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Underground sound: An interview with Jason Hutto

Jason Hutto's studio

Jaime Lees

Jason Hutto is a details man. He notices, and appreciates, the tiniest things. Whether it’s an ornate button on a shirt, the quiet plinking of a music box, or just a friend’s new haircut, Hutto always notices.

It’s because of this personality trait that he’s one of the most coveted underground recording engineers in St. Louis. And I mean “underground” quite literally; Hutto records a range of bands in an analog studio he has built in his low-ceilinged South City basement. He is notoriously bad at self-promotion; this small business thrives on reputation and word of mouth only. Still, he seems to have no problem getting gigs, with scores of bands lined up to do business in his home studio.

Part of this reputation has been earned from his years as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. From Sexicolor to the Phonocaptors to Walkie Talkie USA, Hutto has fronted some of the best rock bands in town. His current band, Warm Jets USA, features Christopher Keith on bass and Evan Bequette on drums. And in addition to his own band, Hutto also lends his talents to local acts like Bunnygrunt, the Incurables and I’d'ven’t with Eric Hall.

Despite these many projects, Hutto always finds time to devote to the studio. His analog style of tracking hasn’t translated into a lack of clients or a compromise in quality. In fact, just the opposite seems to be true. It’s almost weird how he can capture such clean sounds in that dusty little basement of his, and many musicians seek him out for this special feature alone.

He recently wrapped a session with Sleepy Kitty, a local art and pop music duo. With Hutto’s help, drummer Evan Sult and guitarist/keyboardist Paige Brubeck’s layered Spector-esque tracks sound nothing short of magical.

I asked Brubeck to describe their time with him and she gave this glowing review:

“We really wanted to work with someone who could bring out a wide range of sounds, and who was interested in working with analog instruments. After talking with Jason about what we were going for, hearing his bands, and long conversations about other recordings we all liked, it seemed like a good match for us to work together. I feel like the limitation of not having a screen quickly became a freedom, in that it let Jason and us take a lot more chances and get more creative. Because of working in the linear format, a lot of the added sounds had to be done in real time, and we had to find ways to pull it off. Sleepy Kitty’s other gig is screenprinting, so there was a lot of talk about how similar recording sound analog and screenprinting layers of colors are. Jason is so open-minded and easy to work with in the recording process. He doesn’t have any of that ‘over it’ vibe that happens to a lot of people who have recorded music for a while.”

I met with Hutto a while back in his studio, where he played some recent recordings and we talked for hours about his process, views and assets. He was relaxed and quick to smile or laugh; it was immediately clear how he puts his clients at ease. Here is part of our conversation:

Jaime Lees: Will you tell me about your studio and recording methods?

Jason Hutto: It’s literally wires, string and duct tape. And I just keep piecing it back together. It’s really bizarre. Sometimes I’ll look at it and think, “Wow. This is ridiculous. Most people do this on a laptop.” What I do– it’s funny– but all the things that you need are still here. When Paige and Evan first came down here, Paige said, “It’s so nice to go into a studio and not see a computer screen.” And that was nice to hear. Because I’m not against all of that, I just don’t have it. But I still know how to make sounds.

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