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An In-Depth Look into the Growing World of Mammoth Recording Studio: 'The Roy G Biv Sessions'

(EDITOR’S NOTE —Nearly every week, 1120 Press runs a story featuring an artist speaking favorably of their experience at Mammoth Recording Studio. That owners Mike Santillo and Justin Smith — studio manager and head engineer, respectively — have created such a comfortable and dynamic environment at their Moore Street location in Buffalo is, perhaps, not entirely surprising. Musicians themselves and former bandmates in the well-known indie outfit, The Tins, Santillo and Smith are intimately familiar with the music-making process. In fact, their depth of experience has helped Mammoth Recording Studio evolve into one of Buffalo’s top studio choices among musicians. Santillo and Smith were generous enough with their time recently to speak with us. Please read our story below… Also, be sure to check out the music of Roy G Biv, which is featured in this story, HERE. — Photos by Matt Smith/1120 Press.)


Justin Smith, left, discusses the arrangement of a song with members of Roy G Big

Inside the vocal booth at Mammoth Recording Studio in Buffalo, bassist Evan Waterstrat is waiting to begin laying down scratch vocals.

His band, the Lewiston-based Roy G Biv, is in the studio recording songs for its two forthcoming EPs — the first of which is expected for release this summer — and this particular day’s session is devoted to drum tracking.

“We’ve had a couple of friends record here,” Waterstrat said of the band’s decision to record at Mammoth. “I’ve recorded here too with the artist Marina Laurendi. The vibe of this place is awesome, and Justin is so excellent working with bands. The sound you get here is great, and in a city like Buffalo, it’s very affordable. There’s just a really nice atmosphere that’s been created here.”

Roy G Biv — which besides Waterstrat includes Tyler ‘Smidge’ Midgley on drums, Sean

Thurman on guitar and keyboardist Mike Thompson (who was not present during 1120’s visit) — has often been categorized as a ‘jam band.’ But Waterstrat said “we’d rather think of ourselves more of as a rock band that jams. We’ve almost made up our own name in terms of genre, which we call ‘post-jam.’ Jam bands have existed before and now we’re coming in and putting our own flavor on it. We’ve also been referred to as ‘indie funk.’ But I always just think of us as a rock band that likes to jam sometimes.”

A wildly talented and highly energetic band, Roy G Biv actually runs the spectrum of musical genres.

“On our first album, we were like: we want a funk song, we want a heavier song, we want a sing-a-long song. So, everything was kind of different and that leads into these next EPs, which aim to build off the last album. We want to tap into all these kinds of genres, but in a way that when you hear it you can still say, ‘I know that’s Roy G Biv.’”

And that’s another reason the band chose to record at Mammoth.

“Justin lets you follow your own direction instead of being like, ‘No, we’re going to do it this way.’ He will support what you’re doing and come up with a thousand ideas and be like, ‘Let’s take what you’re doing and try this.’ He always builds off your idea and makes it better.”


Roy G Biv spent three days recently recording at Mammoth, and during the course of the band's sessions, Smith (in the studio) and Santillo (over email) set aside some time to speak with 1120 Press about their approach to working with artists, as well as Mammoth’s evolution since the pair took the studio over eight years ago.


1120 PRESS: Mammoth is often mentioned in 1120 Press by artists we speak with who've recorded at the studio, and they always express how they really enjoyed their time working at the studio and its environment. Can you talk about your philosophy?


MIKE SANTILLO: I am so happy whenever I hear artists had a good experience at the studio. Our philosophy comes from years of writing, performing and recording music ourselves. Sometimes recording on our own, and sometimes recording at other studios before we started operating Mammoth. With that in mind, we come to the recording process as artists first. We know what we liked about our experiences recording with others, and what we didn't like. And without being too calculated about it, we have tried to create a space that we want to be in, a space where we feel comfortable and relaxed, because we know that the best work comes from being in a place where you feel at ease.


To sum up our approach, I think we just try to make the artists we work with comfortable and try to really understand what it is they want to accomplish and just kind of be a vessel to help them express what it is they want to express. Justin is very good at this as an engineer. He can facilitate all different styles of music recording without getting in the way, so to speak. He can adapt and go with the flow, and he really works to understand and shape the final result our artists are looking for. 


JUSTIN SMITH: I just try to put myself in their shoes because as a musician, I’ve recorded

in studios before and I know what it’s like as an artist. I know what I would want and how I would want my session to feel and go.

