On the Cover: Ben’s Studio, Nashville

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Tom Kenny


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Studio manager and Ben Folds co-manager Sharon Corbitt-House seated at the API 3232, surrounded by the audio crew of, standing l to r, engineer Joe Costa, house assistant engineer Sorrel Brigman, and engineer Leslie Richter.

Studio manager and Ben Folds co-manager Sharon Corbitt-House seated at the API 3232, surrounded by the audio crew of, standing l to r, engineer Joe Costa, house assistant engineer Sorrel Brigman, and engineer Leslie Richter.

Its official name back when Chet Atkins built it in 1965, in a building owned by Atkins and Owen Bradley, was RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios, but around town it has always been simply RCA Studio A. Elvis, Waylon, Willie, Roy Orbison, George Jones, Tammy Wynette…Dolly recorded “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” in the big room on the same day in 1973! There is a whole lot of history hiding in these nooks in crannies, a whole lotta dirt in the walls, as a friend used to say.

Ben Folds first walked into the room back in 1992 when it was run by producer Warren Peterson under the name Javelina. A North Carolina native, Folds attended University of Miami and had come north to make a go as a session drummer, backed by a publishing deal facilitated by Paul Worley at Sony/ATV. As part of that deal, Peterson opened up the room for free at night so that Folds could work on his own material, which would the following year become the Ben Folds Five. A little more than 20 years later, he sits for a Mix cover, back in his home away from home.

“This space has always been real special to me,” Folds says. “I was 22 years old, and they let me go in there late at night to record. To me, it was just the best room in the world; it feels like being outside. Writing in there at 2 in the morning, I know it’s a luxury. You don’t have to be spiritual to feel the history.”

Jump forward 10 years, and Folds, having achieved some success, is living in Adelaide, Australia, and starting a family. He decides to move back to Nashville, and while driving around town on one of his first days back, sees a sign outside the 30 Music Square West advertising Studio Available. The doors were wide open, he recalls, so he pulled in and was met by the Bradley’s original building manager, a woman named Michael. “I’ll take it!” Folds said, on the spot. “Don’t you want to think about it?” Michael replied, skeptically, looking him up and down. “Then she Googled me, I think,” Folds says with a laugh. They soon came to terms; he’s now been there for 10 years. At this point, it is truly Ben’s Studio.

The first five years or so, until late 2008, it literally was Ben’s studio, as he was the only one to really use it. It was a giant man cave for a quirky, somewhat geeky mad genius musician-type, with instruments and gear piling up in the studio, a single long snake for inputs, and a loose order-within-chaos vibe. There was a classic Neotek console, a Studer A800 24-track, and a growing collection of esoteric mics and outboard gear. Songs for Silverman was recorded around this time, in a style perfectly suited to the way Folds works. But once he decided that he would open the room up to outside clients, it was apparent that changes had to be made.

“It was this big, great-sounding historical room filled with this incredible collection of gear, instruments, you name it that Ben had collected!” says Sharon Corbitt-House, who teamed up with Folds in early 2009 to help make the studio commercially viable; today she co-manages Folds with Mike Kopp and also runs the studio. “It was so densely packed. We started with inventory assessment and found there were no wiring blueprints. So we started by rewiring the entire studio to bring it up to date, putting in mic panels and things like that. Then we started to look for a console.”

Before that, however, Corbitt-House hired Leslie Richter, whom she had worked with at Ocean Way Nashville, to come onboard and help with technical housecleaning. While the infrastructure was coming together, Folds would often pepper his conversation with the line, “When we grow up, we’re going to get an API console.” It was what the studio had once been known for, and in October 2010, Corbitt-House, recalls, Folds phoned her and said, “It’s time to grow up.”

“Ben had found a classic 1976 API 3232 owned by Rich Costey out in L.A. and brokered by Jeff Leibowitz at Vintage King,” she says. “It had a pedigree and had been well-loved. The ¼-inch patchbay was still installed! But we took that out and installed phantom power. Then we had Mike Rhodes of Skinnyfish Studio Services here in Nashville build a sidecar with patchbay, and he matched it down to the Formica top.” Richter helped commission the board.

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