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A Word or Two with Strong Arm Studios

by Mary Borsellino

Originally published: The Dwarf, October 2008.

TStrong Arm Studios

Strong Arm Studios, also known as Matt "Otter" Pelissier and George "Geo" Collazo, are enjoying the mixed blessing that comes with expansion. Their growth has been swift and significant, and so it's time to switch to bigger digs.

"Moving an entire studio of stuff is an astronomical amount of planning and work," George explains. "The place we're moving into is going to be acoustically superior to where we are now, but just like the White Stripes song Little Room, 'you're in your little room and you're working on something good but if it's really good you're gonna need a bigger room'."

As if that wasn't enough work for the duo to have on their hands, Matt is in the middle of creating his first solo CD. He's probably currently best known to Australian readers as the original drummer of the band My Chemical Romance, rather than as one half of Strong Arm's New Jersey-based studio, but in the age of social networking it's just as easy to check out the tracks on Strong Arm's MySpace from a computer down under as it is to listen locally.

Despite a million perfectly reasonable reasons the pair could give me as to why they don't have enough time to sit down and answer an exam-like email full of questions -- one could hardly fault them if they'd fobbed me off by saying they've got a full schedule -- they were happy to do an interview with The Dwarf, going to the length of having George read out the questions to Matt and the pair of them discussing the answers while Matt worked on music, and then George relaying their replies to me over email. Now that's dedication!

First of all, something I thought was really interesting about the studio equipment you list on your site is that you include the recreational stuff you offer, like game consoles. The way studios are portrayed in movies and television shows is usually a time-is-money, high-pressure environment. But after I read that list it struck me that recording music is a creative process, and that different people need all kinds of different environments and stimuli to create. What kind of atmosphere do you try to have at Strong Arm? Has that changed over time?

Well, we've always felt that poor recordings don't help out the band, the engineer or the studio. That being said, the difference between a bad recording and a good one is usually a few hours. So what we're looking to make is a place where musicians can really have some creative freedom and relax a bit. Overtime, we've gotten alot of repeat clients. I think they really enjoy the place and the level of work we put into every project.

Your site makes it clear that your goal with each band is to work to the sound and feel that they're looking for. Do you find it easy to direct your own creativity in the directions a particular artist wants, or is it something that you had to work at learning how to do?

We have pretty eclectic taste in music and being able to appreciate all different sorts of music allows us to really feel out the style that people are trying to go for. There is alot of studios out there which will change your sound and try to mold you into what their studio "sound" is. We try and be as objective as possible in order to make our clients as happy as possible.

Tell me about how Strong Arm Studios got started; why you decided to go into this aspect of music.

Sometimes, endings can lead to beginnings. Our good friend Pat died two years ago, it was a pretty awful times and that's when Matt and I decided that it was about time we do something positive to help out people and to positively change the scene. It's really about being on the other side of the glass and just being helpful.

People talk all the time about how much the music industry's going through such massive changes. How do you think that the recording and production aspect of music has changed, if at all?

Well before I think it was harder to get yourself out there. Now you can record affordably, and get yourself up on a global marketplace in weeks, reaching millions of potential people. It seems like smaller bands now have a shot at being able to do great things, which is always awesome. Technology and the Internet has really leveled the playing field and I think it'll help make more great music.

Do you think your background as a drummer has affected the way Strong Arm Studio is run? If so, in what ways?

I can personally say that Matt has such a great ear when it comes to drum sounds and technique. Watching him work is always great. Drums are the hardest thing to record in a studio, everything else is pretty simple when you break it down, but drums are sonically complex. You gotta think your getting 8 to 12 microphones all picking up the same performance from different vantage points and to be able to work them all into one cohesive audio image is a herculean feat. But Matt knows a good drum sound and can often catch things that 99 percent of other people would have missed. So in terms of the way the studio is run, he definitely handles all of the drum mixing and editing.

Do you know many people now involved in the production side who used to be musicians, or have they usually come to it from a different set of experiences?

There's alot of people who were never musicians who do production and I think they have a different set of skills and an objective perspective when it comes to decisions. Musicians, as producers, I feel tend to put musicians first and really try to make them happy. I can also say that it is often easier to communicate when your speaking the same language.

Is there anything else you'd like me to ask about? Any bands you'd especially like to mention?

In November of last year, we became partners in a small indie label Refugee Records, which is awesome and we're psyched to really start signing bands and building up a name for ourselves. Also, we began a publishing company called Sound Conspiracy publishing. Other than that look out for Matt's first CD coming out in the fall.

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