Local Spins profiles the Grand Rapids studio led by Tommy Schichtel and debuts tracks by artists who relish his unique approach, along with new songs by other Michigan acts.
SCROLL DOWN FOR RADIO SHOW PODCAST
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Dramatic evidence of what makes Tommy Schichtel relish his recording and production work at Grand Rapids’ Goon Lagoon came when he played back the mix of a song for a musician who recently spent time in the studio.
“I turned around and his wife had her arms around him and he was just bawling like a baby. I said, ‘Oh, we got it,’ ” he recalled.
“Just to see that, it just makes you go, OK, I was part of something very big in his life. This is a moment that he’ll never forget. It makes me feel good that we accomplished that.”
Since 2006 or so, Schichtel has given rise to those warm feelings for dozens upon dozens of regional and national acts who’ve sought out his old-school, all-analog approach to creating recordings with unique character, aka “the Goon sound.”
Using a vintage MCI/Sony reel-to-reel recorder that uses two-inch tapes (the “soul of the studio” that sold for around $40,000 in the mid-1980s, according to Schichtel), the Goon Lagoon is housed in a nondescript Grand Rapids building that also enhances the singular sonic milieu.
It features a 40×30-foot tracking room with a 13-foot-high ceiling that organically creates the sort of reverb and feeling of space that can’t be recreated via digital recording.
“It just sounded like magic right out of the box,” Schichtel said. “It feels like you’re recording in someone’s home, so it’s got a weird vibe. I built it for me, so if other people adapt to it, great.”
Many have, including northern Michigan’s Tobin Sprout (one-time member of heralded indie-rock band Guided by Voices), Eddie Angel, Larry Taylor, Beast in the Field, Boss Mustangs, Gregory Stovetop, Vox Vidorra, Hank Mowery and, naturally, Schichtel’s own guitar-centric bands, The Concussions, The B-Sides and The Fuzzrites.
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE, Schichtel spotlighted new tracks by Sprout, Stovetop and The Long Goodbyes (Seth Thompson and his daughter, Lily), as well as a song from Schichtel’s own upcoming solo project. Scroll down to listen to those tracks and the full radio show podcast/interview, with a track from The Concussions here.
LISTEN: The Concussions, “Phantom Limbs”
For Schichtel, enchantment with music began as a young child listening to his mother’s records featuring The Ventures and The Beatles, and later being exposed to adventurous LPs by the likes Captain Beefheart, Devo and more.
He also recalls sneaking into a Grand Rapids blues club – The Silver Cloud – as an under-age 14-year-old to catch sets by late blues greats Son Seals and Koko Taylor, and developing a fondness for artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Hound Dog Taylor.
‘I’D RATHER HEAR A MISTAKE THAN PERFECTION’
Initially making musical noise with a guitar purchased from Sears Roebuck & Co., Schichtel also began playing in bands, noting that his affection for all-analog recording at Goon Lagoon is “just an extension of recording my bands on tape … since the ’90s.”
Surf-rock’s masked marauders The Concussions — with Schichtel performing under his Dick Chiclet pseudonym — later emerged as one of the region’s most sought-after instrumental bands, recording and releasing several albums recorded at Goon Lagoon.
Although highly respected as an audio engineer and for having “good ears” (while being brutally honest), Schichtel insisted that the secret really lies “in trying to get people playing together at the same time. It’s all about emotion and energy more than anything.
“I don’t have a knock against Pro Tools (digital recording software) or doing anything like that. To me, if you’ve got great musicians and a great song, that’s all you really need.”
Schichtel – who plans to travel to Athens, Ga., with Sprout this fall to lay down tracks for a new recording project – acknowledged that he has a penchant for adding “weird” elements to tracks if clients are willing. He also revels in the imperfections associated with recording bands live.
“To me, I’d rather hear a mistake than hear like perfection. There’s plenty of mistakes coming out of here, let me tell you,” he quipped. “You want the bands to be who they’re gonna be and it’s up to you to capture it, but if I can enhance it …”
Beyond tracks by artists who’ve recorded at Goon Lagoon, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE — which showcases Michigan artists at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org — featured new music by Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, The Aimcriers, Black Milk, The Schrock Bros, Planet D Nonet, Pink Sky and Round Creek String Band. Listen to the radio show podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (9/8/23)
Copyright 2023, Spins on Music LLC