Joe Loftus is a name that comes up again and again in conversations with NEPA musicians, and for good reason – the man behind JL Studios is responsible for recording and producing countless local albums, though that wasn’t always his plan.
“It just kind of happened. I’ve been a musician my whole life. I got some recording equipment to do my own music. I had some friends with bands, did some recordings for them, and it’s been word of mouth ever since. It’s kind of cool that it happened this way,” Loftus explained.
“I actually wanted to do drums. My parents wouldn’t let me get a drum set, so I played guitar. I’ve played out for probably 17-20 years, playing five-six nights a week, traveling around, and then just sort of fell into recording.”
Playing in a duo called Mystique taught him many of the skills he uses while recording, and the 45-year-old Wilkes-Barre native taught himself bass, piano, drums, and “everything” else bands might need in the studio, which recently moved from Wyoming to Magdon Music in Olyphant after about 13 years in business.
“It’s an obsession. You love music. You eat, breathe, sleep it. I guess that’s why we do this crazy business,” he noted with a smile.
When mentioning that bands like Motionless In White, Title Fight, and Tigers Jaw have gone on to find worldwide success after recording in his studio, Loftus is humble about his accomplishments, mentioning up-and-comers like Threatpoint, The Curse of Sorrow, Three Imaginary Boys, No Vacancy, and others in the same breath.
“Music’s music. I don’t specialize in any one type of music. I record everything. It’s all the same. Just listen to what the band’s doing and go with the way they’re playing it and take it from there,” he emphasized.
“Every band is different. A lot of bands have different characters in it and it’s a good time,” he continued. “We’re working with the bands from the ground up. Just from working with them, you actually become fans of the bands, which is great. I try to take what they want to do and take it to the next level, exceed their expectations.”
JL Studios has no website to spread the word, but his work speaks for itself, getting the bands talking amongst themselves and referring them back to Loftus, who encourages originality above all else.
“Don’t try and change them. Let them do what they do and then just try and polish it a little bit. That’s what keeps bands unique,” he said. “It’s a lot of practice, crafting their art. I tell them to be original, don’t try and copy another band and sound like another band – do their own thing.
“You do hear certain influences from bands. I can tell what artists they listen to just by what they’re playing and how they play, which is great. That’s what music is about. You take bits and pieces from everything you learn and make it your own.”
While this steady stream of business doesn’t leave much room for his own music, he hopes to release a progressive rock album by the end of the year. The hours are long and the work is “a lot more involved than people think,” but Loftus enjoys jumping from hip-hop to Gospel to country to hardcore to metal, sometimes all in the same week, and thrives in a profession that allows him to stretch his creative muscles even more than most of the musicians he records.
“Every day is different. It’s always creative. I’m always trying new things and trying to stay fresh and not keep doing the same old thing. Every project is unique. That’s what’s great about it.”