In the fall of 2012, Louisville musician and recording engineer Kevin Ratterman (Elliott, Wax Fang) relocated his recording studio from an upstairs room above his family’s funeral home to a 6,800-square-foot building off Lexington Road he’d call La La Land.
But a few months before this move, Ratterman talked with fellow Louisville musician Jason Noble for an article in the trade magazine Tape Op. The two discussed recording styles, preferred gear, projects — all the technical, intricate stuff those in the music industry love to pore over.
Tape Op’s reach is wide, and it’s mostly read by those in the recording business or those wanting to learn trade tips from experts. One of those very people flipping through the May/June 2012 issue was Anne Gauthier of Montreal, Canada, a musician who played drums in a few bands but found herself more interested in the recording side of the business.
She immediately connected with Ratterman’s recording style — analog as opposed to digital — and was curious to learn more about his techniques. Also, Ratterman was a well-known drummer, a commonality that perhaps persuaded her to reach out.
So, Gauthier sent an email.
“We were in touch back and forth for a while,” says Gauthier. “I would ask him advice about recording, ask him about the equipment and all that. I even visited the studio a couple of times while touring” with the band Trust.
Gauthier’s personality is laid-back and chill. She’s not the one chasing the spotlight, but she’ll make those in it sound the best they possibly can — an ideal trait for a recording engineer. So the fact that she summed up a three-year correspondence into three sentences is not surprising.
Ratterman, however, recalls that initial conversation very well. He’s always received a steady flow of people reaching out to intern or work at his studio, but he often prefers to work alone — a lone wolf, he says.
“But for some reason, when Anne got in touch via email, something seemed different about her,” Ratterman begins. “She seemed to be more like me. I felt like I needed to at least talk to her on the phone, so we set up a call. Best decision of my life.
“Once we talked in person on the phone, I just knew,” he continues. “She is so smart and determined yet relaxed and carefree, and we had similar upbringings growing up in the respective local punk DIY scenes of the towns we grew up in. It just made all the sense in the world after that call.”
Relocating to La La Land
The two kept in touch on and off while Ratterman continued to build up his clientele, which included Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and assemble his ideal studio. In 2015, he realized he could use a little help, and there was only one person who came to mind.
“At one point, he reached out,” says Gauthier. “He said he had a lot of work and could use someone to work with him. And I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
Gauthier, now 37, had to apply for a special artist’s visa, which are issued few and far between, but after several months, she finally had her paperwork and headed south to La La Land.
She says she started right away — learning the equipment, working side by side with Ratterman, settling into Louisville. But in a remarkably short time, she was recording her own sessions with notable artists like Murder by Death, Horse Feathers, Quiet Hollers, Frederick The Younger and James Lindsey, among others.
Ratterman says he was blown away by how quickly Gauthier picked up some of the more complex inner workings of the studio. With a 24-channel vintage API console from 1971 and dozens of mics, amps, multitracks, compressors and instruments, the studio’s analog recording technique comes with a unique set of rules, as opposed to the newer, more modern digital recording studios.
“You don’t have to teach her things more than once,” says Ratterman. “She has a great ear and an absolutely wonderful demeanor. I consider her my partner, not my assistant. That was clear very early on.”
Gauthier now manages her own hours and even has her own clients. What she’s enjoying the most, she says, is the constant learning, as La La Land attracts a spectrum of musical styles.
“We get a lot of really interesting and awesome acts coming through, and a lot of it is very different, too, which is great,” she says. “I get to do string quartets and hip-hop, jazz, all the rock stuff, hard-core metal … It’s really fun, because each one you’ll treat a bit differently. It’s fun to figure out what works best with each band.”
Settling into the South
Gauthier’s first impressions of Louisville were that the people are friendly and the city is easy to navigate.
“It’s a great city. I’m from Montreal, so it’s definitely a lot smaller than that. It took me a little bit to get used to that,” she admits. “Montreal has this downtown where everybody hangs out, and here, I’m still not really finding that. But since it’s so small, it’s a lot easier to get around — and also get things done. It’s easier to get cool things done, too.”
On any given afternoon, if she’s not behind the console, she’s out exploring Louisville’s many neighborhoods. From authentic Mexican restaurants on Preston Highway to thrift stores in Portland, Gauthier says she enjoys discovering places that are a bit more obscure.
“There are so many little pockets to discover. I like that everything isn’t so obvious,” she says.
One of those overlooked spots she immediately gravitated toward was the now-defunct diner Barbara Lee’s Kitchen in Clifton. It reminded her of home, with its unassuming nature and random clientele. And she was looking forward to showing it off to friends and family who came to visit.
Needless to say, when the greasy spoon closed in March of 2017, Gauthier was among many who were sad to see it go.
“When I moved here, Barbara Lee’s was still open. After a couple weeks, I went there and felt like I had something,” she laments. “I was still trying to figure out the city, but I was, like, cool, I got my place now. I loved that place — it was so amazing.”
