Nashville Skyline

May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Rick Clark

Polls


Mix Regional

The Mix Regional section for Mix's May 2014 issue focuses on Nashville. Send us your studio news: updates, sessions, new rooms, club performances and installations. Let the Mix audience know what is going on! Send photos and descriptions to mixeditorial@nbmedia.com.

Since I first heard about producer/engineer Roger Moutenot several years ago, his name has regularly popped up in conversations about a variety of interesting projects that are not the usual mainstream Nashville fare. As a producer, his credits include Yo La Tengo; Guster; Beulah; Heather Eatman; Freedy Johnston; Joe, Marc's Brother; The Pierces; and Josh Rouse. Moutenot's production (with Joe Pisapia) of The Pierces was a wonderful album that should be in everyone's CD collection who loves great, melodic Crowded House — type pop. As an engineer and mixer, Moutenot's credits have included such diverse, notable artists as Lou Reed, Olu Dara, Bill Frisell, Manu Katche, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gillian Welch, They Might Be Giants, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash and Robert Earl Keen Jr., among many others.

A mutual friend of ours, Andrea Pizzano, told me that Moutenot was in the studio with singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet. Since the mid-'80s, Prophet has created a rich body of work as a solo artist and with his old band, Green on Red. Upon hearing that Moutenot and Prophet were working together, I decided that it was time I made the call.

Moutenot's Studio 491 is located just south of downtown Nashville on Humphreys Street. When I arrived, Prophet was tracking a laid-back, funky groove with bassist James “Hags” Haggerty, drummer Marc Pisapia and keyboardist Jason Borger, while Moutenot added percussion.

There is no separation between control room and studio in Moutenot's setup, which is a large, high-ceilinged, wood-floored space with piles of gear and instruments (old MIDI synths, drum machines, vibes, piano, organs, Moog, full-size and toy drum sets, guitars, bass and amps) scattered around, and a Soundcraft console set up on the other side of the room.

“I finished my room and was up-and-running about eight months ago,” says Moutenot. “I made the control room large so I could have the musicians right there in the control room with me, which I think makes everyone more comfortable.”

When the musicians took a break, I learned that this was part of an ongoing multi-city guerrilla undertaking that also included recordings at Wavelab in Tucson, Ariz., in Los Angeles and at friend's apartment in San Francisco. This would be Prophet's second album for the New West label.

“I asked New West what kind of record they expected and they said, ‘We just want a Chuck Prophet record.’ They have had faith in me from the get-go,” says Prophet. “I've kicked around 10 songs or more so far, and I'll kick them around until the money runs out,” he says with a laugh.

Prophet's manager, Dan Kennedy, offers another take on the project: “Chuck is a master at finding a way to record an album on an indie-label budget through his creative energies, ever-expanding circle of collaborators and dedicated work ethic. When all is said and done, this album will have been tracked in three different studios with three different engineers.”

Prophet first encountered Moutenot last summer when he was in Nashville on a songwriting trip to work with friends Angelo, Kim Richey and Dan Penn. “It was completely like a chance meeting,” Prophet says. “A songwriter friend of mine went to visit and when I walked in there, Roger was working on something that he was writing himself, and I could just tell that he had a sideways take on things and I liked his sensibilities. He had an Abstract Impressionist approach to making records. We hung out and never really made any formal arrangements or anything, but I wrote another batch of songs and he said, ‘Why don't you come out?’ So I came out here to do some writing and said, ‘Would you line up some musicians and we'll just dive in?’ I've got a lot of faith in the process, and after being here, I love it. I told Roger that with him and his studio and these players, there isn't anything that we can't at least attempt.”

“It's a real treat working with Chuck,” says Moutenot. “He's an awesome songwriter and a great musician. I recorded to Pro Tools and will mix to half-inch 2-track just to get some warmth and depth of tape. As far as cutting, I use Neve mic pre's and very little compression. I monitor through my Soundcraft console.”

Adds Prophet, “With all of this equipment available to people, it's easy to get bogged down by pouring the songs from beaker to beaker. I'm just into capturing the magic. For me, the songs have their own needs, but really, it's how you cast the movie, you know? It's about the characters and the instruments more than anything else. I try to track something that has enough mystery in it that makes me want to return to it, and I don't always return to everything I track.”

Besides Prophet, Moutenot has recently worked on projects with Marykate O'Neil (with help from Jill Sobule), New York City-based the Honorary Title and local band Character, whose album Moutenot just released on his Fictitious Records imprint.

A few miles away from Moutenot's studio, producer Gene Evaro was working at Starstruck Recording on Maria Matto's solo debut for Sony Discos. Unusual for Nashville, the session featured some of Miami's best players and a handful of local session aces. Bob Bullock, one of Nashville's finest engineers, manned the console, while Matto ran down the vocal and a 10-piece ensemble laid down a percussive Latin pop groove with great precision.

The mood in the control room was very up, and Evaro was clearly happy with the way the sessions were turning out. “I've worked in most of the wonderful rooms in Nashville, but hands down, Starstruck was the place to do this,” he enthuses. “Bob Bullock's knowledge of song, production and tech surpasses any other engineer I could have ever gotten for this project.”

Evaro first met Matto last year at a Sony showcase. “I was completely amazed with her songwriting and performance style,” he says. “Her vocals were totally unique. Maria's ability to combine Latin and middle-American melodies was special, and her lyrics tell unique stories with a refreshing style. My approach as the producer was to create an album that combined Maria's Latin roots with American country and pop. I feel the relationship has always been there, but nobody has ever tapped into it. I've been working on this concept for many years, and Maria's project gave me the opportunity to do it. My approach for this album was to track everything live — no samples, no programming and no synths. I just wanted to get back to everyone just playing.”

The project was recorded through an SSL 9000 console to Pro Tools|HD 24-bit 48k. For Matto's vocal signal chain, Bullock used a Telefunken 251, Neve 1073 preamp and a Manley compressor. Among the tracks recorded include “El Hombre Que Yo Amò,” “Rising Above” (which was inspired by 9/11) and “Sad,” which Matto describes as “a song that reflects upon young mothers' heartbreaking stories when they have to put their kids up for adoption.”

“I've always heard Nashville is a magical place to work,” says Matto. “Gene thought there was no other place to do this album, and now that I'm here, I see he's completely right.”


Send your Nashville news to MrBlurge@mac.com.






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