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September 16, 2014

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At Studio at the Palms, superstar artists and Grammy nominations are the Thralls’ calling

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Christopher DeVargas

Pat and Zoe Thrall in Studio at the Palms, Monday Feb. 4, 2012.

Pat & Zoe Thrall

Pat and Zoe Thrall in Studio at the Palms, Monday Feb. 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Pat and Zoe Thrall communicate as comfortably as any couple happily married for 18 years, often finishing each other’s sentences no matter how obtuse the topic.

It’s like this:

Zoe: “Hey, do you want to record Beyonce? …”

Pat: “Tonight? Absolutely!”

Such give-and-take is common for the Thralls. She is the director of Studio at the Palms. She is always on call, organizing and booking the schedule in the 24/7 music enclave. He is one of the great rock guitarists ever, a former member of the Pat Travers Band (who co-wrote the tireless Travers classic “Snortin’ Whiskey”) and Asia. He has toured or recorded with Meat Loaf, Jack Bruce, Elton John, Tina Turner and Dave Stewart, among others.

First, we’ll cut to the Beyonce yarn, as it involves whimsical scheduling and third-trimester pregnancy. Then we’ll talk of Pat Thrall’s dual Grammy nominations for his work with Frank Ocean (the Grammy Awards telecast is at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS).

In mid-December 2011, Zoe Thrall received a call from a representative of Beyonce who asked about studio availability at the Palms. As in, that night. It was in impulsive overture, but not out of the ordinary as she has been known to quickly carve out studio time at odds hours for Maroon 5, The Killers, Jamie Foxx, Eminem, Alabama and, years ago, Michael Jackson.

But what wasn’t typical was Beyonce’s physical condition: She was about eight months pregnant. Her request to be recorded while singing (for two, as it turns out) coincided with the appearance by Jay-Z and Kanye West at MGM Grand. As the Thralls recall, Beyonce was getting a little restless, a little bored and opted to do some work while the guys played Grand Garden Arena.

“I called her assistant, and she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, Beyonce’s flying in, so just make sure you have everything set up and ready for her,’ ” Pat said. “I’m like ‘OK!’ And sure enough, at 8:15 or 8:20, she comes in and starts setting up. … The show (at MGM) started at 8 o’clock, so she literally got off the plane and made it over here.”

What was recorded that night were tracks intended for Beyonce’s upcoming fifth studio album targeted for a spring release. There were jokes that Beyonce might actually give birth during the recording session, which would have made her delivery one of the best-documented moments in the history of childbirth.

Since that night, the Thralls have been busy recording for Celine Dion, Elton John, Rihanna, Li’l Wayne, even the Las Vegas-launched rock band Imagine Dragons and Frankie Moreno. And that’s just a short list from last year.

Falling into place is Ocean, introduced to Pat Thrall three years ago when Ocean was still recording under his given name of Lonny Beaux.

“We just knew that this guy — the songs that he was bringing in were like, ‘Oh my God, this guy is going to be important someday,’” Pat Thrall said. “So he came and visited me one weekend, and the first song he played — I brought Zoe in said, ‘You have got to hear this song.’ He plays this song, which was something on two albums of material he’d written, and by the end of it, she’s bawling her eyes out.”

Pat Thrall worked as an engineer on Ocean’s riveting “Channel Orange,” which launched him into international stardom. Ocean is nominated for six Grammys, and Pat Thrall is folded into two of those categories: Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “Thinking of You.”

“Last year, finally, he was doing the album and basically finishing it up, and brought me in at the end to help tidy things up,” he said. “At that point, we knew this guy was going to be — forget it. Whatever he puts out there is going to be great.”

It would not be a stretch to say the Thralls have seen all variety of artists wade through the music industry over their careers. Before arriving at the Palms, she was general manager of the Hit Factory in New York before the studio closed in 2005. They shrug off — literally, they shrug — when asked about Ocean’s recent kerfuffle with Chris Brown at a West Hollywood recording studio.

Their take is, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the artist’s capacity to make music or irreparably tarnish his image, such incidents have to be accepted as part of life. But the police report states that someone in Brown’s entourage used a gay slur against Ocean (who has written about a same-sex partner), and Pat Thrall gives Ocean credit for expressing his sexuality in his art and in public.

“Frank did something that nobody had ever done in the R&B world and came out,” Pat Thrall said. “Years ago, that could have been a disaster for an artist, especially in the R&B world, but it opened up a whole new attitude about him and, I think, actually elevated him.”

But in general, the Thralls are not concerned with such issues. They simply make great artists sound great. The Studio at the Palms is on firm footing, having survived a change in ownership at the hotel. Gone is the man who envisioned the recording space, Palms founder George Maloof, and the Thralls were left wondering if the new hierarchy, including incoming President Joe Magliarditi, would find a need at all for a state-of-the-art studio.

But the studio remains an important facet of the Palms.

The new management team continues to financially support the studio and recent upgrades, Zoe said.

The next upgrade at the studio might be the latest in audio-technical gadgetry. Or, depending on what happens Sunday, it might be a little trophy case.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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