Teaming up with Girls Rock Louisville
As a budding musician in Montreal, Gauthier got involved with Rock Camp for Girls Montreal, a program similar to Girls Rock Louisville that teaches young women and gender-nonconforming youth how to play instruments, write music and form bands, thus building confidence, self-esteem and critical thinking.
She volunteered with the organization for five years before moving to Louisville, teaching the kids drums and engineering basics — genuinely having fun watching them have fun and learn.
As fate would have it, soon after moving to Louisville, Ratterman introduced Gauthier to Carrie Neumayer, co-founder of Girls Rock Louisville and member of the band Second Story Man.
Of course, Gauthier immediately asked if she could be involved.
“I really love what they’re doing here,” she says. “I feel like they’re pushing the boundaries even more than what other cities are doing. They have some really cool projects in the works.”
Neumayer recalls her first encounter with the quiet Canadian. Her band was working on an album at La La Land when Gauthier first moved to town. The two immediately connected through similar interests, like music, politics and sense of humor, Neumayer says, but when she mentioned she had been involved in a Rock Camp for Girls previously, Neumayer knew it was going to be an instant friendship.
“Girls Rock Louisville was new at the time, and we needed all the help we could get,” says Neumayer. “Anne brought a lot of great ideas to the organization and has worked quietly behind the scenes in so many other ways to help make GRL what it has become.”
For the Louisville organization, Gauthier leads recording sessions and serves as a band coach during the annual summer camp. As a coach, she works with a group of girls from song to band to recording — all in one week.
Neumayer explains the role: “They help the campers throughout the week in learning how to work together as a group, both musically and personally. They help by guiding the campers as they move through the experience of preparing for their performance.”
Gauthier considers it a rewarding experience and plans to continue working with Girls Rock Louisville for the foreseeable future.
“It’s great to see the confidence people get, the pure ideas that come from these kids — it’s just so impressive,” she says. “Some of these kids might not have the best support, so it’s great to give them a little community here.”
Doing what she loves
Gauthier stands at the vintage console and tries to explain the intricate knobs and buttons. This one is for tone, that one increases the bass, and the slider controls the volume. If only there weren’t hundreds of other buttons, we’d have it down.
We ask her to give us her best Jimmy Iovine impression, shouting at an imaginary artist to “Take it from the top,” or “Let’s redo that,” or “One more time, Dre.” She just laughs and tries to hold back an eye-roll.
“It’s not really like that,” she explains. “People always want to see me behind the console moving all these buttons, sliding things around, rearranging things and stuff. There’s actually not many buttons you need to move when you’re recording.”
Gauthier says her hours typically depend on how many bands her and Ratterman have booked in the studio, but she’s usually working at odd hours as it’s just the two of them. But whether she puts in 40 hours a week or 80, she’s content doing what she’s always wanted to do.
“I love it. It’s why I moved here, to work here. It’s a great place, and Kevin’s an amazing guy. I’ve done some really cool projects. It’s worth the work. Sometimes you do what you love, even though it’s a lot of work,” she says. “The cool thing about doing this job is that you’re always learning. Even people who have been doing it for 30 years are still learning things, I’m sure. The sky is the limit.”
Ratterman is so pleased with his business partner, he’s in the process of handing off the studio to her solely so she can continue to build her career as a producer and engineer.
“I am building a secondary setup for myself so I can work and not get in her way,” he admits.
He wouldn’t reveal any other details on what that new studio might entail, so we asked more about Gauthier and what makes her so different from other engineers he’s worked with.
“Her ability to communicate ideas and suggestions in a safe way is so very key to making people operate to their highest abilities,” says Ratterman. “When you feel safe and empowered and that the person on the other side of the glass believes in you and wants to see you win, that’s when we operate at our highest levels. And that’s how Anne is. She loves everyone and wants to have fun while working hard and taking the end vision seriously. She’s the best.”
Neumayer echoes Ratterman’s sentiments and points out that Gauthier is carving out her place in a male-dominated industry — quite skillfully.
“She could have gone anywhere, worked in any studio, but she ended up here in Louisville, and our creative community is better because of it,” says Neumayer. “Anne has a unique combination of traits: wildly creative and talented, but incredibly humble and down to earth; a super strong work ethic balanced by a calm, patient attitude. She’s curious about the world and is always seeking to grow and learn as an engineer and as a person. She’s also just super fun to be around and puts everyone at ease. We’re very lucky to have Anne.”
A mural of a crow features prominently near the entrance of La La Land studios.
Neumayer painted it in honor of beloved musician Jason Noble, who died of cancer in August of 2012, just a few months after his interview with Ratterman ran in Tape Op. It includes many of Noble’s sketches, notes, poems and scribblings.
It’s one of Gauthier’s favorite pieces in the studio, an homage to a man who helped bring her to Louisville, even though they never met.