"I want the focus to remain on the artists and the music," says recording engineer Jeff Hodges of his studio's new local band compilation, I Got Music. "It's more about that than promoting the studio. But I do want people to know that the studio is here for everybody."
A veteran Atlanta musician and producer, Hodges started making plans to design and build a fully equipped audio facility in Mt. Pleasant over a year and a half ago. By winter, he was up and running under the name Charleston Sound in a beautifully-renovated, 2,000-square-foot professional studio. With top-notch gear, a terrific layout, and an impressively positive attitude, the facility may become one of the busiest destination studios for bands and musical acts in the Lowcountry and beyond.
"We're going to try to be super-reasonable with the rates, and we don't want to be out of reach," Hodges says. "We want bands to come out here, make something that they'll be proud of."
The studio is located on Larch Lane in the Park West neighborhood in north Mt. Pleasant. After working with a gospel group, Hootie & The Blowfish guitarist Mark Bryan, singer-songwriter Martin Chalk, and other local artists over the winter, Hodges started booking sessions and tracking tunes on a wide array of analog and digital machines. A handsome analog console is the centerpiece in the space-age control room.
Charleston Sound's 11-song compilation doesn't capture all of the aspects of the local band scene. That wasn't the point. Instead, it grabs a slice from the roots-rock and alternative rock side things. As the liner notes state, "Led by emerging rock, blues, and country artists, the city is experiencing a sonic revival that has attracted the attention of fans from across the country." (here's a track-by-track review)
Even though the bands don't quite sound the same, the assemblage of their music in one collection seems like a complete, thoroughly thought-out work.
"There was a lot of time and effort into doing this compilation album right," Hodges says. "Although the bands came in and did it all in one day — and some in only five or six hours — imagine what could have been done if we had even more time on each song."
He adds, "And it was all recorded on the greatest American recording console ever made: the API 1608."
The API 1608 may not be a household name, but among professional studio engineers, the analog tracking and recording console is revered as a true gem capable of tracking and fine-tuning a grand variety of sounds. Early in the year, Hodges replaced his main digital console with this piece of machinery, just after constructing the last of studio designer Wes Lachot's nearly perfect acoustically-structured mixing and tracking rooms and booths. "My console is brand-new, and it's made to the same standard and to the same signal path as the API legacy console, which is a million-dollar console."
After installing his main gear, the idea for a studio-produced compilation of Charleston bands started taking shape. Hodges started reaching out to bands early in the spring. Hodges referred to one of his close associates, Jon Yarian (of local company SeaChange Public Relations), for ideas and contacts. "I asked Jon to come up with a list of the 30 top working bands in the city — bands who were doing something unique and original," he says. "Pretty much everybody we approached immediately wanted to jump on and get on the compilation. They got very excited about it. We had a lot of bands who wanted to be on it after we reached the limit ... but, hey, we'll be doing another one soon."
I Got Music features top-quality production of songs by 11 local artists: Ryan Bailey, Mac Leaphart, Part-Time Heroes, Skye Paige & The Original Recipe, The Plainfield Project, The Graham Whorley Band, Dangermuffin, Firework Show, Milhouse, Gaslight Street, and Jamie Resch & The Kentucky Shoes.
Unlike some of the Charleston-based band compilation albums organized by radio stations and local labels, this one's not a collection of demos or a hodge-podge of submitted recordings directly from the bands. Albums like those usually sound choppy and suffer from the inconsistent recording styles and levels of quality.
The first of two CD release parties, presented in part by 105.5 The Bridge, is set for Sun. Aug. 30 at the Windjammer.
Fortunately, despite contrasting musical styles between the bands, I Got Music has a personality and polish of its own that reflects the quality of the studio and the skills of Hodges and his team.
"If you listen to these songs on the headphones, you might notice that I really focused on making the bass and the vocals really centered," says Hodges. "I really worked on that, because, to me, it sounds like a good record that doesn't have bells and whistles for the sake of some trend. But I also occasionally do crazy stuff, too.
"Every artist's session has its own challenges," he adds. "When you have less instruments, then you need those instruments to represent all of the frequency range [from bass to mid-range to treble]. If it's just an acoustic guitar and a djimbe or something like that, we record all of that live. I try to keep an eye and ear out for where people are standing [in the recording rooms], and how those instruments mix in the room. I do a lot of hard panning left and right so you can really hear what's going on with a particular instrument while keeping things uncluttered so there's plenty of room for the vocal in the middle."
Hodges acted as the main engineer and producer on all of the sessions. Most of the bands used many of Hodges' house guitars, amps, and drums during the recording, which also added to the consistency. Hodges admits he sometimes spent an extra full day of mixing and production on some songs to nail the mood and vibes of the tracks according to the band's ideas, and to achieve the balance that he wanted.
"Basically, I want the bands to explore everything they have in their heads and everything they're imagining," says Hodges. "We try to capture all of that. Along the process, I'll have them record extra tracks of those things so I know where to make things pop in a chorus, in a breakdown, or whatever. When they've done everything they want to do, that's when I start making suggestions. I usually save all of my ideas until the very end."
A portion of the proceeds from the CD sales will benefit Lowcountry Local First (lowcountrylocalfirst.org), an advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening the local economy. Copies will be available at the shows, area Piggly Wiggly stores, and shops and record stores across town.
Hodges will be on hand at the Windjammer this week, but he won't be stuck behind a mixing console or merch table. "We'll be there to meet-and-greet and have a good time," he says. "We all worked hard, and now it's time to party and show our appreciation for these bands."
The second "I Got Music" CD release party (a.k.a. "Unleashed") takes place at the Pour House (1977 Maybank Hwy., 843-571-4343) on Wed. Sept. 2 with sets from Dangermuffin, Milhouse, Firework Show, Jamie Resch & Kentucky Shoes, and Ryan Bailey. Music starts at 8 p.m. No cover charge.