The Vault and its history-making gear put Neville Island on the Pittsburgh musical map
The console board helmed solo records by Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
A large piece of equipment in the corner mixed tracks for Pearl Jam’s breakout “Ten” album. In the hallway rests a Marshall JCM 800 amplifier not-so-gently used by hard-rockers Dave Navarro and Zakk Wylde.
For rock ‘n’ roll geeks and music gear heads, The Vault recording studio on Neville Island is like a museum, even before you spot the six shiny Grammy Awards adorning a ledge next to the room where bands record songs. The basement hosted singing legend Smokey Robinson for a December 2019 autograph session fundraiser.
With bragging rights like this, The Vault is like no other Pittsburgh recording studio.
Here’s a peek inside what was once a bank:
Vintage gear, like this specific board used to make Ringo Starr and George Harrison albums, is featured at The Vault recording studio on Neville Island.
In 2018, six-time Grammy-winning engineer Jimmy Hoyson relocated from Los Angeles to join The Vault Records, a music label and recording studio opened a few years earlier by music-minded businessman Bob McCutcheon on Neville Island, a short zip down Interstate 79 from his North Hills home.
“I had originally built it as my own private project studio and did that for a couple of years,” McCutcheon, who retired in December 2018 after 27 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Pittsburgh, said.
“I started as a trumpet player. I’ve been in bands, writing and recording music since high school,” McCutcheon said. “I ran my first studio while working my way through college. I’m still a guitar player.”
Through his musical kinship with Beaver County rockers the Granati Brothers, Pittsburgh native Hoyson had heard about McCutcheon’s studio.
Having worked with Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop, Green Day and Eric Clapton, to name a few, Hoyson jumped at the chance to move back to his native Pittsburgh when he learned of the opportunity to wield his craft on The Vault’s fully restored, vintage Neve 8058 console — the preferred studio control board of epic bands like Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac.
Consoles are those big boards you see in photos from inside recording studios, dotted with modules, faders and compressors that producers and engineers push and twist to capture a specific sound and volume.
Cherished for its airy, full-bodied sound, a Neve 8058 is top-of-the-line, early 1970s vintage.
McCutcheon purchased his painstakingly reconditioned Neve 8058 from Detroit-based Vintage King Audio, knowing that specific console previously had been owned by producer-engineer Scott Litt, who worked on six R.E.M. albums.
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Later, after McCutcheon had purchased the Neve 8058, Litt informed him that very same console previously was owned by George Harrison, who used it to record his and fellow Beatle Ringo Starr’s solo albums.
“If I had known that, I probably would have paid more for it,” McCutcheon said.
With the coveted console and Grammy-winning engineer in place, The Vault Records forged ahead as a studio, label and music community connector.
“Having Jimmy join our team will continue to elevate music production, as well as the musicians in Pittsburgh,” McCutcheon predicted in a 2018 press release.
Though McCutcheon wasn’t done buying yet, snagging the very same Studer A800 MKIII multi-track recorder used by Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Candlebox to make records at the famed London Bridge Studios in Seattle between 1989 and 2000
Now occupying a corner of The Vault’s ground-floor studio, the Studer had been the possession of Dave Hillis, the recording engineer at London Bridge, who also moved to Pittsburgh to work at The Vault.
Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and other famed bands used this specific Studer multi-track recorder now found at The Vault studio on Neville Island.
The Vault soon found clients like Pittsburgh area musical artists Borstal Boys, Bradley Scott Malone, Slam Band & Sam, Royal Honey and “The Voice” finalist Chris Jamison.
“Bob was the only person who was interested in my project,” singer-songwriter Malone, of Hopewell Township, said. “Other studios I reached out to were only interested in turning on the taxi meter. This was way before I was on his label.”
Pittsburgh rocker Byron Nash said, “I think what Bob is doing at The Vault is amazing. I love the equipment, I love the history behind it, and I love that they have a label to support the artists and help people who are on the come-up.
“I also love that it’s this local gem tucked into Neville Island,” he continued. “And I love that they have a venue in the basement which I got to perform at that sounded great and felt great. It’s a top-notch studio here in the city, the same thing you’d expect in L.A. or New York.”
Any artists needing reverb — an echo-y sound — can use the basement’s thick-walled, former bank vault, from which The Vault takes its name.
“Before digital reverbs, the old studios like Capitol had their own reverb chambers. That might be underneath a parking garage, it might be a stairwell, but each chamber has its own unique sound and that added to the character of that particular recording studio,” McCutcheon said.
Amid the pandemic, The Vault devoted time and resources to 2020 community projects, like the Women Who Rock Rising Star competition, Pittsburgh Service Staff Aid Benefit streamed concert, and as the recording site for the “SOS 2020 (Save Our Stages)” song benefitting local venues, featuring 27 bands including Rusted Root, the Legendary Hucklebucks and the Granati Brothers.
“Bob’s very generous with his time, he’s very generous with his equipment. He let me share some of it there,” Nash said. “He’s just a standup guy looking out for the musicians and artists. We’re lucky to have him in Pittsburgh.”
Motown legend Smokey Robinson made a few Vault appearances, one to raise money for the Ryan McCutcheon Rhythm 19 Fund. Named for McCutcheon’s older son, the charitable initiative provides children access to art and music. Ryan was 19 when he was killed in a 2017 car crash while returning to the Robert Morris University campus after assisting high school drum students at a band festival. He actively drummed at The Vault.
A collection of Grammy Awards won by The Vault chief engineer Jimmy Hoyson are displayed at that Neville Island studio.
Upstairs studio, too
Since July, the top floor of The Vault has been home to V6 Music + Post, a separate studio and music firm run by Rob Deaner, whose credentials include Reb Beach, Carla Bianco, Bob Corbin and emerging Pittsburgh hard-rock band Skell.
Recording industry changes no longer require a music studio be downtown where expenses are higher, Deaner said in The Vault’s “Inside The Vault” newsletter.
“Plus, there are multiplatinum, Grammy-winning engineers and producers at The Vault who also happen to be my friends. Access to that kind of talent and the highly sought after vintage gear felt like a winning combination.”
McCutcheon emphasizes The Vault is a family-run operation, “because my wife, Dana and I, along with (son) Brett all run the studio. Brett is a musician, writer and arranger. I engineer and produce projects. Dana is the glue that helps keep it all together.”
They’ve got a mission to develop an ecosystem of engineers, producers and aspiring artists in both music and film.
“By providing them access to a world-class recording facility, educational programs and industry resources, we will elevate the experience and enhance Pittsburgh’s music industry profile on a national basis,” McCutcheon said. “We truly believe there are amazingly talented artists in Pittsburgh. Our mission is to give the platform and the opportunity to shine.”