1120: How would you characterize the growth Mammoth has made over the last 8 years since you started?


MIKE: Mammoth used to be owned by Joe Orlando, and when he wasn't going to keep it going, Justin and I were in a position to try and continue to work out of the already built-out recording studio space. We had to take out a loan, and get all of our own equipment, but we had a space to work out of and that was a huge help to get started.


At first, we only had a few clients, here and there. We had people that used to work with Joe reach out to us, but a lot of what an artist looks for in a recording engineer is someone they trust, and have experience with, so it took some time to build those relationships. Now, we are steadily booked up, and over the years we have built these lasting relationships with clients. Some artists are on their third or fourth album with us, and it's so nice to have that familiarity going into sessions where you know it's going to be fun, and you already have rapport with the people you are working with.


And, we are still getting new inquiries all the time, and starting to build what we hope will be lasting relationships with them as well. I would say that slowly, over time the growth we see is consistency and familiarity with artists, kind of building up this creative force. The more work we do, the better we get, and the more friendships we build and there is just this community environment that exists around the sessions. We want to be here for these artists, and over the years, we've been able to really build up that support. 


JUSTIN: Word of mouth has certainly helped our growth, and we know a lot of people from playing in the music scene in Buffalo. Physically we’ve grown. This studio is bigger and we have more gear. But we have more experience too now in how to accommodate artists better, tracking and mixing bands. I think that’s very important. When we first started, I had a background in engineering and went to school for it, but I hadn’t really done many sessions. So, every session was a learning experience.

(Smith today estimates he has engineered roughly 800 sessions over the last eight years. And, he said, "I still find in every session that I learn something new.")

1120: Mammoth works with a very wide variety of artists, from national acts to local bands, and everything from indie to hardcore to hip-hop. When it comes to the studio, there is always talk about the comfort level an artist has working with a particular producer or engineer. But we’re wondering: how do you prepare on your end as an engineer so that you’re comfortable working with so many different artists from different genres?

JUSTIN: I try to find something interesting in it all. If it is a genre that I’m not familiar with, or that I haven’t maybe listened to, or at one point thought I wasn’t into, I try to find something about it — or something in it — that I can personally discover. That helps me to be engaged and ensure that I’m being attentive to the artist.


1120: In a lot of ways, you guys are at Ground Zero in terms of the Buffalo music scene. How would you characterize the scene from when you started Mammoth to now?


MIKE: I feel that it is always changing, re-shaping, and growing. There are new bands on the scene all the time, and there are venues that close, venues that open, booking positions that change hands and so the scene moves and changes, and is like this living organism. I am often impressed by the songwriting and performances of artists we work with. I want to say that the artistry just seems to get better as the years go on and as one of a handful of recording studios in the area, I feel that Mammoth has been able to help artists capture these moments and create a record that this all happened right here on the Buffalo scene. In my experience, the Buffalo music scene is not one thing. It's not centrally located and it is expansive as far as different styles of music and expression is concerned. I think it's just growing and that is exciting. New ideas are embraced, and there is room for so much more. 


JUSTIN: I feel like when I was 19, the 19-year-olds that I knew and was around, I don’t feel like they were as talented as the people I see today. Bands come in and they’re super young and I’m like ‘Holy shit, you guys are super good.’ I think young artists are exposed to so much more with social media and streaming.  There’s a lot more to listen to, a lot more to pull from and be influenced by. And that makes bands better honestly.


Moving forward, is there any particular future plans for the studio that you're excited about and that you might be able to share?


MS: Though it's already been a year-and-a-half since we built a brand new recording studio and moved locations to Moore Street, the move still feels very fresh. I would urge anyone who hasn't been to the new space that is familiar with the old one, to reach out and schedule a time to come by and get a quick tour. It's much bigger and brighter. In building a new space, Justin and I were able to create a studio the way we wanted to from start to finish. The future is now! We are excited to be active in the new studio. It's all still new and we are tweaking it constantly, improving the sound treatments, equipment and we are just really excited to have this creative space that can, and will, be endlessly improved toward creating a better vibe, being more comfortable, achieving better sound. I am excited for just that: constant improvement, and deeper grooves. Also, because our space is larger, we are interested in experimenting with hosting small performances and having the studio be available as an art space and DIY venue as well. So hopefully more of that is coming up!



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