October/November 2013

by Richard Thorne

Ex-pat Files: Aaron Nevezie

by Richard Thorne

Ex-pat Files: Aaron Nevezie

 Kiwi guitarist Aaron Nevezie first visited New York after playing LA, Vegas and Chicago with the Rodger Fox Big Band. When he and a bandmate nipped off to the Big Apple for three days his fate, or his future at least, was promptly sealed. He knew he had to return and has been living there for more than 15 years now, making him as much New Yorker as Aucklander, though he still manages to return home regularly, and loves having Kiwis use his busy Brooklyn recording studio.

“You go to New York and it’s THE city. It kind of eats you, ” Aaron Nevezie laughs. “After finishing school there and living there for a while it just felt like it was the only place to live. The whole world is over there in a way.”

Co-owner of the increasingly well-regarded Brooklyn recording studio known as The Bunker, Auckland-born Aaron is by now very much a New Yorker. Originally an apartment/studio/rehearsal space, The Bunker Studio has recently been relocated four blocks to a former sewing factory/sweatshop. It is now on the ground floor in the burgeoning Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg.

Aaron Nevezie Ex Pat nzm151Aaron and his studio partner are both skilled musicians and by-now diversely experienced recording engineers. When the phone rings, he says, it could be for a Romanian folk singer, a rock band or a well-known jazz trio – or something completely else.

“It’s in Brooklyn and there’s a kind of scene there, we get a lot of really great musicians of all styles coming through. That’s the other great thing, we can just hear music as music – not within genres. I love recording acoustic music, which is jazz or folk, but I also love working with bands as well, helping them sculpt their arrangements.””

Noteworthy clients have included The Black Keys, guitarist/bassist Charlie Hunter, jazz great Brad Meldhau’s new project Mehliana, Wayne Krantz, Tune-Yards, Questlove, Lettuce and Tama Waipara – who flew from Auckland to record his well-received recent sophomore album ‘Fill Up The Silence’ there. Aaron recorded, produced and mixed the album. The pair’s friendship goes back to 2003 when Waipara was himself living in NYC fresh out of music school, signed to a label called Obliqsound and starting to play live.

“He called me to play a show at the Knitting Factory and we immediately struck up a friendship. I played with Tama until he moved back to NZ. Just before he returned we recorded his ‘Leaving Paradise’ EP at the old Bunker Studio.””

Born in Pakuranga, Aaron Nevezie first started playing jazz guitar at Pakuranga College and subsequently went to Wellington to study at the then Wellington Polytechnic jazz school. Returning to Auckland he gigged around for a few years before signing up for a stint at New York’’s New School, which he describes as a progressive, free-thinking university with a jazz school. After four semesters there he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and has been living in New York pretty much since.

“The New School teaching model is of professionals mentoring, a lot of very well known jazz musicians are on staff and teach classes. The syllabus wasn’t very designed, like it would be in say Berkley. It was a great place to meet people.
“The music there [New York] is really exciting. There’s always great new players to play with and opportunities around the corner. I ended up helping someone recording student ensembles at the school. Got thrown in the deep end and enjoyed it. So I was doing that at the school and started recording people privately and making money.”

He kept on buying more and more gear until about 2005 when he and a friend, John Davis, realised that if they put all their gear together they’d have a decently-equipped studio. They had a great space available in a commercial-zoned residential building, so went for it.

The Bunker Studio started business in 160sq m of re-furbished space, with a Soundcraft Ghost console. A couple of years later they installed a 26-channel Auditronics 501 desk – originally custom-made for famous 1970s brother and sister duo The Carpenters. As more gear was gradually acquired it made sense to rebuild the space and start a dedicated studio.

“The original Bunker was used for about six years until we felt like we had outgrown that situation. We were so busy we were turning away some very desirable sessions and had developed a very steady clientele. Problems with neighbours, the building and proximity to the subway meant that to grow we had to find something bigger and that we could build from the ground up.”

After nine months of very hands on construction the new custom-designed studio was opened in November 2011. The Bunker has expanded to a 3000sq ft (280sq m) footprint. Its gear list has kept growing too, one notable addition being a re-furbished (ex-Sony, Canada) 40-channel SSL 4040E desk, installed in May this year. That went into the new Studio A, relegating their much-loved Auditronics desk to the B studio.

“We’’ve some well-known jazz guys – like Charlie Hunter was just in with a new project called Omaha Diner which I tracked live to two-track tape. That was a fun project. We’ve hosted a ton of NYC jazz including records for Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt, Steve Turre, Vijay Iyer, Wayne Krantz, Erik Friedlander, Ben Allison. The span of music that comes through the studio is very wide. Rock, pop, jazz, afrobeat, Balkan/gypsy music, Yiddish music, contemporary classical, a couple of toy piano records!”

Among name players and producers to have used The Bunker for production are original Living Colour bassist Muzz Skillings and James Iha, guitarist from The Smashing Pumpkins.

“Recently I’ve been working with Gary Katz who produced all the Steely Dan records. Other producers we’ve had in recently are Justin Gerrish (Vampire Weekend), Russ Titelman (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood), Justyn Pilbrow (the Kiwi), Dion Tucker (Harry Connick Jr, Duke Ellington Orchestra), Brad Williams (José James, Laura Izibor, Sasha Allen, Backstreet Boys, Chester Gregory).”

With the enhanced studio offerings the rates are now about US$850/day for studio A and US$500/day with engineer for B. Aaron’s own recording credits include albums/tracks for Black Taxi, Kevin Calaba, Small Multiples, White Prism, Now Vs Now, The City and Horses, Tama Waipara, Esther Stephens, The Means, Fredericks Brown, Orly and Strip Darling. Plus mixing for Chris Garneau, Aisha Eustache and Andrew Keoghan.

“The studio and my career have grown so much over the last couple of years. The studio is now one of the busiest in NYC and I’ve gotten to engineer records with some pretty exceptional people. It’s exciting to work with some of the top musicians in their genre. I’m also looking forward to developing relationships with more NZ artists and either work with them here or from New York.”

Alongside all that are his own guitar and bass playing, touring and recording endeavours.

“It’s definitely a balancing act time-wise, but it’s been great as a player ‘cos I get to play all the time while producing and recording. When I have time I play with a few local projects in NYC as touring is tough to get away for these days. I play guitar with a group called White Prism led by an Australian singer. I also produced an EP for her this year. Other projects I’m involved with are a group I play bass with, called Small Multiples, and a singer/songwriter called Chris Lind.
“The playing thing has taken a backseat to producing, mixing and engineering. While I end up playing on many of the albums I produce, I don’t have much time to play live these days. Producing records is so fulfilling creatively and is keeping me so busy I don’t feel the need for my own projects at the moment.”