Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mitch Easter: After The Drive-In (Part 1)

This is Mitch Easter talking about the road toward his new studio, The Fidelitorium. He had me up to the new studio, recently, to talk about his studio work and music. Mitch and Don Dixon recorded the earliest R.E.M. sessions at The Drive-In (i.e., Mitch's parents' garage), and Mitch's early power pop band Let's Active was among the best and most influential "jangly pop" bands of the early-'80s. Mitch recently released a stellar new solo record, Dynamico, which he recorded and performed (mostly, himself) at The Fidelitorium.

This is Mitch on Mitch, as told to me:


There were four years in between after the close of The Drive-In, which was my parents’ garage. I was in there a long time. There comes a point when you think, ‘I can’t record people for money and record in a garage.’ It was time to do something else.

My parents are both dead. The old house was sold this summer. The new owners are aware of the heritage and think it’s cool.

I was making a record for Motocaster, and we were going to record at a theater in Raleigh. At the 11th hour the theater fell through, and that became the reason to move the studio into the house.

It’s a big house from the 1870s. Houses like that sound cool. We did their record in there, and it took awhile. I recorded for four years in the house. There were some nightmares, some rough elements. As those years wore on, in some of the sessions the bands got destructive. Stuff got broken – weird stuff. It was gross.

When I decided to build a studio apart from the house, I was looking for something indetsructible. “Concrete” was a key word.

There is an obscure but famous band from Nashville called Area Code 615. They were a band of session guys from Nashville who were young in the late ‘60s. They were trying to replace the older generation of session guys, and eventually they did; some of these guys are famous session musicians now. One of their records is called Cinderella, and on the back is the picture of a studio. It’s a super-nondescript concrete block. I said, “That’s it.”

I also thought it would be an advtange to have a space that was somewhat more institutional: If you are going to be there, you are going to be working on music. When you are working on music, there is always an element of hanging out. Maybe that’s too much in the picture if you are recording in a house.

I had a friend design it, Wes Lachot, who now designs studios full-time. This was his first studio design job, from the ground up. In a studio, acoustics are all-important, which means proportions. It is possible to build a space with the right proportions.

Then I started to talk to Wes, and his ideas were way more hifalutin than mine. The studio I was thinking of and the one we built were somewhat different. In the end, we built Wes’ studio, instead of mine. My idea was basically a bigger version of my parents’ garage, which would have been a forever indie joint. This place can do anything. If somebody wants to bring in a big ensemble, all playing at the same time, this place can do it. It went from another iteration of the garage in my head to something way more general.

Now, studios are dropping like flies. It’s a hard sell. There is this idea now that you can do it yourself, which is not always true. The people who work in music manufacturing have now gone insane with the idea that bands can make their own records. Why? Would you tell someone, “Build your own car?”

There is no substitute for expertise and no substitute for a good acoustic space. And when I say “acoustics,” it can be electric music – it’s anything that starts with humans with their hands on something. If everything you are working with is a sample, sure, you can do it all in a box, you can do it all in a computer.
In a previous post, I reported Mitch on Mitch's early days as a musician.

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