Niko Bolas in the studio
Niko Bolas

There was so much interest in the vintage 610 console that we featured in December that I thought I would track down some others. This month’s featured artist, Vance Powell, clued me in to the 610 that Niko Bolas keeps at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. Niko is an extremely accomplished engineer and producer who is best known for his work with Melissa Etheridge, Warren Zevon, and Neil Young. I caught up with him Australia where he is recording.

Vance Powell sent me photos of your 610 hanging on the wall. It’s amazing. How did you get a hold of it? What’s the history?

I bought it in the '80s. Freddie Bova found it for me. He was the head of tech at A&M Studios.

I was using digital machines with Neil Young, and he had a tube console, the "Green Board" that you wrote about. I went bananas. It was ridiculous. So when Freddie Bova, came in and said, "I've got this console from CBS Films. Do you want it?" I bought it, Freddie rebuilt it, got it working, and I lived on the thing for several years … just lugging it around. I had a big case made for it, and dragged it all over the place. It was really cumbersome, but it sure sounded good.

Then in the early '90s, when I moved to New York, I set it up in Steve Jordan's loft. We had a little studio there, and we would make his records at his crib. Tay, from Taytrix, whittled the console down, took the guts of it, and made it like an art piece where you hung the tubes on the wall with the control surface right below it. That took up less square footage, because that's important in New York. This was all unbeknownst to me. I didn't even know she was doing it. I just showed up one day and my console had become a sculpture. Whether that's good or bad, that's what happened to it.

In the ten years that it lived at Steve's house it fell into disrepair, just from age, and years of use. I shipped it off to California where Steve Firlotte brought it back to life. Then I brought it with me to Nashville-- it now lives at Blackbird.

Niko's 610 Console images
610 Console
Do you still use it?

All the time, yeah. Mostly I use it for overdubs and mixing, because it's in my smaller room. If it was in a bigger room, I would track through it. It works well and sounds just like you would imagine. It's a nice, big, stupid, tube mic pre. Makes everything sound big and warm and fuzzy. … It's great.

Tay, from Taytrix, whittled the console down, took the guts of it, and made it like an art piece where you hung the tubes on the wall with the control surface right below it.

So… Neil's new record? You produced it.

I did. It's called Fork in the Road.

Did you do that in Nashville, or did you go out to his studio?

We cut the first of it at Rack Studios in London, the rest of it at Legacy in New York. Then I took it back to Blackbird in Nashville to mix.

Do you feel connected to the Bill Putnam legacy? Do you have other Universal Audio gear?

Oh yeah, I use it all the time. Bill Putnam's one of the people I wish that I was smart enough to channel. [Laughs.] Are you kidding? He's the inspiration to all of us.

You guys are the shit. There's very few things that I like, because most of it is just a glitzy way for somebody to generate income by selling you some new piece of crap. My UA mic pres are still bigger than anything you can buy. I don't understand why. I just use what works.