Focusrite joins Philly family
Plenty of artists come from musical families: There are the Bachs and the BeeGees, the Cash/Carters and the Coltranes, the Wainwrights and the Winans... the list goes on and on. But how many can claim membership in not one, but two such creative lineages? Not very many—but multi-instrumentalist Jake Morelli, the New Yorker–turned-Philadelphian who runs JMoTone Studios, is one of the lucky few.
Jake’s dad, Jack Morelli, is a full-time drummer who runs Jack Morelli Music, a successful boutique music booking agency in NY. His grandfather, Jack Morelli Sr. also ran an agency and played drums professionally till he was 85. His uncle, Bob Morelli, is the president of RED, the venerable distribution arm of Sony, and his late godfather, Howie Blauvelt, was part of the deal as well: He played bass and sang in an early Billy Joel band called the Hassles, and later played with Ram Jam, the band behind the left-field rock oddity “Black Betty.”
Jake Morelli and his wife, singer Donn T.
But that’s just one side of it, as Morelli’s married into a powerhouse musical family as well. His partner in life is Donn Thompson Morelli, better known as the soulful songstress Donn T; Morelli serves as her musical director and helps out with her label, D-Tone Victorious. “My wife’s dad is the legendary Lee Andrews, who just passed away last year,” Morelli says. “He was big-time in the doo-wop world; he has a star on Philly’s musical Walk of Fame. And her grandfather was Beachy Thompson of [renowned gospel group] the Dixie Hummingbirds.” And her brother? He’s none other than Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.
Snapshots of the Morelli Dynasty. Jake’s late grandfather, Jack Morelli Sr. (bottom right) played drums until he was 85. His late godfather Howie Blauvelt was in the band The Hassles with Billy Joel. Donn T’s parents were both in Congress Alley (Jacqui Thompson and Lee Andrews at bookends of the top-left frame), and her late grandfather Beachy Thompson was a member of the legendary gospel quintet The Dixie Hummingbirds.
Actually, Morelli belongs to three musical families—he’s recently become a member in good standing of the Focusrite family. “I had been using a Firewire interface, and it was doing the job fairly well,” he says, “but if there was more than one other person in the room at any given time, it was a bit limiting in terms of its inputs. I’d constantly have to be switching things around. So I started wondering, what I could do to possibly expand things a little more?”
The answer: the Clarett 8Pre interface and the Clarett OctoPre eight-channel mic pre. “Now, between the two of them, I can have everything in the studio plugged in at the same time,” he says. “I can just come into the studio and turn on the system; I don’t have to spend time getting things to connect. Everything is perfectly interacting with each other, and I can get right into the music. For practical reasons, when you’re scheduling is really tight, that’s great.”
The Clarett 8Pre and Octopre at the heart of Jake Morelli’s recording rig.
But there’s more than practicality involved in Morelli’s choice of gear—there’s aesthetics as well, both of the sonic nature and otherwise. “Clarett is the centerpiece of the studio, even just visually—they’re gorgeous—but in every other way, too,” he enthuses. “The sound—it’s drastically different from what I had before. It’s actually kind of mind-blowing. I’ve always felt that I was getting a version of what was actually played, but with the Clarett, you’re getting the true sonic imprint of what just happened. When you listen to it, it truly brings you back to the session itself; it’s the same sound as you were hearing when the session was happening. I don’t have to add this or that in order to make it sound the way that I want it to sound; I can get amazing tones right from the source. That’s so inspiring.”
Speaking of tone, he’s a big fan of Focusrite’s Air effect, an emulation of the company’s classic transformer-based ISA preamps. “I’ve found myself just leaving Air on in most cases,” he says. “The Clarett is so clear to begin with, but Air somehow adds another layer of clarity and sweetness to the music’s character. The lows seem so fat and punchy; the mids are really sweet; the highs are super-crisp. It’s just really tasty.”
There are plenty side benefits of having the 8Pre and OctoPre as part of the studio set-up, too. For instance, their latency—or rather, lack thereof. “I was trained as a drummer by my father and grandfather,” Morelli says, “so I’m locked into the concept of rhythm, and I’m ultra-aware of latency. But the Clarett has been such breath of fresh air. It’s another factor in really being able to hear back what you are putting in, and not be reminded about all this technology that’s around you. You can just get into the production of the music without thinking about it.” Then there are all those little things—which can add up to a lot. “For instance, I love the ability to be able to mute or dim the mix within a session, from both the hardware and the Control software,” he says. “Furthermore the flexibility in Control accounts for every type of routing scenario I'd ever need to encounter—and more. And the software, the whole control system, is super-easy to use.”
Jake Morelli and Donn T together in the studio, where their families’ record collections line the walls.
The new year sees Morelli working harder than ever. He’s finishing an EP of his own entitled “Good News”, and aims to have it out by summer. There’s also a release with Donn T entitled “100 4 Characters”, along with collaborations with keyboardist-producer Ray Angry and drummer Daru Jones. Another project is with Philly MC Chill Moody, and yet another with producer Ant Bell and R&B vocalist Aaron Camper. Needless to say, the 8Pre and the OctoPre will be at the center of it all. “You know, I’ve always had some level of frustration in the other products I’ve used,” he admits. “But now, working in the studio is a dream. With the Clarett, I can get back to simply creating, which is really what it’s all about. It’s inspiring. I consider it a major blessing to be able to work with such a forward-thinking, cutting-edge company as Focusrite.”
Words: Bruce Tantum