Playing to a packed venue in downtown Kalamazoo, the indie rock band “Lasso”—featuring Andy Catlin ’09 on keyboards—finishes the final chords of its set to rousing applause. But before Catlin can catch his breath and greet his friends in the audience (including a contingent of Kalamazoo College alumni who are staples at his concerts) he jumps back onstage to perform with “The Go Rounds,” another popular Kalamazoo-area rock band.
Catlin has been writing, performing, and recording music in southwest Michigan for the better part of a decade. Lasso has released five full-length albums since its 2010 debut. It’s fifth, “Golden Lasso,” was released this spring.
In 2011, Catlin and a business partner, Ben Lau, established Double Phelix Recording Collective, a 2,500-sq. ft. recording studio and performance space located in the River’s Edge neighborhood on the eastern edge of downtown Kalamazoo. Musicians pay monthly dues for studio time to rehearse and record their own music. Most end up helping other musicians with their projects. Lasso and The Go Rounds are among a dozen music groups that currently belong to the Collective.
Double Phelix services include audio production, engineering, mixing and mastering; music and sound for film, TV, and radio; location recording; instrument repair and rental; and more.
Catlin books bands’ gigs, schedules studio time in Double Phelix’s 100-year old converted barn space (conveniently located near a bevy of downtown Kalamazoo coffee houses and brew pubs), and oversees every aspect of recording and production. A multi-instrumentalist, he often sits in as a session musician when needed, especially during the once-a-month evenings of music he organizes for member bands dubbed “Double Phelix Showcases.”
He also promotes the studio through the weekly release of an original song from a Double Phelix member band. With singles released via “Double Phelix Bandcamp” and other social media sites, the studio enjoys a consistent web presence.
Out of breath yet? Not Catlin. In addition to all the aforementioned, he helped launch a nonprofit organization that encourages school kids to make their own music.
During his time at K, Catlin took a partial-credit course in recording technology from part-time K music instructor and acclaimed Kalamazoo-based sound engineer John Stites.
“Although my focus was always more on the music than engineering, John became a huge advocate of me being able to play and produce,” says Catlin.
Instruments of Choice
Catlin remembers first being obsessed with music as a fifth-grader learning to play the clarinet—and falling asleep with it at night.
“It was all clarinet, all the time” he smiled.
He then became interested in the trombone, tuba, guitar, piano/keyboards, “and percussion instruments of all kinds.”
After his parents gave him a four-track cassette recorder for Christmas (he was 14), Catlin began “reading every book I could possibly find about recording.”
He also became interested in the stories behind popular music studios and the wider musical cultures from which they emerged, eventually basing certain aspects of Double Phelix’s business model on successful elements of the Motown experience in Detroit and Muscle Shoals in Alabama.
Catlin began making connections in the music industry during his senior year at K when he became full-time booking agent for the now defunct Kalamazoo music venue The Strutt, at the corner of Academy and W. Michigan (now home to Rupert’s brewpub and music club). Within two years Catlin had booked more than 700 acts and was central to the transformation of the small-time coffee house and bar into a venue that featured national touring acts.
“The Strutt was an incredible meeting place for Michigan musicians. I soon started to record, produce, and advocate on behalf of a wide body of musicians. This was the genesis of Double Phelix.”
Although the studio possesses industry standard digital recording capabilities, Catlin says “we are passionate about analog sound and vintage instruments.” Thus his instrument of choice many days is a Tascam ATR 6016 one-inch tape-recorder he purchased in 2012. It’s the premiere method for recording music by his other bands. In 2013, he used it to record nationally renowned bass player Dominic Davis, perhaps best recognized for his collaboration with “White Stripes” front man Jack White, named one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone.
Music in the Key of K
A person must possess an intense work ethic in order to juggle musician’s schedules, organize complex musical arrangements, oversee recording, mixing, and mastering efforts, and then market the final product.
Catlin said he found his at K.
“I think the K work ethic seeped into how I approach music,” said the Grand Rapids native who majored in religious studies. “K was the place where I went from being a talented musician, to becoming a total musical being. I developed so much while I was there.”
He also credits K’s liberal arts for helping to develop his jack-of-all-trades capability at Double Phelix.
“The campus is a playground of creativity,” he said.
For his Senior Individualized Project Catlin composed and recorded a 40-minute musical composition for strings, drums, guitars, and electronics.
“My SIP laid the groundwork for me to create and sustain a professional music studio.”
During the summer of 2013, Catlin drew again from his K heritage when he helped solidify a partnership between Double Phelix, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, and the Dan Schmidt Gift of Music Fund. The collaboration set in motion an innovative after-school music education program for Kalamazoo Public School middle school students. Each participating student writes, rehearses, records, and publicly performs his or her own original song.
“K is such a huge advocate of community service, so it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to follow up with that kind of work now.”
He is optimistic about what comes next as he approaches the five-year anniversary of his June 2009 commencement. And he’s eager to keep his K connection strong.
“I continue to meet and network with the K community. I’ve played some shows on campus and continue to get support. I’m open to any collaboration that the College sees fit! We’ll at least be rocking here in ‘Kzoo’ for a few more years, maybe longer!”
Rock on, Andy!