Mercurial Arts + Sciences
Hello—I'm Brett Hughes, I run a versatile project studio in Vermont, writing, producing/recording and performing full-time (Americana/Bluegrass and Swamp-Rock) with many of the best players around. I do album and commercial work, and occasionally tour as a side man. Hell, I'm also an Art Director/Graphic Designer (Vanity Fair, Phish '99-'01!)
I'm available for:
•arranging and organizing local session players for remote recording
•guitar and vocals/voiceover recording
•commercial soundtrack and jingle-writing/producing projects
•there's a tremendously talented community of musicians and singers to draw from here in the Burlington,
VT area, available for sessions to record instruments and vocals
Let me know what your project needs are, and we'll work together to create killer tracks for your music!
Send me an email through 'Contact' button above and I'll get back to you asap.
Interview with Mercurial Arts + Sciences
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: The Surprise Me Mr. Davis album marked a turning point for me several years ago—I engineered and recorded some of my very favorite players, Brad and Andrew Barr almost by accident, because band member/singer and songwriter Nathan Moore was having some trouble getting into Canada… I was recommended for what was to be a demo project, and it eventually was released. I learned more in 7 days with them than I had in the 14 years running up to the project—although I came to realize I had learned a great deal to prepare for the session.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I just finished a trio of songs for 3 TV ads for a local Credit Union, and have an album project with Duke Aeroplane from New Orleans and VT.
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: I was guided here by Sarah Clanton from Nashville—we just played a show together!
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Analog signal path in for the sound, Digital recording for the ease of use. I don't have the time to learn how to calibrate and maintain a fussy tape machine, and in this day and age we largely offer our music digitally.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: To be fully present and engaged in making music
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Collaboratively arriving at a solution that is better than what we'd hoped for.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: "When can we start?" —"what's your schedule?"
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: That it is some secret-handshake, arcane process that has to take forever and cost an arm and a leg.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: What do you hear in your head?
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Let's make some great music—I love to collaborate to build great songs.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: I assume most desert islands have no power, I'd take the Circle Strings acoustic, a stand-up bass, a mandolin, a snare drum with brushes and my sweetheart to play for. The songs are what's important, not the gear.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I started playing in a band when I was 21—it's been awhile. I learned to record on my buddy Mike Gordon's great studio gear, which was moved into my big loft space for about a year in 2000-2001, then started putting together my own stuff when he set up a new place, and just keep at it.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I'm a swampy-tonk guy.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Emmylou Harris. She's the queen. T-Bone Burnett. Buddy Miller. Guthrie Trapp. Paul Franklin and Vince Gill.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Get the sound on your instrument dialed in, find the place it sounds best to your ear, and put a microphone there. Hit "record" and play great.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: As a songwriter, I'm now pigeonholed as an "Americana" guy— old-school Country, Bluegrass, swampy Blues/Rock, singer-songwriter stuff. As a sound-for-picture "composer," I lean more toward the 60's Italian soundtrack school, especially Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Solving the riddles we're presented with when we take on the composing and recording process!
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: My strong suit is in hearing a song's creative potential—imagining possible arrangements, re-working any awkward turns of phrase, moving conflicting sonic information out of the way, and leaving space for the song to tell its own story.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: I like to work pretty fast and not fuss too much—to me, the most important part of the sound is playing well, with feeling and intention, and coming up with great parts that fit together, musically and sonically. The studio loves its happy accidents, too—when you stumble on a great "mistake," always make the most of it! I love collaborating and co-writing, and my relationships with the incredible local musicians are what get me going in the morning and inspire me every day. I love expanding the circle of musicians I am profoundly privileged to work with!
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: I have a modest ProTools system, with 8 channels of solid mic pres: 2 Vintech x73s (Neve 1073 clone), and A Red series Focusrite (2 channel) and an ISA 428 (4 channel). My trusty Universal Audio 1172-2 channel limiter imparts an absolutely classic sound for tracking drums, bass, vocals etc. I have a variety of mics, notably a Soundelux ELUX 251 and a pair of Michael Joly modded small capsule condenser retro-fits on very quiet Røde bodies. I have Lundhal-transformer Cascade Vin-Jet ribbon mics and a stereo ribbon, a bomb-proof Shure SM-7B for voiceovers/bass cabs/isolated vox, etc. A GT model 1 tube condenser, and a really tight Advanced Audio U47 FET clone that gets a workout—it sounds really great on a range of sources. Other standard mics—AT/Shure 57, Beta 58, Beta 53/AKG dynamic/EV/Blue Cardinal. Waves and SoundToys Plug-ins. I have a lot of instruments around—my 1967 Gretsch Tennessean ends up on a lot of recordings, as do my custom Creston Electric tele-style guitars, a 1971 Martin D-18 and a locally-made Circle strings Parlor that is astounding, there's an old Kay and a cheap classical guitar that records really well. I have an Imperial Deluxe built for me by the amazing Bill Rasch, and Fender Vibrolux, Deluxe and Super Reverb (1968) amps. There's a Jazz bass and a Gretsch baritone, Hammond M1, and great Farfisa that needs work before it returns to active duty…
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: There are a few records that hold up for me to this day: Leon Russell's Carney—because every song is arranged to tell a story and bring it to life, The Everly Brothers Gone, Gone, Gone album, and most recently, The Secret Sisters album—T-Bone Burnett seems incapable of doing wrong in the studio, and it is a masterfully written, performed and produced whole. I love Buddy Miller's writing, singing, musicianship and production sensibility, and if I could play like anyone, it would likely be Scotty Anderson, who no one seems to have ever heard of—check him out!
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I'm primarily a songwriter, and I crank 'em out up here in VT—I always seem to have a backlog of songs to work on and finish up, then I start on a new one… A few years ago, I found myself writing a lot of music for theater productions, which then evolved into some soundtrack and commercial projects. I've always loved the music scored for films—especially Nino Rota's Fellini soundtracks and Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western stuff. As a producer/engineer, I've done some remarkably ambitious album projects—I'm particularly proud of the Surprise Me Mr. Davis record, that features the incredible Barr brothers. Over the last 3 years, I've worked on an album project with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello—hopefully he'll decide it is finished before long so the world can hear it! My studio ethos is to utilize your tools in a straight-forward, hit-record-and-track-great-players process. I use ProTools in a non-geeking-out way—I don't want to get bogged down in being more of a computer tech than I do a musician. Use a professional signal path and make great music. To me, the song is king, and everything you do should serve the song!