Don’t sleep on the music being crafted at Dreamcatcher Recording Studio

Childhood friends Rizo and David Mason have turned the cozy Reynoldsburg studio into a recording destination

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Rizo photographed at Dreamcatchers Recording Studio

In the weeks prior to the March 2020 shutdown, Dreamcatcher Recording Studio hosted a listening party for the Kashis Keyz album Rookie Year, an event that drew such a large crowd that it had to take place three times over, with 30 or so listeners filing into the small Reynoldsburg studio to hear the album, and then filing out so a new crew could step in and get its turn.

“He’s a popular guy, so if he puts out that he’s having a listening party, people are going to come,” Dreamcatcher co-founder Rizo said while reclining in a chair near the control board during an early August interview at the studio. “And, funny story, he had the flu. … Back then, COVID was a thing, but not something people were really paying attention to. Him having the flu, looking back on that now, it’s like, ehhhh.”

Within weeks of that listening party, COVID-19 became a very concrete concern, and in mid-March the studio shut down, canceling scheduled sessions and offering refunds for artists who had booked time, which sent Rizo temporarily spiraling, concerned a dream he had worked toward his entire life was rapidly coming undone.

“Once we realized we were going to be shut down for more than two weeks, I was terrified,” Rizo said. “And then you have Fauci talking on the news about how we’d be lucky to get out of it by 2022, which all sounds very real now.”

But beginning in June 2020, the studio tentatively reopened for sessions with distancing and masking requirements in place, along with a strict sanitation regimen. In addition to working with musicians, in those early months Rizo also helped record the Columbus Can’t Wait podcast, which explored instances of police violence against the Black community in its most recent season.

Then, in the weeks following the April death of Black teenager Ma’Khia Bryant, the studio hosted its largest pandemic-era recording project to date: a daylong session spearheaded by Vada Azeem, who invited an array of rappers, poets and musicians to the space to alternately mourn, commune and rage, the crew emerging with the song “No Negotiation,” which surfaced digitally in late June.

More:Vada joins Columbus artists in bringing attention to police violence

“I grew up listening to Vada. Well, he wasn’t going by Vada back then. He was L.E. for the Uncool,” Rizo said. “But it was a last-minute thing where he just called me and said, ‘Hey, man, we’ve got to get into the studio. We got a lot on our mind. We got to do something powerful. We got to record.’ He’s worked with me a lot, so he knows we’re busy and that calling last minute usually doesn’t work, but coincidentally I had something open the next day.”

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

The session featured a larger crowd than Dreamcatcher had hosted at any point since the pandemic started, with Vada joined by the likes of Barbara Fant, Co City, Hodgie and TrigNO, among others. “It was a fun environment, but there was also an air of, ‘We’re here on a mission,’” Rizo said. “Nobody knew what it was going to turn into, but as we got into it, it was clear that everyone here had something to say.”

That moment, like the earlier release party for Keyz’s Rookie Year, encapsulated the sense of magic and possibility that Rizo said first drew him to music as a child. “I always wanted to be in the picture, to be involved in making music,” said Rizo, whose father was a recording artist in college, even landing a track on the radio in Boston. “My parents had a huge love for music, and they planted that in me, and so I just wanted to be a part of that beautiful, beautiful thing.”

Rizo started on his path playing drums in the church band as a youngster, eventually moving on to bass and then guitar, which remains his primary love, and which he moved on to study at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. “When I’m playing guitar, it feels like part of me,” said Rizo, who emulated musicians such as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton when he was getting his start. “And then the way it makes me feel when I’m playing. Everybody has that face, where you see the guitarist playing a solo, making a face this way. I don’t even realize I’m making that face, but that’s how I feel at the time.”

As he progressed, Rizo also taught himself production, first recording friends and then gradually expanding outside of that circle in college, where he produced a cover of “Come and See Me” for Lauren McClinton. “And that was another moment where I really felt that magic, and I still listen to that song to this day,” he said.

In the years since, Rizo has pursued creating and engineering in tandem, embracing the artistry in each while accepting that life behind the board allows him to more easily pay the bills.

“Really, I wanted to get into music however I could, and engineering just turned out to be something I could actually live off of,” Rizo said, and laughed. “I love production and I love making music, but you gotta go where it pays the bills.”