Back in October, I took a road trip to Appalachia, specifically Asheville, NC. My friend Jamie Paul had just finished tracking a record that needed mixing, and he brought me down to do the thing. Now, he hired me not because I have golden ears (I don’t), but because I know his music, his palette, and his style. It speaks more in general to having the right producer/engineer for any job, rather than having the textbook “best.” Various concepts and visions need to converge, and getting the dynamic right is critical. Not only that, but I had been working with Jamie on the record for months, insofar as he would send me demo versions of tunes and we would talk via phone about arrangements, performances, microphones, compressors, etc. ad nauseum. Since we were hundreds of miles apart, I took to calling this “ghost producing,” since I couldn’t work with him hands on.
Additionally, Jamie was very interested in mixing his album, “out of the box,” meaning that
we would run every facet of the audio through a physical, analogue, and (usually) vintage piece of gear. Mixing “in the box” using plug-ins and other digital effects is very common in production today, so it was refreshing to work in this manner (some might call it “old school”). To that end, Jamie really did his homework and booked studio time at Echo Mountain, whose gear list was simultaneously alluring and intimidating. I will not nerd out here on the gear, except that I got to use a real plate reverb for the very first time (it was so big, they had to keep it in the bathroom!). It was all so affirming to mix this way, and with the definition of “studio” being pretty loose these days, I was reminded of the relevance of real studios with serious gear.
It was a marathon session, and I’m very pleased with the results. Throughout the day of tweaking knobs and intense listening with Jamie pacing behind me in the studio, our ideas flowed freely, sometimes in opposition, which is healthy. You can listen to a track or two here, and even pre-order the album if the music resonates with you. And I think that it will. Setting the technical aspects of this project aside, the album is driven, first and foremost, by the deeply personal and often hauntingly sad tunes. At the end of the day, my job was to make sure I got out of the way so that these stories could be conveyed, without distraction, on record.
With the record mixed, we were able to kick back for a few days, which was not unwelcome. As a real treat, we went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at nearby Pisgah Brewing. After a long session the previous day, I couldn’t think of a more rewarding exercise than heavy funk, friends, dancing, and good beer.