Colorfield Records & Pete Min | On The Road

On walking into Lucy’s Meat Market Studio (website) for the first time, you could be forgiven for underestimating the studio—in fact the space seems almost designed to have that effect. Keyboards line the walls, Celestes, synthesizers, a beautiful vintage Steinway. In the live room instruments and microphones are gently scattered about in a way that outwardly says “lived in,” but on closer inspection reveals the neat and practiced hand of a careful studio owner.

Words and Photos by Grover Neville

Settled between two mid-sized monitors, Pete Min looks up from his Pro Tools session when I enter. He welcomes me in with the ease of someone who has mastered hosting. He gently extinguishes a hand-rolled clove cigarette, and pulls up some sessions while I take pictures of the live room, and marvel at a Mellotron and AKG C24. “Those are cool,” he says as I gawk at his immaculate collection of unobtanium.

“My favorite is when the music is totally organic and in the moment. I want the performance to be raw, but I want the production to be like Pink Floyd.” A wry smile slips across his face as he says this and I’m suddenly aware of just how formidable Pete Min really is. He pushes play and a cacophony of pulsing drums wraps around my head, leaving me looking for rear surrounds.

“I run everything through the ATR, unless someone asks me not to. I only had that happen once,” he gestures towards the immaculately maintained tape machine tucked into the corner of the spacious, well-lit control room. A pair of soffit-mounted ATC SCM50s flank a studio desk festooned with some of the rarest and most expensive outboard gear to be had—Vacuvox U 23 compressors, Knif Soma, D.W. Fearn Equalizer, to name a few. Every piece speaks to a connoisseur who has spent a lifetime cultivating an appreciation for sound of the highest caliber.

All of this gear goes towards his current project: Colorfield Records, which he describes as a “co-op of sorts” in which artists make records and share in profits outside the restrictive contracts and artistic commercialism of the major labels—all in the cozy confines of Lucy’s Meat Market. On my way out I happen to chance on one of the artists, a quiet but intimidatingly confident redhead from Johannesburg. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I ask them to describe their music. “I follow what feels right.”

In the live room, every instrument is somehow strewn about the space yet simultaneous within easy reach. “I don’t want to get bogged down. If an artist is trying to control things too much, I move on, put them on an instrument they aren’t familiar with. It’s all about getting amazing musicians and then forcing them to surrender control.” I’m asking Pete how he elicits such vast and open performances from musicians so used to tight control and precision, and he’s answering as if making creative magic is as simple as boiling spaghetti.

Pete is also dedicated to doing it right, something backed up by his long career doing commercial music in New York City and LA. “Every record gets a great digital mix, but we also have Kevin [Gray] cut the masters. It’s all about the music, getting great performances without too much concept or commercial sounding stuff.” Pete flicks through a few Pro Tools sessions, one has a warm sax laying down jazz standards as a Siri-esque voice recites the lyrics—a methodically recorded single-mic recording where the artists moved rather than the mic, another is a lush layered piano arrangement that flits between lullaby and fantasia, yet another is a spellbinding funk tune that dispenses with flashiness in favor of totally surrendering to a shifting groove.

“Pete Min? Oh yeah, he’s awesome, absolute gear nut and fantastic ears, but super humble,” my fellow PTA writer Dave McNair raves about Pete when I mention him and Lucy’s Meat Market off-handedly in one of our regular Total-Tokyo-Destruction PTA Mastermind Plot Phone Calls (™). I have a huge respect for Dave’s process, which revolves around speed and serving the program material. Pete is clearly also a master of this process, both relaxed yet working with a lightning efficiency, and the results speak for themselves.

Many of the tunes are groove driven and rhythmic, rather than melodic, a testament to Pete’s philosophy of getting the artists to surrender control. And getting the kinds of artists that Colorfield Records works with to surrender control is no mean feat – many of them are accomplished musicians used to weaving together tightly knit productions where few notes happen by accident. By contrast Pete tries to encourage artists to ‘… record without thinking and tap into their subconscious. Randomness and chaos is part of the process and leads to unexpected results.’ It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know how to play drums, keyboards or guitar [Min and the artist] are able to edit choice moments to use as part of the composition.’

What my sample of Colorfield’s output seems to suggest by is that this leads to organic, breathing and pulsing, and musicians following momentary inspirations or threads in real-time. Somehow, every note feels intentional, rising and falling in a manner that constantly reminds me of a heartbeat.

I also notice that everything Pete plays me, which he shyly introduces by saying “It’s not mixed yet,” sounds spectacular. Sounds are huge in scale, warm and detailed, yet extraordinarily clean and with a clarity of placement in the soundstage and frequency spectrum that suggests a team of skilled arrangers in a Capitol Studios, rather than singular musicians relinquishing control in a quiet, vibey studio in the hills of Eagle Rock. At times sounds seem to wrap around my head, and the low end, especially of his C12 drum mics and Sanken piano microphones combined with the slight bump of the ATR tape produces a dense cocktail of texture, so thick and alive that it exceeds the “here in the room” feel and achieves a total immersion I usually only get when a record coincides at just the right moment in time and space and memorializes a moment. Every one of the records I heard was something that I can imagine people going deep with, and on any audio system, no matter how modest or expensive.

A vision of music that offers authenticity and sincerity in an increasingly cynical era is obviously attractive to any musician, myself included, but I believe it’s a core ideal of what is attractive about hi-fi as well. What we look for when not listening to gear—something I aim to do as little as possible–is to have a relationship with the music being. While the entire event may be a psychosomatic internal experience, the great trick of an involving playback system is that it can make us feel as if we’re having a conversation, or at least that we’re being spoken to through the medium of replicated vibration.

From a purely philosophical perspective, this may be one of the reasons everyone looks for something different in an audio playback chain—because we find something different within ourselves when we shut out the outside world and listen to that thing that inspires, soothes, frightens, or releases us in between the left and right channels. Whatever it is that releases our auditory Truth-with-a-capital-T.

For me, what is relevant about Colorfield Records and Lucy’s Meat Market is the honesty and humanity in the musical and sonic architecture. The first release from Colorfield Records, The Confidence to Make Mistakes by Abe Rounds, speaks volumes about the approach. A young artist’s first album, consisting entirely of drums? Not even an indie label would take this on before he’d proven his chops as a session player or social media star, yet without the high-class connections and slog of proving-ground live shows, Colorfield has done just that. The results are an imaginative percussive soundscape unlike anything you’ll get even from somewhere like NewAm or Moozak. The second record, Earthshine by Larry Golding is upcoming—and the tidbits I’ve caught promise something completely different yet with an equally unyielding dedication to musical meaning and sonic excellence. In an industry swollen with artists searching for authenticity, Colorfield is a community that doesn’t need to seek it out.

Lucy’s Meat Market, Photography by Grover Neville