A Musician’s Lost Treasure: CatRancher Sound Studios

Larry Dean Embry is shown in the foreground, and a local bassist, Lavant Romon jams in the background.
Larry Dean Embry is shown in the foreground, and a local bassist, Lavant Romon, jams in the background.
Walk into CatRancher Sound Studios and you will feel as if you have stumbled upon a lost piece of earlier musical revolutions. Located on 6th and San Pedro, this studio, while also open for post-production purposes, is a sanctuary for the screaming soul of music within the performer’s heart.

Vintage guitars, various stringed instruments, pianos, drums, organs and other miscellaneous instruments are scattered around the recording room. There is a library full of various types of fiction and nonfiction, as well as an impressive selection of poetry. There is a pool table, balcony, and roof view as well. Posters of The Beatles, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix line the walls like audibly musical wallpaper.

All things look, feel, and sound like windows to a past that was dedicated to conveying messages, striving toward the next musical innovation, and providing sounds that feel alive. This is where music is made. This is how music is meant to be made.

Even before entering the studios, one will notice the area: Skid Row. For musicians, this locale is a gold mine of musical inspiration and insight into the more desperate sides of life. Looking out into the streets from CatRancher’s patio on the balcony can be a cathartic experience in analyzing the effects of a big city.

Larry Dean Embry, founder and owner of CatRancher sound studios, sits down and details the some of the technical inspiration a musician can find: “There are plenty of basses, and stringed instruments. There is everything here, from ukuleles of all sizes to mandolins of all sizes: little ones, big ones. There are exotics like the Cuban tres guitar. We have steel guitars, lap, pedal, and dobro. Also, we have bouzoukis, octamandolin, a Chinese zither. There are three pianos, four very old organs.”
These disparate musical treasures are awe-inspiring to say the least, and Larry’s sturdy ship is directed by the sails of musicians and the winds of the music made from their swift fingers.

“You can’t come in here and not walk away with an idea. It helps people to go from the trenches, working, playing their instrument, trying to get their part right, cause you’re making a record, to going out there and screwing around.” An emphasis of the place is the very open creative space. There is plenty of freedom to record something within one’s own comfort zone. This is not just a recording studio; it is a home for musicians.

Any musicians serious about recording are invited and encouraged to use any and all of this ambiance as inspiration. Look outside at skid row and take it in. Pain and empathy are crucial elements in the creation of some of the best music out there, just ask anyone who plays the blues. This is why Larry emphasizes spontaneity and experimentation in the recording process. The entire experience is liable to show up in the music somehow. There are real things happening to real people all around, and that should manifest itself within the creative mind and performance medium.

Larry believes in the organic nature of musical performance: “I want to revolutionize music by making people play it again.” His approach is retrospective, yet contemporary. This organic approach can add some life into the very mechanical and canned sounds used to make music today. By employing this technique, Larry believes he can achieve what is his company motto and recording purpose, “Going backward to meet the future.”

Samples, loops and auto-tune sound the same every time they are used. Larry invites anyone to come in and record something that will liven up parts of your music. He can record any genre, and will transform a dead, machine controlled sample recording into a unique piece that only you yourself own. Part of the overriding philosophy of CatRancher deals very deeply with real sound: sounds that can be manipulated through the very act of musical performances.

A chorus line may play a few times in a song, and most people would loop it, but Larry will suggest you play it again. There is a slightly different resonance when playing something twice. They are the same notes, but they may be held a little longer, they may conform to a slighter longer bend of the string, and they are subject to the sound bouncing around in the room. “I want to make sure that every microsecond cannot be replicated,” Larry says. His goal is to make music as real and unique as a second of life itself.

“If we play the same thing, it is going to sound different every time. Resonance and vibration is what I am all about. I believe it heals, and that never happens the same way twice. Every time The Beatles played “Hey Jude” it was “Hey Jude”, but every time was different.” Larry’s dedication to recording music that has a pulse is second only to his tireless dedication to detail. While working in the studio, he strives to live up to the standards of albums like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But this kind of freedom may not be as possible without the stage. The stage itself embodies the mantras that Larry appropriates into CatRancher studios.

The Tempered Plug

Just adjacent to CatRancher studios is another very special place: The Tempered Plug. The Tempered Plug is a custom built private performance stage that used to be a half-pipe until Larry repurposed its use. It is elevated about 5 feet above ground and is placed strategically so one can look outside and past the patio into the city of Los Angeles.

Tempered Plug
A private party at The Tempered Plug.
Larry hosts private, intimate parties for bands and friends in this area. The setting is host to many talking points for visitors, as well as being a great venue for live music. Adjacent to the stage itself are two pianos, as well as various organs. The room is set up to be accessible to anyone comfortable with an instrument.

“The stage was an add-on. It has turned out to be much more than I intended. I always thought, well, I can do something with it and bands can have record release parties or auditions. They just have to talk to me. It has turned out to be a private performance thing where free music happens all the time. People just show up and start jamming,” Larry explains. This is a great place to wind down and just have fun after long hours of trying to get a certain part right.

“It’s really a proving grounds for ideas. Musicians don’t need language. There have been musicians that come here that don’t speak English. No big deal.” Experiences like this signify the importance of a place like this in downtown Los Angeles. Playing music brings people together in a sometimes polarized world. There are burglaries, murders, and atrocities of all sorts happening every day, but stop walking for a moment and trace the sounds trickling below you in waves onto the wall and five stories up. The product of lament and happiness intermingled is trumpeted out onto the denizens as a bittersweet ode.

Larry himself is very collaborative in his methods of music making. When asked what inspires him most in the entire process, he said, “Roots. I mean, how we start building music and that does include bluegrass, blues, and country.” Pioneers of those genres started from the ground up with nothing but what they felt in themselves that needed to come out. Robert Johnson, blues pioneer, only had an acoustic guitar and a life of pain, and this is all that is needed to create great music. Dispense of the phony personality complexes and agendas of other big studios, opt for real music with no pretenses at CatRancher.

As one can see, the sound studios and private performance stage work in tandem quite well. You cannot record music that sounds alive and heaves in and out without warming up to it by playing or receiving inspiration from the various forms of literature and miscellaneous posters and statuettes. There is unlimited potential to this particular prospect of recording music. Whether you are looking to add a little old school flavor to your music, some variety from the exotic instruments, or are looking to record exclusively in a stress-free environment of musicians, Larry is your man, and CatRancher is your prime choice for a recording studio.

Call CatRancher Sound Studios for any of your music or post-production needs at (213) 926-6483. Even if you are self-funded, just call and ask. Larry’s rates are affordable and flexible. Also, make sure you visit their website at www.catrancherstudios.com.