During 2014, more and more professional recording studios made an impression around the Mobile Bay area. Day 6 studio off Cottage Hill Road provides a clean, spacious and modern recording space. The University of Mobile dedicated its new Fisher-Brewer Recording Studio in February. Midtown’s Ellinor Place Recording Studio has a little bit of everything. A West Coast transplant is launching Burning City Frontiers from his Mobile County farm. The City Council wrangled with Blue Magic Studio on Western Drive. And separately, several bands are making live recordings at local venues.
At the same time, the current DIY home studio craze has been quite alluring, with a promise of inexpensive quality recordings in a comfortable environment. Lately, one local studio has been providing a stellar combination of these two options.
Studio H2O has quickly developed a reputation for providing a professional recording setting with all the comforts of home. Notably, Studio H2O is the home of local guitar legend Rick Hirsch of Wet Willie. Nestled under the oaks and Spanish moss along Dog River, Hirsch has taken what he formerly considered a hobby and evolved it into something bigger.
“I never intended the studio to be a public studio,” Hirsch said. “I intended it for doing projects for myself and friends and songwriter projects. Then, it started to slowly become this other thing through word of mouth.”
The story of Studio H2O begins decades ago. Growing up in Mobile, Hirsch developed a love affair with Dog River. He frequented its banks and spent much of his time waterskiing there. Even back then, he noticed an impressive house on the shore and always thought it was a very “cool place.” When he decided to move back to the Azalea City, Hirsch found that it was for sale so he purchased it. Turns out, high ceilings, wood-panel walls and an expansive layout made the house an ideal environment for a studio.
“It was like this,” Hirsch explained. “It was perfect for the studio thing, and it’s also comfortable to live in. It has two wings. That upper area is basically where I live. They’re all isolation rooms and down below is the control room.”
Studio H2O became a haven for Hirsch to exercise the knowledge he had gained working in studios in the past. His experience behind the console began in Wet Willie’s Macon, Georgia days, when Hirsch admits the concepts of sound engineering and producing were quite intimidating. With the exception of a couple of sessions in Mobile, he had no previous knowledge of the technical side of studio work.
Eventually, Capricorn (Wet Willie’s label) hired producer Eddie Offord, who was fresh from working consoles in London. Offord’s reputation was built upon his work with a long list of impressive bands that include Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Dixie Dregs and 311. Watching Offord work, Hirsch became fascinated with the role of the engineer/producer.
Along Offord, Hirsch also names Tom Dowd as one of his major muses in the studio. Dowd was a huge name in the music industry. He was best known for working with icons such as Eric Clapton, Ray Charles and John Coltrane.
In the mid-‘70s, the future of Wet Willie was unknown. During a time of limbo, Hirsch made his way to Los Angeles to look for work but his desire to become an engineer/producer stalled as he began to tour with several different musical acts.
Then, in 1987, Hirsch finally decided to leave his touring career behind and open his own studio. However, it was a far cry from his previous projects.
“It was basically a jingle type set-up,” said Hirsch. “I started doing jingles for everything from an HMO to a used car lot. I met some producers from NBC, who were doing the sports segments. I started getting into that area of music, if you call it that. I was writing some of the most unmemorable things that I could possibly write.”
While his initial projects were not ideal, Hirsch’s time spent in the studio allowed him to hone his mixing and technical skills. With his 16-track console, he got hands-on experience with musicians in the studio. The numerous studios around Los Angeles also gave him the opportunity to borrow gear. But 10 years ago, Dog River called Hirsch back home to Mobile. After purchasing his dream house, he set to work building Studio H2O. While Studio H2O is based in Mobile, Hirsch still maintains his West Coast studio.
“I still have my place in Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s where I mix. As far as mixing goes, it’s a familiarity thing with your room and monitors and set-up. You end up relying on it. It’s a different ballgame than the actual recording process.”
Since opening Studio H2O publicly, Hirsch has hosted a variety of musical acts from around the globe. German guitarist Tom Riepl has the honor of being the studio’s first project. France’s Sirius Plan also laid down tracks with Hirsch. As far as locals go, Studio H2O has become popular. Eric Erdman recorded his album “My Brother’s Keepers” with Hirsch. Deluxe Trio recorded their debut at Studio H2O, and notables such as Beverly Jo Scott have retreated to Dog River to record.
Recently, Hirsch has been working with both Ryan Balthrop and Lisa Zanghi respectively on their upcoming albums. Ultimately, Hirsch thinks that not only the studio but also the environment will be attractive to musicians looking to record. Studio H2O provides what Hirsch calls “a sanctuary” from the outside world with its routines and problems. This productive vibe is amplified by the fact that he has room to provide lodging for out-of-town clients. With all these factors in mind, Hirsch hopes that word of Studio H2O spreads and that artists wishing to record fill his schedule.
“I hope it keeps growing, because it’s what I love to do,” said Hirsch. “I’ve shifted gears as a guitar/performer person. At my age, you feel funny getting on stage and playing rock ‘n’ roll all the time. I enjoy the role of producer in helping artists develop.”