We've Got the Power
Driving on Powerline Road through northern Pompano Beach, it's hard to imagine that anything remotely artistic exists amid the scores of retail buildings and nondescript warehouses (and, of course, that beautiful mountain of a landfill). But if you venture to the last warehouse on 32nd Street and enter Bay 7 -- home of Power Station Recording Studio -- you'll forget about the surrounding industrial wasteland.
It's not just the gold records that garnish the walls of the mixing room, nor the impressive display of recording equipment. The place was designed by no less a studio maven than Tony Bongiovi, a music industry veteran and producer of more hit singles than Pete Rose, from Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon" to the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer." Everything in the studio was designed to serve a specific function, from the space between walls to the smooth wooden floors. Picture your average warehouse studio -- with its foam-covered drywall and cheaply carpeted floors -- and give it a $25,000 makeover. Power Station looks like something you'd see on Trading Spaces, only tailored to musicians. That's due in no small part to the DIY construction effort of Rob Roy, studio owner and director of operations for Bongiovi Entertainment. Roy funded and built the studio himself nearly two years ago, adding $20,000 worth of equipment as well -- to hell with creditors.
"Building a good studio is not just finding the right dimensions," Roy says, "but also the right materials and where things are placed."
And having the right architect like Bongiovi -- someone who knows engineering and has nearly four decades' worth of experience. You'd expect a guy with the producer's industry connections to be an obnoxious, big-shot producer, constantly dropping names and talking up a shitstorm of future projects. But not the 56-year-old, whose calm, plain-spoken demeanor betrays all the horror stories we've heard about record producers. Phil Spector he's not.
If you think the Power Station name sounds familiar, well, you'd be right; after cutting his teeth as a Motown engineer in the late '60s, Bongiovi moved over to New York City, where he opened the original Power Station a decade later (that facility is now Avatar Studios). Bongiovi's client list boasts names such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Bon Jovi (his second cousin), Van Morrison, the Ramones, the Temptations, Talking Heads, Kool and the Gang... you get the picture.
And check this out: The very microphones the big names used in NYC are in the Pompano Beach studio, meaning that bands who record here can say, with some legitimacy, "Dude, I shared a microphone with Joey Ramone" or "I swapped spit with Madonna."
You might be wondering (and with good reason) why an industry player like Bongiovi would move from the center of excitement to the center of retirement while he's still working. Bongiovi had been vacationing in South Florida for decades before realizing the region is rich in talent. And that it can be cultivated on the cheap. After hooking up with Avalon Studio in Port St. Lucie in the mid '90s -- Power Station's sister facility -- Bongiovi moved to Fort Lauderdale roughly six years ago.
But it was two years before that when Bongiovi first met Roy, who at the time was an equally ambitious musician and engineer working out of a small, shared warehouse in Delray Beach. As guitarist in the now-defunct metal band Blind Rage, Roy hoped that Bongiovi would help him get signed with a label. But it was Roy's engineer side that more impressed Bongiovi. "I heard through the grapevine that Tony was in town looking for a band to work with, so I wanted him to check out Blind Rage," the 29-year-old Roy recalls. "But he ended up being more interested in my recording skills and business sense. He agreed to visit my studio in Delray and eventually took me under his wing as an engineer."
While Roy's initial idea was to build a simple, preproduction studio, Bongiovi encouraged him to go all the way, loaning him the blueprints for the NYC Power Station. By the time Roy finished building the studio, he had a handful of bands waiting to record.
Although anyone with a balanced checkbook is welcome to record at Power Station (past bands have included locals like Two Story Double Wide, the Remnants, as well as my own band, Billy Boloby), only a handful of artists do so under the watchful eye and tuneful ear of Bongiovi. These include London-born Turkish dance vocalist Özzie, R&B act Deep Side, and rock bands Milbajac and Mindlikewater. This is the Bongiovi Entertainment family, so to speak, as label artists are paired together for writing sessions.
"When I worked at Motown, we had a very good creative situation," Bongiovi recalls, speaking of the collaborative, in-studio writing approach he has long championed. "I'm bringing that same technique down here, so everybody can contribute."
Joe Butera III can attest to that. As drummer for Mindlikewater -- and Power Station's chief engineer -- he knows what it's like to work for Bongiovi on two levels. "Professionally, he's invaluable as a mentor because his experience goes far beyond anyone you could meet in the industry," Butera says. "Tony's really good at eliminating the B.S. from a song. If there's something that doesn't need to be there, he takes it out."
When Broward County's Failsafe (now called Indium) signed up for the Music Video Challenge '04 contest in Miami, the band was given 30 days to write, record, and shoot a video for a song about sugar (and not just an Archies cover). "They came to me with a song, and I liked it, but it needed work," Roy says. "I told them that regardless of the recording, what's gonna win this thing is a well-written song." And sure enough, Roy delivered, not only recording and producing the song, "Sweeter Side," but helping with the creation process as well (Greendoor Productions did the video work). Failsafe took first place, earning a one-year publishing contract with Universal Music Publishing, for which the band is slated to record an EP. Once Universal fronts some dough, Failsafe will waste no time returning to Power Station.
"We've been to a lot of studios, and this was the best by far -- real laid back," vocalist Fernando Manitto says. "Rob knew exactly what we wanted, with the bass, the guitars... He brought out the best in us."
The place has international cachet. A BBC crew stopped by several months ago to interview Bongiovi for a documentary on Jimi Hendrix (Bongiovi is one of the few living producers to have worked on Hendrix's albums). And when Aerosmith was on tour last year, drummer Joey Kramer needed to do some prep work; he called Bongiovi and dropped by for a rehearsal.
Bongiovi is in the process of setting up permanent shop in Fort Lauderdale, potentially abandoning the Port St. Lucie and Pompano locations so the label can operate under one roof. While an exact location is yet to be chosen, "probably over the next year and a half, we're opening a full-scale production facility in Fort Lauderdale," Bongiovi says, noting that it will include a master studio, two smaller studios (each the size of the current facility), and six writing rooms/MIDI (digital recording) stations. "When the new Power Station is up and running, it'll compete with any studio in Florida. Easily," he says.
Bongiovi's goal isn't to show off accomplishments and gold stars. "The goal is to come up with hit songs," Roy says, "and we're here to provide bands with the means to do so. It's all about the songwriting. That's the number-one thing I've learned from Tony. The greatest production in the world won't make up for poor writing. It's about finding a good hook and developing it -- and using the production to bring out the hook."
With a little luck, Power Station will bolster South Florida's music scene so that local bands will stop moving to New York. "The raw sounds are very warm and nice," the Remnants' Dominic Sirianni says. "Roy is a monster engineer." Yes -- that's a good thing.
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