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Desert Companion

Music: Beats by Pat

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Pat Hundly
Photo by Christopher Smith

Don’t let the tie and slick hair fool you. This pot-loving sonic wizard is the toast of rap royalty and rock bands alike

It’s hectic inside the Studio at the Palms on a recent Thursday morning. Eleven members of an R&B cover band are running through sound checks before recording — and they’re also taping the entire session for a promo video. Multiple cameras stand sentry in the main recording room, which is big enough for a small family to live in. In the control room, Pat Hundley, the freelance engineer booked for the session, stretches his long arms to tweak frequencies and levels.

Hundley asks the drummer to keep hitting the snare until it’s crisp. “Okay, now play all of that shit,” Hundley says, and the drummer attacks the set. “Perfect.” The singer runs through a vocal check. “I’m gonna give you a little reverb to make you comfortable,” Hundley tells her, “but you sound incredible.”

At 11 a.m., they’re finally ready to record — three hours behind schedule. Hundley has been here since 8, and he’ll be here another 10 hours. He was here last night, too, until 2 a.m., waiting for some major label “Auto-Tune R&B singers” who flaked on the session. (“I’m still gonna bill the label for my time,” he says. “So they paid me to watch basketball on studio speakers.”)

Support comes from

Hundley knows it’s going to be a long day, but that doesn’t bother him. He’s at home in this chaos of late arrivals, unprepared musicians, and occasional attitudes. His eyes, ears, and microphones take it all in. He’s always recording, even if the band isn’t ready. “If an artist gets up, or the band heads in the room, I’ve gotta have the mics on just in case something awesome happens,” he says. Hundley’s dressed in a dark gingham button-up with a slim black tie, faded black Levi’s, and brown suede chukkas; his brown hair is slicked to the side. He looks stiff, like he’s all business. It’s a front.

Hundley loves to crack jokes, veer into lengthy tangents, and smoke out. Hang with him and you’ll quickly realize that he inhales weed (“California strains only,” he stresses) by the gram and exhales musical wisdom by the pound. Marijuana, it seems, only makes him sharper.

He lights a joint and says, “We’re hot!” In other words, he’s recording. The band runs through a flawless cover of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman.” Flawless, at least, to an untrained ear. Hundley isn’t convinced. He asks them to do it again. And again.

Seated in a rolling chair in front of a massive Solid State Logic XL 9080K console, Hundley looks like he’s running the Starship Enterprise, zipping from one side to the other, twisting knobs, pressing buttons, ashing his joint. He’s taking out breathy vocals, adding fades, stacking sounds on top of each other. He’s thinking about the acoustics, adjusting settings on the software, never mind managing the personalities in the room and keeping people on task. “I feel like being a brain surgeon would have been easier,” he says.

This is Hundley’s art and science. The 34-year-old audio engineer is sought out by clients around town — and around the world — for his ear. An ear so attuned, in fact, that Hundley says he can listen to a song and tell you whether it was recorded in a closet, a church, or a cavernous studio. In an era when bedroom music stars record, mix, and upload entire albums on their laptops, Hundley is a niche expert with a devotion to detail. He’s the guy responsible for taking all of the sounds from the band, adjusting their frequencies, and shaping them into what you hear on your speakers. As an engineer, he’s the vehicle that turns creative visions into sonic realities.

With rap clients, he’s usually putting the final touches on a project. Since they’re mainly recording vocals over premade beats, he can’t replace instruments or alter the music. With rock bands, he has more license, and will often take on the producer role himself, holding their hands from rehearsal to recording. Regardless of what part he’s playing, he isn’t afraid to interject his opinion for the greater good. “I’ll always make your music sound better,” he says.

He isn’t being cocky. It’s a matter of fact, because his phone won’t stop buzzing. And there’s a chance one of your favorite artists is on the other line. The contacts in Hundley’s iPhone read like Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist: Rick Ross, Rich the Kid, Soulja Boy, E-40, Fetty Wap, Wale. He’s become one of the most sought-after studio engineers in Las Vegas, having worked with a host of stars from Diplo and Lil Jon to 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane.

That’s not bad for a self-described “square-looking white guy” from the Midwest who hated rap music until he started smoking weed. “That’s when I understood it,” he says, naming Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001 as his first hip-hop love. The album was his gateway. It eventually led him to what he calls the gangster rap masterpiece: Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury. “It was avant-garde gangster rap,” he says, musing over Pharrell’s unorthodox, futuristic yet streetwise production. He’s chased that sound ever since.

