By Rebecca Ragain
For the Hollywood Star, June 2010
Pat Kearns sits in the control room of his Northeast Portland recording studio, PermaPress Recording. He’s just back from a 16-day tour with his band Blue Skies for Black Hearts, and it’s clear from the repeated ringing of his phone that he’s been missed. First, a musician/client wants to know when to drop off some materials; next, it’s someone from a record-pressing plant needing to ask him a question.
Kearns is not stressed by the buzz of activity; rather, he seems energized by it — a sign of his experience, perhaps. Kearns has been in the business of music recording since 1997, when he opened a small studio at age 26. In 2003, he produced an album for a Portland band called The Exploding Hearts. That album, Guitar Romantic, has since become a cult classic.
In 2007, Kearns moved the studio to its current location at 2833 N.E. Sandy Blvd., where he shares a building with Centaur Guitar. Kearns loves being neighbors with the guitar shop: “The fact that the store is so integrated within the local community, it’s almost like a clubhouse in a lot of ways, so having the people around like that is just a really good feeling of safety, community, support.”
About half of Kearns’ clients are based in Portland, although he has clients from all over the country and beyond; the Lovvers, a London-based band, traveled to Portland specifically to record with Kearns.
Local musician Devin Jorgensen says that Kearns is one of Portland’s best sound engineers/producers. “I really trust his ability in the studio, so I don’t have to think about what we’re doing (in terms of recording), because he’s already done that groundwork for me,” says Jorgensen, who worked with Kearns several years ago and then again recently to record a new album for Jorgensen’s trio Welcome Home Walker.
“He’s got a really good ear,” says Portland-based solo artist Patrick Buckley, who recently recorded two albums with Kearns and is planning a third. “He was actually a pretty strong influence on the way that (first) album ended up sounding, just the way the vocals were recorded — very nuanced — he has a knack for that,” Buckley adds.
Kearns also is respected for his ability to be helpful without being heavy-handed. “He’s really good at working with you collaboratively without stepping on your toes,” says Jorgensen.
“(Kearns) was not trying, in our case, to over-manage the process, but if we had a question, he was ready with a pretty good and detailed answer,” says Chris Santella, Northeast Portland resident and member of the band Catch & Release, which recorded its first album in late 2009. A group of friends with day jobs and families, the members of Catch & Release weren’t looking for a technically elaborate album or to hit the big time, but rather to “capture this moment in time as to what we’re sounding like,” says Santella.
Kearns quickly understood that. Santella says, “I think he can sense pretty quickly what your skill level is and how exacting you feel the need to be.”
Not only does Kearns offer his clients creative and technical expertise, but he also nudges them along in other ways. For example, Kearns suggested that Catch & Release has the potential to become “more than a garage band that plays the family barbecues and nothing else,” as Santella put it, and offered concrete advice about how the band might move to the next level.
Although Kearns has business acumen, experience, and a natural talent for sound engineering, his best professional characteristic may be his passion for all kinds of music and musicians. Experienced or new musicians, acoustic-guitar soloists or punk bands, Kearns seems equally excited about and for all of his clients.
“I do this job and I make things that artists and fans love, but it’s the friendships that come out of it that are some of the most rewarding things,” says Kearns.
For more information: PermaPress Recording, 2833 N.E. Sandy Blvd., behind Centaur Guitar.