Nestled in a converted two-car garage in Tarrant County, Cool Devices has become a hot spot for locals and out-of-towners to record their material. Owned and operated by members of the band Radioactivity, the studio doesn’t advertise its location and it only has a Facebook page up with an e-mail address for booking info. It’s only been around for a couple of years, but word has quickly spread and it’s not surprising to hear that it’s in a lot of demand these days.
Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan run the place when Burke isn’t working at his brother’s record store (Mad World in Denton) and when Ryan isn’t working as a behavioral specialist. Ryan’s father-in-law owns the property and Burke lives in the house next to the studio. A complete do-it-yourself kind of undertaking, they built the studio over time with the help of Ryan’s father-in-law and friends.
It’s a place to work and get things done quickly, especially for bands with limited time and funds. Outfitted with analog tape machines, a couple of multi-track consoles, as well as an Apple computer, the space resembles the kind of studio you’d see in the ’60s and ’70s. Old office cubicle walls are set up to create separation between instruments when a band plays live. And the concrete floor is covered by carpet, so when cars pass by on the busy adjoining road, there’s no audible rattling heard on the tape.
Cool Devices has become a place to get a sound that is neither glossy nor dirty. In the best kind of way, the studio can capture what a band sounds like when they bang out one song after the other in one go. Bands from around Dallas-Forth Worth as well as Austin and even New York’s Lemuria have recorded there. The Drakulas, a new project featuring Zach Blair from Rise Against and Hagfish, also recorded there recently.
Both Burke and Ryan are self-taught with recording and they both come from the legendary punk band the Marked Men, a band that is still spoken highly of around the world. Even though that band doesn’t plan on releasing more records and they only play a couple of shows a year, a lot of good has come from their time together. Everything that has branched off from them has been quality stuff, from Cool Devices to new bands.
Burke and Ryan want their studio to be a place where they make it easy for bands to get what they need on tape and not have to worry too much about it. “In my experience, going into recording studios was always really stressful and they’d charge you way more than what they’d charge you now,” Ryan says, explaining what motivated them start up the operation in the first place. “We were not going to get what we wanted at other studios, so we had to do it ourselves.”
A big advantage of having their own studio is that Burke’s and Ryan’s individual bands have easy access to pumping out new recordings on a regular basis. The speedy garage punk of Radioactivity is Burke’s outlet for songwriting while Ryan’s outlet is with the new wave-meets-surf rock of Mind Spiders. Ryan plays bass in Radioactivity, along with Daniel Fried on guitar and Greg Rutherford on drums. Mind Spiders features Ryan on guitar and vocals, Fried on bass, Peter Salisbury on keyboards and the Marked Men’s Mike Throneberry on drums. Fried also comes from Bad Sports and Video.
Incestuous and a little confusing? Absolutely, but when friends get together and help each other out, it just happens this way. “We became intermingled because these were all the people we had to play with,” Ryan says with a smile.
Radioactivity’s second record, Silent Kill, comes out this month while Mind Spiders’ fourth record was just delivered to Dirtnap, the Portland-based label that has put out Ryan’s and Burke’s various projects over the years. Under the ownership of Ken Cheppaikode, all of their old records are in print, e-mails are returned in a timely fashion and they know how and when the new records will be released. “It’s super-nice for us because we have someone we can trust,” Ryan says. “We have no complaints.”
Silent Kill was not some rush job. Recording for it started around the time the first Radioactivity record was released in 2013. It was mixed over a year ago and they couldn’t decide on a proper album cover for it. “Part of the reason it took so long was because my original idea for the album kind of changed after we started recording,” Burke says. “I wanted it to be more that just garage and punk. I wanted to add a little variety to it.”
The songs that made up the first Radioactivity record were from when Burke lived in Japan for a few years. This time, some of the songs were written before Burke went to Japan, a few were written in Japan and a few were written after he got back to the States. The end result is a darker, sometimes slower and diverse record compared to the first record.
To promote Silent Kill, Midwest and East Coast dates are lined up for this year and they hope to go west and to Europe as well. As far as their local shows, don’t expect to see a lot of them from Radioactivity, Mind Spiders, Bad Sports or Video. “We’d rather focus on being a good band as opposed to being a good local band,” Fried says.
“We have an advantage because we live three hours away from Austin,” Ryan adds. “That has made a difference.”
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Being prolific songwriters and engineers, as well as touring their asses off, it’s easy to see how word spread so fast about Cool Devices. It’s logical to wonder how soon Radioactivity will record a third record. Burke has a lot more songs lying around, but recording them isn’t happening anytime soon. “I used to have an idea for the third album, but I don’t anymore,” Burke says with a laugh.
The kind of momentum is strong with Burke and Ryan. They’ve been doing this kind of schedule for years and they’ve been able to balance everything without pulling their hair out. Their kind of productivity shows that they are constantly learning, whether they’re recording a record or helping a band record. The fruits of their labor are available for the world to hear and what a fine sound they’ve made so far.
RADIOACTIVITY plays with Tenement at Rubber Gloves on Monday, June 15, and at Sons of Hermann Hall with Ceremony on Thursday, June 18.