 

Rap ’n’ roll

Born in Washington and raised in the Midwest, Hundley spent his teen years in Wisconsin playing in rock bands. He studied film at the University of Michigan before taking every mixing and engineering class available at the University of Minnesota Rochester. Then he set his sights on Nashville. It was there that he started working with rappers and built a name among the trap-rap set, a Southern variety of hip-hop that pairs bass-heavy beats with bleak street tales. He caught the attention of Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul, a Tennessee native living in Las Vegas, who called on Hundley to work with him on his solo album. In 2013, Hundley packed up his life and moved to the desert.

These days, he splits his time primarily recording street rappers and alt-rock bands. Because he keeps a foot in each genre, he applies hip-hop techniques to rock, and vice versa. He puts more bass into rock songs than there traditionally is — a trick he picked up by working with so many rappers, who want their synthetic basslines cranked all the way up. Jaba James, frontman of Las Vegas alt-rock outfit Leather Bound Crooks, has worked with Hundley for six years. Before hiring him, James used an engineer who specialized in hardcore. “He just missed our sound. His mixes weren’t really good, and the drums were overwhelming,” James says. “For me, Pat gets Leather Bound Crooks.” The two bonded over a shared love for Third Eye Blind, Brand New, and Conor Oberst. “He was able to target those sounds that I was influenced by,” James says.

Other sound engineers are also admirers of his work. Diana Bravo, an engineer from Mexico City, met Hundley in November in the South of France. The two were enrolled in a weeklong seminar in which they lived in a mansion that had a recording studio, and studied under Grammy-winning producer and engineer Tom Lord-Alge, whose clients include everyone from U2 and The Rolling Stones to Blink-182 and Weezer. In one of the classes, students were asked to play their mixes. Bravo was struck by Hundley’s sound. “He’s sensitive,” she says. “I don’t know how to put it in English, but he feels music and motion and can translate it into great music.”

Lord-Alge himself was impressed. “It was right on the mark,” he says. He considers Hundley to be “a cat of my caliber,” one who, unlike many engineers he’s encountered, stands by his decisions.

The elder engineer has taken on a mentor role for Hundley. He says Hundley occasionally texts him with professional questions, though it’s mostly for assurance. “To be honest,” Lord-Alge says, “he already knows the answer.”

 

‘We’ve grown together’

By Hundley’s estimate, he’s worked out of just about every studio in town. For a few months, he even ran a studio inside a casita at Pawn Stars cast member Chumlee’s house, where he recorded rap weirdo Riff Raff’s 2016 LP, Peach Panther.

But of all the artists he works with, Hundley wants Yowda to win the most. Built like a linebacker, the Las Vegas rapper operates as a street documentarian, chronicling the city’s grittier side in his brash tracks. He’s worked with Hundley since 2013 after the engineer subbed for a recording session. “We stuck like glue after that,” Yowda says. Since then, they’ve recorded more than 1,400 songs together. Yowda, who signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in late 2014, has in turn helped to raise Hundley’s profile, securing him work with other artists on the roster, including Ross himself.

“He’s grown as an engineer. I’ve grown as a rapper. We’ve grown together,” Yowda says. The two are, as Yowda puts it, “from two different sides of the field.” But that’s putting it lightly. Compared to Yowda’s life, Hundley’s not even in the same stadium. As he tells it, Yowda has spent his life on the streets. He’s been shot. He’s done prison time. He’s constantly harassed by police. Despite their differences, or, rather, because of it, the two have formed a brotherly bond.

“He makes me rap on stuff that I usually won’t,” Yowda says. Perhaps more than his highly discerning ear, it’s Hundley’s earnest enthusiasm and different perspective that turn clients into fans and friends. “I can see the pathway a young artist can have, better than they do,” Hundley says.

Hundley even makes frequent cameos on Yowda’s Instagram. If the rapper’s life is truly filled with the grim realities of his songs, then Hundley is the comic relief. In a November upload of a FaceTime video, Hundley holds up a stack of twenty-dollar bills to his ear like he’s talking into a phone. “What do you guys do?” he jokes, flashing his snaggletoothed grin before flicking the bills off. It looks impossibly dorky, sure — the skinny white guy trying to make it rain like a baller in a strip club. But that’s not what Yowda sees.

“We don’t consider Pat white. We consider him a homeboy,” Yowda says. “He’s part of the gang to us.”

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