It was just after noon when the boys arrived at Tower 17, on the Balboa Peninsula. Anthony Wells led the procession from 17th Street out onto the beach toward the lifeguard tower. Wells and two assistants, Justin Ratowsky and Bridger Robinson, were lugging the necessary equipment for the job at hand: cameras, a multi-track recorder, microphones, mic stands, tripods, XLR cables, a blanket, and a drone. As the crew staged and set up their equipment, they were joined by three of the five members (Hayden Hanson, guitar and vocals; Jacob Hernandez, bass; and Doug Alani, saxophone) of the San Clemente-based reggae / ska / punk band Tunnel Vision. Within an hour, Wells was recording multiple takes of a minimalist, acoustic arrangement of the band’s new song “Hop in the Van.” That’s the way they roll at Tower 17.
The Tunnel Vision recording session was the fourth instance in just over a year that Wells shot a band performing at the tower. The three previous bands he’d shot videos of are: Mike Pinto, Zander, and Kash’d Out. All three are from out of state, and the latter two had their Tower 17 sessions while they were in town as part of their West Coast tours.
The Tower 17 sessions grew organically from Wells’s backgrounds in music and film — both of which he studied at California State University, Chico. Just out of school, Wells started a small music video production company, Manifest Media, with his friends. Their work in doing recap videos for such festivals as Lightning in a Bottle were at the forefront of the DSLR video revolution — wherein DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras are used to shoot video as opposed to traditional video or film cameras.
Since then, about five years ago, the Mendocino-born renaissance man moved to Newport Beach, won a Best Cinematographer award from the Marina del Rey Film Festival (for the short film Mountain Trail), spearheaded a media campaign for San Francisco Conservatory of Music, done app development, worked in graphic design (including designing his father’s book Notes from the West Pole), edited and helped produce videos for Surf Roots, and became the keyboard player in the band Seedless (for which he also assists with production and engineering).
It was while working with Seedless that he was asked, by the band’s manager Brendon Davis, to shoot some video for another of Davis’s acts. “He reached out to me because one of his artists was looking for some content,” Wells explained, “and the way he worded it was, ‘We just want something better than an iPhone.’ So I mic’d him up in my living room and put the camera on him and let him play.” After recording a couple of songs, Wells realized that shooting on the beach, just outside his door, would probably look cooler than shooting on his living room couch. He recalled, “The sun was going down outside and it just hit me, like, ‘What are we doing? Let’s go outside [and] get some of this amazing light and this amazing ambience!’” Since all of Wells’ equipment was battery powered, there was nothing to keep his operation anchored. “We just walked out…It was an impromptu event that spawned this whole project.”
As for Wells’ skeleton crew, it is a rotating roster. In the field and in the studio, Wells identifies Lewis Richards (has produced for Sublime, Dirty Heads, Seedless, etc.) as one of his principal team members — as well as his mentor and business partner. Furthermore, one of the long term goals for Tower 17 is to do regular sessions with artists who record at Richards’ 17th Street Recording Studio. Wells also credits his partners at Surf Roots for premiering Tower 17 videos and putting them into rotation.
Tower 17 videos provide a pleasant oasis that combines groovy music with high quality audio and video production at an idyllic location. Readers looking for a treat are encouraged to check out the videos on their YouTube Channel, Tower 17, and stay tuned for announcements through their Instagram account, @tower17acoustics.