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Inside the cozy, windowless lair of Fernanda Ulibarri and Eugene Toale's Echo Park recording studio, it smells like pot. And there's also that "vintage" smell. Old comic books line one wall up to the ceiling, while retro electronic equipment dominate another. A classic upright piano sits in the center of the room.
Ulibarri is perched on a cushion on the floor, nursing her throat with a mug of tea, while Toale excitedly plays back a few of the tracks he recently mixed for a band called Las Cafeteras.
This is Echo Park's Bedrock Studios, where Ulibarri recorded her first full-length album, átOma, and where she'll be debuting some of the songs live tomorrow, December 7. A massive warehouse tucked away on a tiny side street, this indie-recording mecca boasts sound engineers who have produced for Kid Cudi, OK Go, The Black Keys and The Decemberists.
The crown jewel of this joint is the secret upstairs vintage-pinball gallery and performance space. It's called Pins and Needles, and it's where Ulibarri will unveil her new work.
Hailing from Mexico City, Ulibarri attended Fermatta Music Academy, which has turned out Joselo Rangel of Café Tacvba, psych-rockers The Liquits and indie songstress Ximena Sariñana, to name a few. She attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and moved to New York, where she taught ProTools music engineering classes and performed occasionally in an electro-pop outfit with Toale dubbed Uli & The Gringos.
But the wheels got slowly turning on Ulibarri's solo career in 2008 when she took off on an international tour as part of Latin pop superstar Julieta Venegas' band. She returned to L.A. and signed up for, of all things, an intensive acting course ― perhaps in preparation for the limelight.
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"It was a lot of work to expose myself as an artist after studying so much," she says. "I was like, 'I have all these tools, what do I do now? Fuck.'"
But eventually some combination of her experience on international stages, the acting classes, and a little bit of L.A. sunshine yielded songwriting magic. She and Toale, both perfectionist sound engineers, mixed the album together. It's kind of amazing that they completed the project as quickly as they did, considering they sent back the entire first printing of the album after hearing a tiny, almost-inaudible "click" on one of the tracks.
After moving from New York three years ago, it appears Ulibarri has finally hit her stride. "Here [in L.A.] you get more time to work on your art," she says. "In New York, you had to pay the rent."
Fernanda Ulibarri performs at Bedrock, 1623 Allesandro Street, at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 7. Opening acts include Las Cafeteras and Pilar Díaz, former lead singer of Los Abandoned.