23. profile: elio deluca + the soul shop

elio deluca is an accomplished musician, arranger and engineer. he's played and toured with such artists as titus andronicus, faces on film, blinders and keys to the streets of fear. along with streets of fear's patrick grenham, he fronts the r&b band the new lights and is currently working on his first solo album (using the moniker, the pisces). in 2007, he and grenham built the soul shop, an all-analog recording studio in medford, ma. working in the traditional style of classic tape studios, elio has recently engineered and produced albums from wilder maker, eternals, bent shapes, and dan webb & the spiders.

we visited elio at the soul shop to discuss the beauty of working in analog and to experience it first-hand as he recorded an intimate, in-studio performance by musician peter matthew bauer. here are some of the highlights from our conversation with this talented multi-tasker:

what are some unexpected everyday sources of inspiration?
it's inspiring to be surrounded by great musicians and songwriters on a regular basis. every engineer has horror stories but i've had many more positive experiences of connecting with a client's aesthetic, and being able to help them realize it on a recording. that's really the nature of the job. it's not always fluid or easy to accomplish. also working with people like marc valois of blinders or stephen konrads of eternals makes me constantly strive to improve my writing and expand my arranging abilities.

what kinds of sounds or feelings do you pursue in your work?
it's nearly impossible for me to have an honest perspective on my own writing, so instead... as an engineer and producer, i try to be extremely attuned to both the needs of the client and to the material itself. i'm always trying to push the listener's perspective. oftentimes that's the first thing that gets lost when you're responsible for the creative side, as an author, performer, or engineer. you need to consider the inner logic of the music itself, sometimes it will reveal things to you that no amount of forced, purposeful action will accomplish.

what research do you do (if any) before starting work with a new artist?
i am very much interested in pre-production before working on a record: becoming familiar with the songs, the arrangements, the artist's background, and goals for the task at hand. finding common ground through other music, building trust, establishing a dialog and a working vocabulary. as an artist making a record, it's not easy to immediately convey to someone else what, up to that point, has only existed for you in the abstract - much less to bring someone in on your creative process. especially when the most crucial step in that process is committing your work to tape. suddenly, someone else is involved to the point where they can have drastic influence over the sound and feel of the record, and it's important for the artist to be able to trust me in that role. as an engineer, i try to become part of their working methodology, almost as a piece of equipment, like the tape machine. a facilitator. as a producer, i try to only involve myself enough to make the most of the studio experience and enhance their process, not derail it.

what drew you to recording and engineering? what made you decide to record in analog?
i've always recorded my own music, even just on cassette 4-track, back when i didn't know what i was doing. that snowballed into recording bands i was in, putting together basement shows, piecing together pa systems out of duct tape and coat hangers, you know, diy out of necessity. the earliest experiences i had with digital recording were frustrating and unfulfilling. i could never work fast enough for what i was trying to do, and the interface of scrolling through menus and trying to parse how each different unit handled terminology and workflow was annoying, when i would rather spend that time with the music. also, this was compounded with the horrendous state of digital recording in the late 90's: brittle sounds and slow processing. analog, rather, was immediate, tactile, and gave excellent visual and physical feedback when you succeeded or screwed up. this to an impatient kid was perfect. obviously, i've refined that aesthetic over years and years of working with live sound, working on radio, eventually moving toward legitimate studio recording, and myself and patrick building the shop, but the physicality and powerful workflow of analog has always captured my attention. i like the fact that the gear has personality - a certain compressor from 1976 may have the same control layout as one built last year, but one has a "grab" the other doesn't, or a sonic signature that makes it immediately apparent which one is right or wrong for the task at hand. that's extremely appealing to me, still. the equipment has character, just like the people involved. digital recording, still, spends a hilariously pathetic amount of time trying to ape character, trying to model the quirks and unique attributes of analog gear. good luck with that!

how has your work changed over time?
i've certainly learned from circumstances. for example, everyone has budgetary constraints, so i've always had to work fast. initially, that was stressful, but then it became part of my regular approach, and now i'd say it's an asset. i had a band in the shop recently working on their second album. for their first record, at a different studio, they had spent eight months of on-and-off work recording it, much of that time spent chasing their tail, trying to make decisions, revisiting things they'd already done. this time around, they were confident in what they wanted - they were well-rehearsed, we spoke several times about goals and pre-production decisions before starting, and we ended up cutting the entire album in five solid days. that's not unusual. that's how i prefer to work. we're mixing now, and that takes time, and revisions, but the band has been articulate and communicative about what they want, what they like and don't like, and what the goal of revisions are before we do them. for me, once any project is complete, it's hugely important that the artist feel they were well represented and that the music was portrayed accurately. everyone has made a record that they regret, that they can't listen to afterwards, but i don't want to allow that to happen to anyone who's trusted me to work with them.

what is your dream project?
there are lots of people i would love to work with (yo, justin timberlake, call me, dude), but lately i've been really dying to get to collaborate with katie von schleicher again. she and i have done several records together, and her recent songwriting has been some of her best material yet. the demo recordings are mind-blowing and her voice has never sounded better. i really want to see firsthand what happens with those songs.

what is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
one of my favorite musicians of all time is jazz pianist lennie tristano. he was a pioneering recording artist and educator. i'm paraphrasing, but he has a great line about technique (and he himself was a devastating technician at the piano): "the goal of acquiring technique is to try to gain enough skill to be able to express feeling without getting caught up in the technique itself." in other words, learn as much as you can, practice as hard as possible, refine your craft endlessly, but in the moment of execution, let all of that go and just do what you do, be expressive and intuitive. that's what i'm constantly pursuing.

what is the best piece of creative advice you have to give?
trust your instincts. this harkens back to the above tristano quote, of course. your instincts aren't cosmic attributes you were born with. they're honed and sharpened and informed by all of your experiences. let that work on your behalf by staying in the moment and not holding on too hard to absolutes. this also relates, in writing, arranging, or recording, to paying attention to what the music is trying to tell you. always make sure to be listening.

if you are interested in collaborating with elio and would like to learn more about his music or the soul shop, he can be contacted through his website.


  1. great interview. awesome photo's too! the soul shop is the coolest.

  2. so glad you enjoyed it! we had such a great time working with elio and hanging out at the soul shop. it really is the coolest!