The scene is L.A. during the mid ’90s. Mark Younger-Smith and his singer, Billy Idol, are in the VIP room of The Spice Club. The VIP area dwarfs the actual club — and that’s part of the draw for them and other musicians like Guns and Roses and any other notable band from that particularly auspicious era of rock. The Spice Club has a door leading from the VIP room directly onto the stage so that if someone suddenly feels the urge to put on a show, they can join in with the house band and the club patrons get to see some of the best musicians of the day lay it down.
Younger-Smith and Idol, who is wearing an all-white ensemble, are enjoying a drink when Tom Jones, also dressed in a white suit, walks in. The three veterans of both stage and studio begin talking about music and, considering their similarities in taste, decide to take to the stage. They begin with “To Be a Lover,” a song both singers had covered in the past, and quickly transitions into Chuck Berry era rock and roll. The chance meeting leads Younger-Smith to have a short, but memorable, stint playing for Jones and a legendary picture of the three consummate performers on the same stage.
This was just one of the many tales told to me when I met Younger-Smith at his new home and studio in Smithville, Texas. The guitarist’s resume includes performing with and writing for Charlie Sexton, Billy Idol, INXS, and Eric Johnson (Younger-Smith wrote “Camel’s Night Out,” which went on to be featured in Guitar Hero and on the G3 tour album.), among many others. The Austin native has effectively been making a living from music since he was fifteen and with that much experience under his belt, the man knows a thing or two about recording an album.
After the inspired, albeit short, tour behind Idol’s “Cyberpunk” album, Younger-Smith returned to Austin and decided to make use of his experience and knowledge from his years in the recording studio. The album was essentially the first Protools recording, then simply called Digidesign, and it was Younger-Smith and producer Robin Hancock who pioneered mic-pre to 2-track digital manipulation; a practice that is now a standard in the industry.
Upon the founding of his Mixture Studios, he kept his new venture as a producer and recording engineer on a strict referral basis and by invitation only. “I’ve worked with a lot of engineers and producers, so it was, like, okay, let’s put a studio together and I’ll go out and find bands who I think are good,” Younger-Smith says. He tells me of recording everything from master drummers Terry and Raanen Bozzio to Tosca Strings, punk rockers The Applicators to country’s Michael Shane Borden and even a little rock-a-billy with Jimmy and The Mustangs, and of course Mark’s own style of rock ‘n’ roll. Try as he did to keep the lid on his new studio, the word got out: Younger-Smith had one of the best rooms in town. “I’d have people come up to me at a show and say, ‘You’re the guy with the studio and who played for Billy Idol, right?’” he says. “Can we record with you?”
Mixture Studios became a mainstay in Austin for ten years precipitating Younger-Smith’s move to the sleepy town-that-time-forgot of Smithville. The move was one that is proving to be advantageous as Mixture’s new rooms are with greater space, allowing for greater opportunities for artists. Walking into his control room, you are greeted with a relatively long and spacious chamber where the master does his work.
In fact, it would seem that Younger-Smith took a great deal of consideration in the design of his control room. “I made this room is a little more lively than the last room,” he says. “It’s about the size of [Studio] B at the old A&M studios in Hollywood.” He continued his explanation by saying, “I would get sonic fatigue after several hours in a totally dead room, but with a little bit of air in the room and not having every single frequency being absorbed, my ears are a little more relaxed.”
The studio features some great recording gear, some new and some vintage, classic amps from Marshall and Fender, and several of Younger-Smith’s personal guitars which have been on innumerable recordings and tours. “I really wanted it to be guitar friendly because I’m a guitar player,” he adds. The drum recording space is exceedingly large at almost the size of a three car garage and his vocal room is so devoid of ambient sound it is almost unnerving. All of this is topped off by his gold and platinum records on the walls. What is more is that, at the time of this writing, Younger-Smith was in the process of building an apartment above the studio for out of town clients to stay in during their recording sessions.
Mixture Studios has changed more than its locale: it has changed its policies. What was once a studio that was available to only a few hand-selected bands and musicians, Younger-Smith has decided to work with anyone. It is an act born of his philosophy giving up and coming artists a leg up in the changing world of the music industry.
To further this philosophy, he also co-founded The Secret Circus with Fashion Week founder Matt Swinney. The Secret Circus, a 1920’s Berlin cabaret styled show, was designed to highlight artists, photographers, fashion designers, and musicians who might otherwise never be noticed for their talents. Among the show’s alumni is Chrysta Bell, who may be best known for recording an album with director David Lynch penning her lyrics.
With his years of experience and conviction to support the arts, Mark Younger-Smith stands at the ready to help other artists find success just as he has.