Dave Douglas counts down "one two here we go," and pushes the record button. He's perched over an iMac and mixer, headphones on, nodding along to the intricate acoustic guitar part indie-rock artist Morgan Mecaskey is playing in the room directly below his attic studio.
But something's off. The chords don't sound quite right. Douglas taps the pause button and lets Mecaskey know. "We still have some pretty serious tuning issues," he says. "The top note sounds sharp to me." She fixes it and begins working through the part again. "Yes," he says, "do that a couple times."
It's a meticulous and tedious process, but one that Douglas' Danger House Studio knows well. It's a quest for quality and — as the name suggests — being adventurous. "We like the idea of taking risks," he says. "We're in a studio, so if you screw up really badly you can erase it."
Mecaskey has experienced how those risks can pay off, too.
"I did my first EP with [Douglas] last fall and had the idea, I kind of want to throw out some crazy feedback on this section, but I don't know if that's taking it too far,' " she recalls. "Dave's like, Try that.' So we ended up doing four takes of guitar feedback, and sampling and layering that into the song."
Though it has only been a few years since he founded it, Douglas' Danger House Studio has worked with an impressive array of musicians. The artist list includes rising indie-rock act The Lighthouse and The Whaler, who recorded their first full-length album there, as well as singer-songwriter Dan Miraldi, a 2010 finalist in the International John Lennon Songwriting Competition.
"In a house, everything sounds different," says Douglas, who resides in Cleveland Heights. "Sometimes you have to walk around and say, Where does this sound good?' And record it there."
He knows the hallway is a sweet spot for capturing violin and saxophone, and the basement is the best fit for drums. Recording in a house also means there are occasional surprises. While Douglas was recording vocals for rock musician Thaddeus A. Greene in one of the back rooms, he spotted a bird's nest on the windowsill. Rather than letting it deter him, Douglas embraced it.
"We went ahead and recorded it in the room with the baby birds," he says with a laugh.
Danger House's roots stretch back to Avon, where Douglas grew up recording mixtapes of himself. It led him to major in commercial music technology at Canton's Malone University. During those college years, he met three other musicians with whom he joined as part of the Grammy-nominated Christian-rock band Relient K. He spent seven years with the band touring the country and recording four full-length albums. Three certified gold albums — each commemorating 500,000 copies sold — hang in his studio.
It was during Relient K recording sessions in Los Angeles, Nashville and Canton that Douglas says he gleaned technical knowledge from notable producers such as Howard Benson, whose credits include My Chemical Romance and All-American Rejects.
"I was always the guy who was hanging over the engineer's or producer's shoulder asking a ton of questions," he recalls. " I spent a lot of time kind of picking their brains and seeing what their thoughts were on pieces of gear, recording techniques and where they would place mics."
Although he left Relient K in 2007, music is still what fills his workdays. He books multiple recording sessions a week and uses the rest of his time to focus on the pop-rock act Attack Cat, which he formed with his wife, Rachel Hoskins. Still, he says he sometimes wonders what life is like for the water-cooler crowd.
"I have a bit of a fantasy about working in an office," Douglas says. "I've never worked in an office and for whatever reason, it's like, Man, I wish I could I get up every day, put a tie on and go to the office.' [Now] I just get up, make a cup of coffee and I'll go up to the studio, and occasionally I'll put a tie on."