be that an independent band could subsist without a “professional” recording, because many of them simply couldn’t afford it. Demo tapes were typically acceptable at one point. It didn’t matter how tinny or trash-canny your demo was; if you were trying to book a show, the promoter just wanted to know what you sounded like. Being able to record in a studio was reserved for bands with a little more clout, or scratch.
Today, the music world has succumbed to the culture of convenience, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. One of the first things any emerging local band is asked is, “When are you guys gonna record an album?” The advent of home recording has afforded thousands of musicians the luxury of spending less money and, in many cases, ending up with a recording that sounds fairly professional.
But that begs the question: how have our professional recording studios been affected?
“Ten to fifteen years ago, everyone was using the studio to record,” remarks Justin Mantooth, engineer/producer at Westend Recording Studios. Now, so many musicians are turning to home studios to cut costs, but Mantooth explains that professional studio costs have decreased as a result, and gear is still expensive. There has been a steady and distinct decline in the use of professional studios, especially in smaller cities like Kansas City.
Westend celebrated its 25-year anniversary back in September, and still remains one of the premier recording spots in the Kansas City area. Owner Mike Miller and his experienced team boast an impressive collection of classic vintage recording equipment, all of which Miller maintains and modifies.
"Having Mike as the owner is ideal,” says Mantooth. "He has put in a lifetime of work building and restoring a huge collection of very choice equipment. I've worked in many studios in different cities, and you’d be surprised how many studios have half-broken gear. At Westend, I can patch into vintage equipment older than me and know it's going to work.”
Westend’s engineer is no slouch himself. A Kansas City native, Mantooth moved back just a few months ago to take this job. “I had my own studio in New York (Audio Parlour Brooklyn), but I thought this would be a great opportunity for me and for the KC music community. Everyone here is highly invested in doing things right.”
Mantooth notes that he’s been obsessed with recording since he was just 11 years old. He grew up near the original Midwestern Musical Co location. “Matt [Kesler] and Jim [Strahm] would give us half-broken things and we’d fix them. I understood what the good stuff was even then. I tried to buy a crappy PA for my band when I was 12, and they wouldn’t let me.” He saved up his money and bought a Tascam four-track tape recorder at the age of 13. He became an intern at Chapman Recording right out of high school, eventually being hired as an assistant and engineer. He later did freelance engineering for Westend before moving to New York in 2008, where he began working at Translator Audio.
In his opinion, the music scene and talent in Kansas City has grown exponentially in the five years he’s been away. But so has the advent of the home studio, which ranges from producers who have high-end microphones, soundproof rooms, and actual recording equipment to those with nothing but a microphone, a keyboard, and a song. Though home recording has obvious benefits and accessibility, Mantooth stresses that there’s nothing that compares to recording in a professional studio with well-built and maintained equipment.
“Sounds are recreated in a home studio, and you lose something with that,” he says. Westend is also one of the only local studios to actively record to analog tape, which Mantooth declares is a dying art. “Tape has a fidelity you just don't get with digital equipment. It sounds like the records you love. Whether we’re tracking to our vintage MCI JH24 2" 24-track machine or bouncing down mixes to our MCI JH110C 1/4" 2-track, our machines are maintained and ready to go. I think, once a young band gets a taste of recording to tape, they will surely hear the difference.” 
Westend provides artists an environment in which they can feel comfortable and creative, with a spectrum of sounds and options to choose from, dialed in by an experienced engineer on solid equipment. “We have old gear with a lot of mojo,” Mantooth mentions. And he, along with Miller and mastering guru Mike Nolte (Eureka Mastering), are dedicated to helping create a superior-sounding product.
“I hope that the community will continue to support this. We live in a throw-away culture; let’s make something that will last forever. Kansas City deserves this.”
Visit Westend’s web site at this link to find out more about rates and recording options, as well as samples of bands the studio has recorded. You can check out Justin's web site for more info at www.justinmantooth.com.

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also plays drums Drew Black & Dirty Electric and bass in Dolls on Fire and The Philistines. She will be bothering a lot of people to come to Apocalypse Meow 6 next Friday and Saturday. It's gonna be pretty rad.

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