Text and image by Megan Matuzak.
He’s worked on albums by indie and punk heavies like Wavves, Modest Mouse and The Hives. He produced the first Cymbals Eats Guitars record while in New York City in 2008. Dennis Herring of Mississippi’s Sweet Tea Studio couldn’t get enough of him, yet Kyle “Slick” Johnson landed here in our own backyard. Thanks to his tireless drive and handyman skills, Johnson’s Fancy Time Studio was born in Kensington and it’s reputation is spreading like some kind of necessary musical virus.
“At first, it was just letting people know that I was here and that I wanted to work on Philly bands,” Johnson says, adding that working on the first Creepoid record helped get his name out there locally. “I made no money on it and tried to make it as good as I could.”
Johnson grew up about as punk as anyone could be in Vermont, liberty spikes and all. As a teenager, he wrangled some cassette recorders and began his illustrious career as a sound engineer with the support of his mother, a school music teacher. After high school, he knew that he had to get the hell out of Dodge. In 1999, he shipped off to Full Sail University in Florida. After school, Johnson found a job as an assistant in New York, working for Joe Blaney of Joe’s Music Studio, best known for mixing “Radio Clash” and recording Combat Rock, as well as various tracks for Prince and Keith Richards.
“I learned more in the first week of assisting Joe than I did the entire time I was in school,” Johnson states. “In school, you learn theory after theory. When you are assisting, you learn application and why any of those theories you learned matter, and how to use them, and how not to use them. How to use them for good and for evil.”
Joe’s Music Studio was where Johnson met Herring, who runs Sweet Tea Studio in Oxford, Mississippi. Impressed by Johnson’s speed and skill, Herring thought of him when he was called to do his second Modest Mouse record in 2006. Johnson went on to work with The Hives in 2007, and work on a release for Pitchfork darlings Wavves in 2010. He posted up in Mississippi for months at a time but, due to the strain it put on his personal life, in 2009 Johnson decided to make it in Philly.
When Johnson launched Fancy Time Studio in 2010, it started as a simple room nestled amongst other art workspaces in the basement of a warehouse. Creepoid was the first Philly band to record in the studio. Johnson then acquired the room next to him, cut a window between them, insulated and soundproofed the studio himself. Since the expansion, Slutever, The Extraordinaires and Cold Fronts have worked with Johnson at Fancy Time. Other bands from New York and across the country have made a special trip to Philly to work with Johnson.
“I really like Philly, I like how you can have a band here,” Johnson says. “In New York, it’s this constant struggle to make enough money at your job to afford to be in a band.”
He is here to stay, which is something local bands and music lovers can be thankful for.
“I go in through a basement door, into this dark little cave and I press knobs and listen to speakers and obsess over the way shit sounds all day long,” Johnson says. “That’s what I do. I don’t see the sun, I don’t sleep enough, I drink lots of coffee and I don’t exercise. And sometimes I eat really crappy food. So I’m going to turn into this little troll of a person if I keep doing this, I’m going to have moss growing on me. But that’s all right. Philly has been good to me so far.”