For The Record
story: Gary VanDeWalker photo: Courtesy of RadioStar
RADIOSTAR STUDIOS IN WEED
Tucked in the center of the small town of Weed is a treasure within a treasure. Poised on Main Street, the façade of the Weed Palace Theater towers over its surroundings, recalling the early vaudeville acts hosted there in the 1920s and the brilliant Hollywood spectacles shown in its later years as a movie theater. The Art Deco building still retains its dart-shaped glass lights and Egyptian interior. Though the multi-screen theaters of today have silenced the projector and the popcorn smell has faded, the Palace Theater knows new life as a professional recording facility, Sylvia Massy Shivy’s RadioStar Studios.
Beginning as a disk jockey, Massy Shivy moved to recording. Looking to start her own business, she made one of the most important decisions of her career. “She made hundreds of phone calls asking studios if they had old equipment. Her odd collection of gear later became some of the most priceless recording equipment in the industry,” says Chris Johnson, studio manager. Moving to Los Angeles, she used her gear and skills with local bands to produce, engineer and mix albums. She produced the rock band Tool, whose albums went on to multi-platinum sales. Her success continued, producing for bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Smashing Pumpkins. By 2000, Massy Shivy wanted to move to someplace more serene. She married and came to the Northern California mountains and within the year discovered the Palace Theater. Built for live theater, she recognized the unique acoustic quality of the building, so she bought it and began renovations. Once three storefronts (an auto parts store, barbershop and the movie theater), the building now houses four recording studios and living quarters for the artists. The movie theater lobby is now a break area, with a pool table, foosball table, kitchen, sofas and a friendly host, Woody, the studio dog.
Studio A encompasses the main floor of the theater, with 30-foot-high ceilings and a 750-square-foot stage. “The spaciousness of the room is used for recordings,” Johnson says. “Rather than using computerized equipment, though we do use some computers, the vintage gear, hardwood floor and open sub-flooring of the room give a warmth which comes through the music.” Drums, which are difficult to record, find an ideal environment here which musicians seek. Beneath the stage in the “Dungeon” is a maze of rooms allowing for isolated recording sessions. The main mixing board was made in London in 1972 and was used by Led Zeppelin to record its song “Remains the Same.” Johnson says, “The draw of RadioStar is having a world-class studio with the best stuff on the planet. However, the best thing here is Sylvia.”
In the theater balcony is Studio B with a large horseshoe-shaped console, the “Boomerang,” one of four in the world. This studio is the primary mixing room. The front wall can be transformed into a windowed area overlooking the 600 seats in Studio A below. This allows Studio B to become the control room for the main stage. Studios C and D are smaller studios with living quarters. One has a patio next to Spring Creek, complete with a barbecue and basketball hoop.
In the main theater, “Stan” a 20-foot-high man, made of colored vinyl and vinyl records overlooks the activity there. Also, artists and employees report seeing ghosts and strange orbs of light. Some tell of slider 13 moving on its own in Studio A. Johnson says, “The guys from Ghost Hunters stayed in one of the apartments for the night and said the place is rotten with ghosts.”
Massy Shivy has created a hideaway for musical artists to come and create, record and produce works of art in a place that is economical, healthy and far away from the usual turmoil of the city. Her collection of rare and vintage gear is now part of a destination place for clients around the world. Johnson reflects, “It’s a weird juxtaposition: Here is a world class studio, hidden away in a 90-year-old theater in Weed.”