[The Weekly Q&A]

Las Vegas recording engineer Zoe Thrall talks switching studios, touring with Steven Van Zandt and more

Zoe Thrall
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

She’d probably disagree, but Zoe Thrall is something of a legend. When she came to Las Vegas in 2005 to oversee the opening and operations of the Studio at the Palms, Thrall had spent years as an engineer and studio manager at the famed Power Station Studios and Hit Factory Studios in New York City. She’d also toured with Steven Van Zandt and his band, The Disciples of Soul, so Thrall brought a uniquely robust perspective to the entertainment capital of the world.

The Palms is still shuttered after closing last year when the pandemic struck, and the future of its studio is uncertain. Thrall has moved on, joining fast-growing Henderson studio operation the Hideout in March as director of studio operations. The family-run facility has hosted artists from Carlos Santana to Kendrick Lamar, and Thrall says she settled in quickly and comfortably.

What was it like to join the team at the Hideout after being friendly competitors for years? I had known [owner] Kevin Churko for many years, from when they first moved to Vegas and had a studio behind the Bootlegger. I got to know them a little more over the last five years when they bought this place, and I’ve always respected the work he’s done. And then it was getting to know his son Kane, who’s also a producer and engineer, and his daughter Khloe, who has been managing the studio. So that just made it all really natural.

How has the past year impacted the Hideout? Maybe it’s because it was the only place open, but after it closed for about six weeks into last April and then opened up again with a lot of conditions and protocols, they had a really good year last year. This year, March was a record month. It’s definitely changed, and things are different, but the business moves on.

It makes sense that a lot of musicians have been working and recording from home, and we know music retailers and gear shops did well during the pandemic. You know, when the recording-at-home thing happened maybe 10 years ago, everyone thought commercial studios were done. I always looked at it like it would only help us. Anything that would get a musician or songwriter to continue the creative process would be [good], and at some point they are going to have to come to us, either because they want to put what they recorded through some really high-end gear or because they need a really well-designed critical-listening environment. Now more than ever, it’s more of a hybrid experience when you’re making records.

It seems like Las Vegas has grown a lot in recent years as a place for artists from all over to come and record. Why do you think that is? Las Vegas is so much fun, a true 24-hour city. What other city in the United States is really awake at the hours people make records? Where can you work 12 to 14 hours a day, finish at three in the morning and go get a cocktail or a nice meal and feel the energy of a city before you wind down and go to sleep and start all over again?

What was it like playing with Little Steven, and how did that happen? The very first door that got opened was because I play the oboe. I was working at a studio as an assistant engineer on a bunch of records he was producing, and on his first solo album, he was looking for this very specific sound. His guitar tech said, “You know, Zoe plays oboe, and that kind of sounds like what you’re looking for,” and I ended up playing on the record. So we finished that, and I was thinking I would stay at this big New York studio and get mentored by these great engineers and producers and become a record producer. But after the record, he asked me to go on the road and be part of the band. I was 22 years old at the time, and that was not something I ever considered. Long story short, I worked for him for 10 and a half years, playing and engineering a bunch of records. I learned everything about the business from Steven, about music and contracts and publishing, not to mention exposure to a number of political things he was involved in. I got to see that side of the world and meet Nelson Mandela. It was a whirlwind of 10 years and something I never dreamed of doing in terms of touring and being a member of a band.

Is every studio engineer secretly a musician? The best engineers are musicians, for sure.

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An award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, Brock Radke covers live ...

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