By Erik Myers
Kris Smith spent years waiting for the building out on Hollywood Street. The structure’s crumbly grey exterior belies a true nature – that of a Thomas Kinkade mountain cottage: a large main hall with a cathedral ceiling overhead and wood floor paneling underneath, and a pleasant-enough kitchen and bathroom to round it out.
That dynamic comes naturally when stepping into the building with the friendly producer-engineer, who snatched it up the moment it became available this summer. He’s well aware of that, which is why he thought it’d make a great recording studio; his Haus of Kraus, as he named it.
“The best studios I’ve ever worked in have vibe,” Smith says, the word central to everything he’s come to believe in with regards to recording. “It’s making sure everyone is comfortable… It’s about allowing them to become comfortable on their own time.”
This is a new chapter in Smith’s storied career as a producer-engineer. His first internship out of college was in 2000, at Q Division in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was one of the largest studios in New England at the time. Smith says a determined attitude secured him his future at the studio.
“I learned a lot really quickly – I just sponged off of it for years.”
He’d show up early and pick up the jobs no one else wanted, securing the good graces of higher-ups early on.
In 2004, a studio friend managed to swing Smith a spot as second engineer for The Dropkick Murphys as they laid down tracks for their new record, The Warrior’s Code. It was a trial-by-fire period for the fledgling Smith, but it helped that he was working with a band whose popularity had been growing steadily.
“People who achieve a certain level of success tend to be really cool,” Smith says.
There was no discounting the boost felt by the Boston Red Sox’s World Series title win that year, their first in 86 years. The Murphys had direct ties to the organization – their reworking of the classic Red Sox rally song “Tessie” had been released early into the 2004 season and has been blasting out of Fenway Park speakers ever since.
“I remember being in the studio with them when the owner came in with the trophy, and we got to hang out,” Smith says. “It was kind of a crazy couple of weeks.”
The Warrior’s Code would go on to boost the Dropkick Murphys into the mainstream, and Smith would go on to work with a number of other talents under the guidance of Matthew Ellard, a producer-engineer formerly of London whose resume included Radiohead’s Pablo Honey. Under Ellard’s tutelage, Smith helped engineer productions for Natalie Merchant, Between the Buried and Me and The Slip.
“I learned a lot of psychology from him, as far as putting people in the right mindset and understanding what people are thinking, being ready for what they’re going to do next before they say they want to do it,” Smith says. “It can be a difficult thing depending on the artist you’re working with.”
Smith eventually felt it was time to move on from Q Division, after which he says he “kind of panicked.” He reached out to his old friend Loren Jones, a drummer with Peace Officer, and moved to Fort Collins with $10,000 in studio equipment. Haus of Kraus had existed in the Smith’s various residences until his dream spot finally became available.
The studio, based in the building’s large main hall, uses two isolation booths and a rig utilizing Pro Tools 9. He uses a digital medium, but his setup is fully analog.
“I can do good mixing on a computer, but it takes twice as long for me,” Smith says. “Having the ability to put one hand on the knob of a compressor and one on the EQ is something you can’t do on the computer. You can fine-tune things a lot more in analog land.”
There’s a range of microphones available and instruments left around by fellow musicians, including those from Smith’s band, Ghost in the Machine. His favorite piece of equipment would be his dual Westar EQs, ripped out of a prototype board from the early ‘90s that never went into mass production – “They have the biggest low end I’ve ever heard.”
Smith says Haus of Kraus operates on a day rate at what he feels like is one of the better deals around town. He does so to take pressure off of the artist – there’s nothing worse than a guitarist trying to pull off a solo with an eye on the clock. It gets back to Smith’s concept of vibe and an organic process.
“I try to allow the session to dictate itself,” he says. “As I think back to the records I really enjoyed growing up, it wasn’t a perfect performance that really captured me. It was the feeling that was coming out of the musicians that captured me.”
Interested in learning more about Kris Smith and the Haus of Kraus studio? Check out hausofkraus.com or email Smith directly at email@example.com.