Producer and engineer Rich Mouser began his career much as Les Paul did: by taking things apart to see how they worked. At 12 years old, his first piece of audio gear was a Sony reel-to-reel tape machine. He discovered that by removing the erase head, he could achieve something much like a multi-track recording. When he later found that friends would pay to be recorded, he realized he’d struck a rich vein. He now works primarily from The Mouse House, his Los Angeles home studio. Past clients include Chris Cornell, Dream Theater and Weezer.
His first taste of success came when he recorded Black Market Flowers’ demo after moving to L.A. from Colorado in 1993. It landed the band a deal with Relativity Records. “They went to do an album with [famed producer and musician] Butch Vig in Wisconsin,” Mouser recalls. “I thought that was the last I’d hear of them. But I got a call. They’d finished recording with Butch and realized they liked the demo we’d done better. They asked me to mix their album. That helped me advance from just doing demos. After that, I started meeting people and budgets got bigger.”
“The hardest thing to record is someone that’s not putting out much on their instrument,” the producer observes. “You’re only recording what somebody is throwing out to the microphone. You get the sound from the source first and then when you put a mic on it, you make sure you capture that. People retrigger and resample drums and they don’t put the time and care into making them sound good off the bat. I try to get character in the sound from the beginning. Getting drums to sound good is something that I’ve always worked hard at.”
Mouser regularly records to tape but doesn’t use it exclusively. Certainly, though, he nurtures a fondness for it. “When you erase something, it’s lost,” he explains. “If somebody says, ‘I can sing that line better,’ you know that when you hit the erase button, it’s gone forever. In Pro Tools, a guy can keep asking for more tracks and soon he’s got 15 takes. There’s not that worry of having to repeat what you’ve erased. That’s what I like about tape: the urgency. I have so much analog gear in my studio that I try to use that [rather than Pro Tools].”
Much of his work comes by word-of-mouth. He’s never advertised and he finds that coaxing a band into using him is a strategy that’s never borne fruit. “Feeler calls sometimes work,” he says. “But you can’t talk anybody into recording with you. When people find you and want you, they’ll do it. But I have found clients by overhearing people talking about music. I’d strike up a conversation and mention that I have a studio.”
Bands don’t always adapt well to the studio. Mouser shares one story. “I did a four-track demo with a band in two days,” he recalls. “They got a deal with MCA, and when it was time to cut the record, they wanted me to produce. The working title was The World’s Greatest Album. Suddenly a band that cut four songs in two days was scared of every little thing. They psyched themselves out. We had to recut vocals and at that point they’d been in the studio long enough they’d given up. Suddenly the singer was back to his old self. He wasn’t worried anymore and it worked out great.”
Mouser’s current and upcoming projects include albums with Farmikos (featuring former Ozzy and David Lee Roth guitarist Joe Holmes), supergroup Flying Colors and prog-rock outfit Spock’s Beard.
Contact The Mouse House Studio, themousehousestudio.com