Recording in Abandoned Guatemalan Orphanages

In The Studio with MOUNTAIN SOUNDS’ Tim Hoyt


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How did you two originally meet, and how did you re-connect for this album since you live on two different continents?

We originally met playing around Florida, where Franc had moved to from Guatemala to go to school. We wound up playing in a band together for a few years before he returned home. We stayed in touch, but reconnected for this record when I became so depressed at being out of music that I abruptly quit my miserable Portland insurance job and went to the mountains to make a record.

What was your pre-production like?

Before I left Portland, we started writing songs separately and recording pretty simplistic demos on our laptops in Logic, sharing the tracks with each other once the recordings got far enough along. When I first arrived in Guatemala, we spent several days polishing up the songs, fixing the transitions, writing bridges or chorus tags or whatever. We wound up with about 25 completed songs to choose 12 from.

You recorded in an out-of-use orphanage in Guatemala. How and why did you choose to record there?

Necessity! Franc’s application for a tourist visa had been denied a few months before we ever got the idea for this project, so we didn’t feel good about his chances of coming to the States to make the album. The orphanage was built by his parents on a big plot of land in the Cerro Alux Mountains, west of Guatemala City, because they had taken in 25 kids orphaned by Guatemala’s long-running Civil War. The youngest of these had moved out more than a decade earlier, and the space had sat abandoned ever since. It was big enough to provide a lot of options, and isolated enough from the world for us to make as much noise as we needed without worry.

We’re citizens of two very different countries who left our lives behind and holed up in an old orphanage in the mountains of Guatemala to make a record our own way.



What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?

We wanted a pretty trashy sound, inspired by producers like Tore Johansson or later T-Bone Burnett.

We knew we weren’t going to make this record sound like a million bucks given the severe limitations of our location, so we decided to make those limitations the point rather than trying to hide them.


Did you use any special gear?

Our gear was extremely minimal due to our location and what we had access to down there. We had to be really careful and deliberate with our mic placement, because – for example – almost all of the drums were tracked with only two mics, and finding the cross between a balanced mix and a cool tone took a lot of positioning and repositioning, not to mention treating the drums with tissues, t-shirts, or parchment.

What were the toughest challenges you faced in your unusual studio environment?

Since it was mostly just the two of us playing everything, we couldn’t do live takes. One of us had to engineer while the other played, and we took turns throughout the day.

Technically speaking, tracking drums was our biggest challenge, because nothing about our situation was ideal: low cement ceilings, small, square rooms, not enough mics. Mentally, the endless, pouring rain and cold weather had a pretty big impact on me, and I’ve lived in Portland for years! Power outages knocked us completely out of commission several times, and weird outside interruptions like enormous squawking parrots and other assorted wildlife definitely presented some less-than-traditional recording challenges.

Would you record there again?

Absolutely. The isolation from the outside world led to an extremely focused, productive several months. We literally lived nothing but that music. I’d just be sure to bring several more mics and some sweaters next time.


How did you handle final mixing and mastering?

Our long-time friend Matt Wilbur owns a studio in Florida, and we had him mix it for us. We needed someone who would understand the limitations of our recording situation, and would view those limitations as something to embrace rather than a problem to overcome. On his advice we also went with his go-to mastering guy, Troy Glessner, who has mastered everything Matt’s ever worked on.

What are your release plans?

We’re independently releasing it at the end of March, with a primary focus on a digital release (iTunes & Bandcamp) until we can begin touring in earnest.  We hope to do a good deal of that, too, but it’ll just take a little more work since only half of us are United States citizens.

Any special packaging?

Nothing too fancy, but we are preparing a limited edition initial pressing for anyone whose enthusiasm for us simply can’t be satiated by a measly download…

Mountain Sounds
Recording Studio: THE ORPHANAGE (San Lucas Sacatepéquez, Guatemala). Additional Production at: THE VANGUARD ROOM (Lakeland, FL)
Label: The Foundlings
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Produced & Engineered by: Tim Hoyt and Franc Castillejos
Additional Production & Engineering by: Matt Wilbur
Mixed by: Matt Wilbur
Mastered by: Troy Glessner (Spectre Studios – Seattle, WA)
Artwork by: Tim Hoyt and Matt Wilbur

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