Somewhere in Bend, an amateur rapper is sitting in a basement, garage or bedroom scribbling rhymes on scraps of paper and constructing beats on a laptop. When that person finally decides to turn their rudimentary work into an album, they'd do well to give Rory Restani—owner of Bend's Oxiliary recording studio—a call. After all, the guy's studio is putting out some of Bend's best hip-hop right now. No joke.
Last year, Restani worked on MOsley WOtta's epic concept album KinKonK. This year, he helped put out the third studio release by Bend rapper Amsterdam— the University of Oregon grad's real name is Gabe Van Eikeren. On those albums, Restani was able to work his engineering magic to make them something special. And each one required some finesse.
Last week, I talked with Restani at his studio about working with MO WO's Jason Graham and on the new Amsterdam album.
"Jason would describe what he wanted to do as an artist and not necessarily in sound engineering terms," said Restani. "He wanted [KinKonK] to sound like an animal. We had to create the ability to capture his voice when he was yelling without distortion but still keep it sounding gritty."
If you've heard the album, you know Restani was successful.
Oxiliary has a vocal recording room, just off the main sound engineering space on Greenwood Avenue near Silvermoon Brewing, and it was there that Restani fiddled with the tracking and recoding levels of Graham's voice in order to achieve the rapper's lofty artistic vision. No small task given Graham strong voice and the sometimes angry subject matter of KinKonK.
On Amsterdam's latest release, Avarice, Restani started a bit behind the eight ball. Amsterdam brought some beats with him into the recording process, but because of a soured business relationship with the duo that created the beats, they were far from finished.
"[Amsterdam] had these really rough beats that weren't fully tracked out," said Restani. "We had to doll them up and sample some other music in order to make them useable."
And just like KinKonK, the finished product was outstanding. With head-bobbing ambient rap beats so sick and full, you'd never know they came to Restani unfinished.
We sat in the engineering room of the studio. I on a small white vinyl couch that had seen better days and Restani at a large table with computer monitors on top of stacked sound production equipment. Wood and foam panels—covered with burlap coffee sacks donated by Bellatazza—had been hung on all four walls in an effort to improve the studio's acoustics.
Restani, who is a rapper himself, talked to me about how he moved to Bend from Arizona in 2006 after studying sound engineering in school. At the time the move was so he could continue working with his buddy, Bend's Jay Tablet, as the hip-hop duo Cloaked Characters.
"[Bend] had a blossoming music scene," said Restani. "There seemed to be a lot of things happening with hip-hop, and Tablet was like, 'You gotta get out here, man!' "
Three years later, Restani decided it was time to start making music for other people as well as himself and Tablet. And Oxiliary was born in 2009.
"I feel like there is so much music out there and people have to sift through a ton of music that isn't very good to find the stuff that is," said Restani. "I've always wanted to help make good music. I'm not a musician myself. I mostly write lyrics and engineer, but I wanted give others the chance for their music to be heard."
Oxiliary moved around a few times during its first three years before settling into the current location on Greenwood last summer. Over that time, Restani worked with Bend favorites Person People and put out solo music for Tablet. He even recorded punk band Tuck and Roll. But Oxiliary seems to be settling in as the place in Central Oregon for hip-hop recording.
"Well, it's the kind of music I make myself," said Restani. "But right now the studio isn't really built out for anything other than recording vocals so that makes it best for hip-hop."
As Restani closed up the studio that night and I stepped out into the frigid dark, I couldn't help but wonder about the next great album Oxiliary would put out. Maybe that nameless amateur is cooking up something unlike anything we've ever heard or something that just needs some experienced tweaking in order to become a sweet beat. Either way, Central Oregon hip-hop fans will be better off if Restani gets hold of it.