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July 21, 2017

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From Michael Jackson and dancing lizards to ‘Pretty. Odd’: Studio at The Palms always accommodates

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Denise Truscello

Zoe Thall, photographed at The Studio at The Palms, which would make a nice suite.

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  • Studio at Palms
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The Studio at The Palms.

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The Studio at The Palms.

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Zoe Thall, at The Studio at The Palms.

Sometimes, it's a creatively stimulated Jamie Foxx wheeling in at 4 a.m., hungry to work on a song that will earn him a Grammy nomination.

Sometimes, it's Michael Jackson performing what would be his final recorded music, and even fine-tuning the dance steps of a dozen animated lizards.

Sometimes, it's pretty odd.

Sometimes it's "Pretty. Odd."

Over the past five years Studio at the Palms has seen any variety of superstar and would-be superstar artist record at the celebrity-friendly resort owned by George Maloof. The Killers recorded 2007's "Sam's Town" here. Panic! At The Disco assembled "Pretty. Odd," released in 2008, at the Palms. The Studio is a player, even a record player, in Sunday's 52nd Annual Grammy Awards show, set to air at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Grammy-nominated music emanating from Studio at the Palms include Foxx's "Intuition" (Best Contemporary R&B Album), Eminem's "Beautiful" (Best Rap Solo Performance) and "Relapse" (Best Rap Album), and Alice In Chains' "Check My Brain" (Best Hard Rock Performance).

Jackson's creative relationship with the Studio dates to the latter half of 2008, when he began recording surreptitiously at the Studio. As Studio at the Palms Director of Studio Operations Zoe Thrall said in an interview for Tuesday's episode of "Our Metropolis," Jackson was in the studio working on the recorded-music component of his grandiose comeback effort that ended tragically with his death in June.

"We did have the pleasure of Michael gracing our studio, in a couple-week stretches, a couple of times," Thall said. "He was here in February of 2009, and maybe six months before that. He was doing new music. ... I'm sure there's quite a bit, because he was also recording in his home here in Las Vegas. He was not signed with any label, as far as I know, at the time of his death, and I think that music is still open for purchase."

The Studio won't experience any further financial windfall from Jackson's recordings. He paid the standard rate that The Killers, Panic, The Dream, Jamie Foxx, Ciara, Maroon 5, Mary J. Blige or any number of artists have paid to use the studio: $1,850 per 12-hour shift. You can get it by the hour, too, at $185 per.

Jackson also used the studio to review a memorable commercial that debuted during Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

"He came in and, I don't know if you remember the commercial, but it was ad for SoBe soft drink, they had the lizard dance and they did it to 'Thriller,' " Thall recalled. "He came in with the animators. The ad was almost finished, and they were showing him the almost-finished product, with the lizards dancing, and Michael was actually showing them how to make the neck move even more precisely, closer to how he does it. It was fascinating."

"Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart ..."

Thall has worked in the music industry for two decades, most recently as general manager of The Hit Factory in New York, which was once one of the most successful recording studios in the world but closed in April 2005. She then took the position for the still-under-construction Studio. The shuttering of The Hit Factory was a symptom of an industry-wide shedding of major studios, a consequence of advanced technology that has allowed garage bands to actually record — with a high measure of professional aptitude — in a garage.

"Major studios across the country have closed, quite a number of them, quite a number of them, in the last five years," Thall said. " But the beauty of this new technology is, kids can record and be creative at home. I think that's a really exciting part of this technology being so cheap and affordable an accessible."

More from our 28 minutes of chitchat:

• On the process of actually booking time in the Studio: "The easiest way to think of it is as a hotel room. You rent it by the day and you rent it at a space. ... I tell George (Maloof) that if you put a bed in here, it could be a suite and you could charge $10,000 a day (laughs)."

• On artists' penchant for seeking studio times at odd hours: "What has happened, with Las Vegas being the true 24-hour city that it is, it lives on the same schedule artists work on. So everything you've heard about artists' scheduling is true. They work from 1 in the afternoon to 4 or 5 in the morning. T-Pain, absolutely, did that. We expect those calls to come in. It's not typical, but not unexpected. ... Jamie Foxx is one of the artists that the studio was in the Palms and in Las Vegas. He worked 12 plus-hour days, for five weeks. When it was time to buckle down, they did but they let loose, too."

• On Las Vegas' relatively meager history as a recording destination: "What was interesting to me was that no one had ever built a studio of this caliber before in Las Vegas. When you consider that Las Vegas has had 50-60 years of high-end entertainment, I was shocked to hear that."

• On the extent of dedication it requires for an artist to succeed in the recording industry, using Eminem as an example: "Eminem came in and was very, very focused, with Dr. Dre as his producer, who I have a lot of respect and admiration for. It took about a month to record his last record, and you don't achieve this type of success unless they are totally committed to what you are doing. The amount of focus it takes to write records like this takes a disciplined individual, a disciplined producer. The layperson doesn't realize how much it takes and how long it takes to record a single song. It's not simply the length of a single three-minute song. One song could take a week, as you're going through the parts, what instruments are going to be on it, and the lyrics need to be developed, and what kind of sound are you going for. Plus, it's a creative process, and what a studio does is provide creative environment. Part of what I do is make sure artists are in a comfortable creative environment so they forget about the outside world, they are relaxed enough so whatever needs to can come through. That's a very important part of my job.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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