After Man Overboard made the decision to go on a hiatus back in 2016 Nik Bruzzese was left with some empty space to fill. Having your sole venture and commitment removed can leave a person searching for some direction. But for Bruzzese recording and mixing is a passion he has felt a strong connection to, way before Man Overboard even had their first band practice. “I come from a family of musicians, all of whom are drummers. I was playing drums in a band when I was young and we had nowhere to record. My friend’s dad had a four-track and we recorded an EP on it in 1999. In the year 2000, I brought a recorder and I was mixing in my basement and from then on I stayed with it and stayed involved” showing Nik was no newcomer to the mixing world when beginning with the Lumberyard recording studio in 2016 and had been a committed producer in his early years.
But being business partners with someone doesn’t come out of the blue. Nik recalls how he met his business partner Ace Enders of The Early November many years ago. “I went to school with Sergio and Jeff from The Early November. I’m from Williamstown and its around 30 minutes from the studio in Hammonton. Ace was born and raised here and still lives here. I met Ace from the local scene and having mutual friends. But we never really spoke too much. But when we were both on Warped tour and Ace and I got pretty close. He told me about the studio he was running and said to me how he wanted him and me to run it together. At the time I wanted to but couldn’t due to Man Overboard being on tour for eight months every year. So when I was at home the last thing I wanted to do was go to the studio, my priority was relaxing. Then fast forward to when Man Overboard went on hiatus I called Ace and told him I was ready to make the move and we got the ball rolling with the studio”. Bruzzese and Enders have been churning out releases for four years now and show no signs of slowing down. Bringing to life all the best new bands from the states while also producing their friends and their own music to keep the fire burning in the underground alternative scene. They have taken the reigns themselves to bring the music they love to life and provide their knowledge where it is needed while also working their dream day job.
Ironically, Man Overboard first crossed paths when Burzzese was given the task of producing a release for the other member’s past band. A recording studio was how the pop-punk hero’s met, showing being behind the desk allowed Bruzzese to show his talents many years ago and when he combined his musical expertise with the gentlemen who stepped in to work with him that day, the result was Man Overboard. Bruzzese casts his mind back. “Everyone in Man Overboard was in a band called The Front Page and I recorded that band. I met Wayne before that when I recorded his old band called “Cash In” and that’s how we really all met. I knew I loved doing it and wanted a bigger facility in my later life to host bands that were the size of Man Overboard one day”. Bruzzese states how he knew he found his calling in life from an early age and being able to do what he did to the bands that the other members of Man Overboard were in over a decade ago, is a service he wanted to provide on a regular basis to bands who were really seeing a substantial surge of momentum in their career, bands just starting out and bands who were going to make the billboard top 40. The Lumberyard studio is for everyone and always will be, something Burzzese knew a long time ago.
The studio is located in Enders and Bruzzeses’ home state of New Jersey. “We are on the main street in Hammonton, this is an awesome town” comments Bruzese as he reveals how the studio is in a prime location and part of a thriving community. The co-owners, in their respective bands, have worked with some renowned producers during their recording careers. This taught them the skills of how to run their own facility and provide the bands that enter with an experience they never will forget. “Getting to work with Will Yip, Bill Stevenson, Jason Livermore, and Jesse Cannon means I got to learn from the best in the business. Spending a month or so with them meant I got to learn so much” reflects Bruzzese.
But mixing and mastering are not learned overnight. Everyone who works behind a desk will have a different answer to how they obtained their skill set. “It all depends on the person. It takes me doing it myself and failing at it to master it. I don’t ever downplay school because everyone learns differently. There are no rules with recording so figure out your own way to approach everything. It is like an artist when they say how they make their art. So if a band likes how producers work sounds they should use them to help them make their art. A lot of Man Overboard tricks stay with me when I’m recording other bands that are in the same world. For the Casa Loma music, I do it for sanity so I don’t care what it sounds like to anybody but myself. The recording on the EP is all a one-take approach. Everything was played in one full take and nothing was punched in afterward. I almost left the rough edges in there” showing how Bruzzese has learned how to fluctuate his abilities and provide the appropriate ethic to a release. As well as how he took time himself to practice his passion and use the time spent in those huge studios as a younger man to absorb information to know how to make his own work the best it can be.
“When a band comes in that wants to make it, go on tour and take a certain direction, we do it till its right. The studio now between Man Overboard, The Early November, Casa Loma, and Aaron West just to name a few means we are so versatile and I love the fact we are capable and have done so many different genres. It’s all a labor of love. We have even done heavier, doom and sludge projects. Projects even where the budgets haven’t been huge but I do the projects because I know they will be fantastic and to learn new skills, it’s always worth taking a chance” comments Bruzzese showing that although he comes from a punk based background the abilities and boundaries of what the Lumberyard is capable of crafting is endless and the result is music that has pushed to its fullest potential.
