At The Moontower, it’s not the vintage gear that Aaron Lepley and Damon Dougherty can’t work without (though they’ve acquired an abundance of it in more than two decades of playing and recording together), nor the production software (though Logic Pro is a requirement of virtually any Mac-functional home studio). According to Lepley, the most essential component is each other: “Whether four-track, reel-to-reel, eight-track, digital — whatever technologies we’ve had, we’ve always created music together.”
“We complement each other,” Dougherty adds. Being intimately familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses doesn’t hurt. “You never know what another working relationship will be like and I can never imagine one being as good. We’ve put so many years into this thing, been in so many different projects, and we’ve never had a fist fight. It’s the least stressful, most fun way to work.”
Their first official home studio was “The Romper Room,” a classroom-size space formerly used as a daycare center and attached to the Seminole Heights house they shared during college and where they remained for five years. “That’s where we recorded the second [November] Foxtrot [Whiskey] record,” Leply said. The Moontower is based in Seminole Heights, too, at the abode Lepley shares with wife Kim Stein-Lepley, who, together with Dougherty, make up post-punk/no disco/psych-groove outfit Funny Bunny. “It’s a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s line in Dazed and Confused about a ‘party at the Moon Tower.’ My friends and I referred to my house/porch as such because the party would always end up over here.”
They’ve recorded all of their material here, as well as material for Fowler’s Bluff, Giggle Giver and Loins, among others. The dining room has been repurposed into a live space used for practicing and recording, centered around an impressive set of drums flanked by amps, bass and guitars on scattered stands, and vibes pushed up against one wall. Tall, vinyl-packed bookcases, glowing flamingo lights and a shimmering disco ball add festive ambience.
The “snake” — a cable for multiple microphone inputs — runs to the control room (a bedroom transformed into a recording suite) and records everything they play. The neatly organized space houses an impressive collection of vintage keys and other eclectic sound-making devices, along with the expected computer rig for mixing and mastering.
The most obvious difference between home recording, then and now, is technology, and the convenience it affords during the mixing phase. “There was no saving; it was basically do or die,” Dougherty explains. “Mixing is way different now. Even if we’re practicing, we can just roll the tape and it’s not lost; and if it was performed well enough, we can use it.” They can also trade mixes by email and if necessary, by phone. “That element is huge. The communication process makes it much easier.”
Damon’s experience working sound professionally has also given him a lot of on-the-job training. “It made all the technical stuff fall into place.”
A home studio has its pros and cons. It doesn’t cost anything extra; they have the gear, software, and unlimited time to work on a recording. But not having a fixed schedule means they tend to put recording on the back burner in favor of more pressing daily concerns. Which means getting the music finished and out can be an extended process. “We’re all so busy and it’s not our job to record; we all kind of wish it was, so we could spend as much time as we want,” Dougherty laughs. “But we’re hard-pressed to get together once a week.”
And even though he says the new Funny Bunny EP is the best recording they’ve ever done, “At the very end, I can’t help but think that, despite the fact that we hear better than we ever did and our abilities are so much better, it doesn’t sound like it would sound if we had done it with more expensive equipment. It’s never gonna get to this million-dollar sound. Then again, we only spent tens of thousands of dollars.”