THE Killers named their Grammy-nominated disc after the dingy locals' casino Sam's Town. And "Sam's Town" may well be a fitting title for the Killers' tales of forgotten, damaged and lost souls adrift in Sin City. But the big, thick, bombastic, stadium-rock sound of "Sam's Town" wasn't recorded anywhere near the casino in the title. The Killers spent their time at the heartbeat of the more luxurious part of Vegas: a studio on the same floor as the over-the-top Hardwood Suite (the room that has its own basketball court) in the red-hot Fantasy Tower of the celebrity-obsessed Palms resort.
"Sam's Town" producers Allen Moulder and Flood (a.k.a. Mark Ellis) even left the studio a testimonial posted on its website.
The Killers aren't the only ones. All the major Vegas headliners, including Celine Dion, Elton John and Barry Manilow, have used the studio. In a little more than a year, operating as its own business with a staff of 10, probably the only world-class recording studio (two studios actually) to sit inside a casino resort has been used by a who's who of artists and producers. Among the clients have been reclusive legends such as Michael Jackson, Guns & Roses and Lee Hazelwood and classic-rockers such as John Fogerty, Graham Nash and Queen, not to mention plenty of today's artists, including Maroon 5, Mariah Carey, Macy Gray, Nas and the Fray. "Lil John stayed for months," says Zoe Thrall, director of the studio.
Unless you are locals like the Killers, recording at the Palms means living in the hotel. Last October the alt-metal group Chevelle, not exactly a typical Vegas act, moved into the Palms to record a disc at the studio being released next month on Epic. Singer-guitarist Pete Loeffler is still amazed by the experience of living (while sneaking a pet puppy past Palm's security daily) and recording inside a casino.
"Typically, you want to be away from the glitz and glamour so you can focus, and we'd tried that for our last three records," says Loeffler. "We wanted to do this record in a different environment, one that we had never explored before. Someone mentioned a new studio in a casino in Vegas."
Though the placement of a recording studio inside a casino devoted to gambling may seem weird, there are certain affinities. Already a 24/7 environment, the Palms studio had no problems servicing the band around the clock. "Any hour we wanted to work they were available," Loeffler says. Also, with a casino already known for its devotion to celebrities, handling every whim of even the most demanding rock star is no problem.
Even so, Thrall notes that most requests are of a mundane nature. For example, one day Chevelle wanted a special level of isolation for a guitar part, and Thrall found a mesh that could accomplish the trick. "I found it at an obscure health place in Los Angeles for people who are afraid of X-rays. No radio waves could penetrate it. It was like a blanket mesh." She had it to the studio here by the next morning.
Thrall, an energetic woman with curly dark hair and a well-known studio executive with a quarter-century of experience, admits that a top-of-the-line functioning studio probably wasn't what Palms co-owner George Maloof intended when he OKd the project.
"I think it started," Thrall says, "as George thinking it would be a great extension of services to artists who were already staying here." But what may have been intended as a high-end amenity for a celebrity crowd of Palms regulars such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton (one of the first clients to record at the studio) also became a destination itself.
Maloof says the decision to build the studio was not a huge one for him in the scheme of things: "When the idea was first presented to me I thought it would be unique, different and special and that it had never been done before. We did a little research and thought it would be great for our guests, and so I said, 'Let's put a studio in.' "
If that seems casual of Maloof, consider that while Thrall estimates the total cost to build the studio at around $6 million, the facility itself was part of an overall expansion project that the Palms estimates cost $750 million. Now complete, the expansion includes Palms Place (condos) and the Fantasy Tower with the souped-up Fantasy suites, the Playboy Club casino, the nightclub Moon and a restaurant, Nove.
The fate of recording studios generally has mirrored the sad times of the rest of the music industry. "Studios of this type are almost extinct because it is so cost intensive and so much can be done with home recording," Thrall says.
But in Vegas the inventive, and, dare to say, synergistic opportunities for a recording studio in a resort continue. As chance would have it last week, the final part of the Palms expansion, a concert venue called Pearl debuted; Maloof says it had not really been conceived when he built the studio.
The opening act serendipitously was Chevelle, but this time Thrall was focused on the headliner, Evanescence, whose set she was setting up to record in 44 tracks. In what Thrall calls a "no brainer," the Palms studio recently cut a deal with iTunes to record concerts at the Pearl. So these are growth times, it turns out for the music business, as long as you find a home inside a Nevada casino.
For more on what's happening on and off the Strip, see latimes.com/movablebuffet.