But once you make this line of work your profession, an individual is left with the tough question of what is their service and input worth? “It is difficult for any business to figure out what their worth is, but for us its a very moving scale. When The Wonder Years recorded here obviously we knew the amount of work that was going to be needed for the record and its a different amount of money compared to when a local band comes in here. I’m all about helping the band as much as possible. If they have more success, then the studio has more success. One hand washes the other, always. If a band is really trying and working to their limits I’m going to do everything I can to help you to not break the bank to get here’.
Earning a reputation is also a humble way for a business to grow. Something the Lumberyard has been prided themselves in, cementing a positive and unique experience for each musician that walks in the door. Bruzzese explains why the studio has been thriving in the past four years. “The love we give the songs is special. We pride ourselves on bands coming here with literally a voice memo of a melody or beat in their head and taking it and creating a whole song out of it. I want the record to go out and everyone to love it and see that Nik Bruzese was behind it. We push these bands as well online in every day, the Lumberyard Instagram is literally turning in to fans of music discovering new listening material and that is awesome” showing how Bruzzese can take a raw idea and transform it in to fully grown and fledged piece of art and push it in the specific most successful direction it can be.
But this process is not a simple one. There comes a time where Bruzzese must add his input to a song that is a band’s pride and joy. Adding this creative criticism can not be light work explains Bruzzese. “It’s incredibly sensitive approaching that situation and everybody is always different. For me, a big part of recording is the whole vibe, and getting the four or five members to be cohesive and work as a unit. It is tough to show somebody your song and they tell you how each section could be improved especially when the band loves the track. But I pride myself on being able to bring everybody down to a certain level, on the same page and make the song the best it can be with all the egos being thrown out the window. I grew up in a sarcastic Italian family so I’m really good at breaking the ice. Sometimes when a band is in the studio it is the first they are being honest with each other. Every song has to put the listener in a great place or a bad place even. The music has to take people somewhere. I like to think of myself as the buffer between the band and the people they are trying to reach. There is so much music these days, every band has to have their own unique standout element and it’s my job to find what that is and pull it out. We build the band’s vision at our studio. The band trusting you is key”
Bruzzese went to further explain the technical side of his operation and exactly what equipment and gear are used to track the record and the acoustics of the room. “The room plays a huge part and I’m always experimenting with defusers and bass traps for example. Just the other day I buried a mic the closet to see what else we could get out of the room. Tuning drums and watching the drummer play and how they hit the drums depends on the mic placement, which is one of the biggest factors to achieving the most you can out of the room which goes hand in hand as having the first overall sound is so important. Experimentation is also a huge part, like I said the other day I put a microphone in a closet and it sounded amazing, I couldn’t believe it worked and it’s always fun trying new methods out” showing how his creative personality is portrayed in the records. Nik Bruzzese knows how he can truly make a mark when behind the scenes on an album.
Bruzzese further explains his software and hardware preferences “I have only used Pro Tools since I opened this place. I used a program called Sonar until then, but Pro Tools is the industry standard. When I’m sent files to mix everything is in Pro Tools so it makes life easier using it. I was very nervous to go over though but once I got my head around things I realized how much of an awesome programme it was. We use a 48 channel Sony hardware board and use our hardware Compressors as mix templates. We use a lot of the WAVE Plugins and Universal Audio plugins also. We just started using Sonar Works in both of our control rooms so everything is nice and flat. It is a great programme, you can pick different speakers to emulate and I love it. We use V mood headphones a lot, we just picked up the mixing model that they just released. I’m always referencing because it is essential and so overlooked. I used to get so into the mix and tell myself ‘I know what I’m doing, this sounds good’ and then reference and it became clear that referencing is a vital part of mixing”
The lumberyard recording studio is a prominent feature of Hammonton highstreet that is making sure musical creations are taken to their highest potential and reach their maximum audience. It is an undertaking by two co-owners who will always have a love affair with music and art. Their presence will always be known in one way or another. Nik Bruzzese has found a home and a sustainable calling to apply his knowledge and balance life as a family man. He is a powerful provider to bands of all sizes and genres. The lumberyard studio is here to stay, so pay attention to whom enters and leaves their premises, because they might just be the next big thing.
Article by Rob Kent
Nik recommends –
Aarron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance
The Wonder Years – Burst and Decay (Volume 2)
Casa loma – This is Coping
The Insides – World Goes Round//Nightmare
Small Words – Good Day, Bad Me
The Bronze Age – Help Centre