GRAMMY Award-winning Contemporary Gospel artist Kirk Franklin recently opened a state-of-the-art recording studio, Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen, in his home town of Arlington, TX. The new facility houses two fully-equipped studios designed by noted studio architect Russ Berger, and serves as home base for Franklin’s entertainment company, Fo Yo Soul Entertainment, which includes his record label, Fo Yo Soul Recordings. The project is spearheading Franklin’s vision of giving back to Arlington and the house of worship community by benefitting local residents, students and faith-based musicians.
To realize his vision, Franklin turned to Petsche Commercial Properties and Alan Petsche, a musician who has long been involved in city affairs and supporting his community. “I actually bought the property with the intention to build a professional recording studio there,” begins Petsche, “but we became sidetracked with other projects. Sometime around 2013, a real estate agent contacted me asking if I wanted to sell my building because his client was looking to do the same thing. That person turned out to be Kirk Franklin. Kirk described his concept as a gospel Motown facility where he could develop his own artists, make his own recordings and work completely out of one building. I thought it’d be great for the music industry in Arlington, and it’s turned out to be a wonderful project.”
“I’ve thought about doing this for years,” reveals Franklin, a twelve-time GRAMMY Award winner. “I met with Russ Berger back in ’97 to discuss building a studio in my home, but we came to the conclusion that we should keep home separate from work. Three years ago when I met Alan Petsche to speak with him about purchasing the building, I had no idea he was a music lover and a musician himself. It was the most ironic thing and the most divine situation — the building I was interested in buying was a building that Russ Berger had already visited several years ago when Alan considered the studio; ironic, or divine, depending upon your point of view.”
“I’ve known Kirk for many years,” says Russ Berger, who has designed studios for clients including Whitney Houston, Lakewood Church, WWE and NFL Films. “We finally connected on this project where he had the opportunity to create a real home base. Kirk was driving all the way over to a studio in Dallas, which is quite a hike. You spend an hour on the road after working for 10- or 12-hours and you’re worn out. Kirk wants to be at home with his family in Arlington as much as possible. This studio is about ten minutes from his house, so if he’s working late and has to keep going, he doesn’t need to get a hotel room to shower or hit the bed for a little bit. He’s building a place where he can work on his craft as well as produce and develop other artists. Kirk is a very generous guy. He loves helping other people, and that’s one of the goals for this project.”
Berger adds that although the private studio was designed specifically for Kirk and his artists to produce music, “I didn’t want to build more than what he needs. The facility is a couple hundred yards away from an active train, so we designed the rooms with floating floors and built the walls on top of the floating floors. It had to be room-within-a-room construction to keep out all that noise — but no more than that or it would become cost-prohibitive.”
Franklin has lovingly named the studio Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen, in honor of his friend and manager of many years, Jessie Hurst. “I wanted to name the studio after a gentleman who has been a friend of mine since I was 14, and who started managing me and being my road manager when I was 25. Jessie held that position until 2013 until he became ill. He’s a close friend, a confidant and a pivotal person in my career. Jessie had to retire from working with me and he’s unable to be in a business that he really loves. This is my way of showing him that I appreciate what he’s done for me, and who he is to me. It’s very special to both of us because a lot of people don’t live to see their monuments, to see their flowers. I’m excited that Jessie has been able to see something that has his name on it, while he’s still alive. A studio is where you cook up something, where you create using the ingredients of a song, so I thought it would be cool to call it Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen.”
Construction of the Fo Yo Soul facility, including Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen, was supervised by Greg Hunt, director of construction for Petsche Commercial Properties, who was familiar with Berger’s work. “The building,” explains Hunt, “was a two-story furniture store that had been vacant for years. We gutted the back third of the upper floor and removed half the roof to redesign the structural steel to accommodate the studio. The ceiling heights are very low on both floors (probably 8-feet high) but there’s no second floor above the main studio and control room. There wasn’t a lot of headroom so we went with a lot of exposed ceiling areas to make the ceilings appear a little taller than they really are.
Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen is the first studio construction specifically designed to feature E-coustic Systems Electronic Architecture. E-coustic Systems’ technology has traditionally been used to improve the listening experience in spaces that have acoustical requirements for musical performance beyond the capabilities of the physical space. “The electronic architecture system and software was developed by Dr. David Griesinger and Steve Barbar,” says Berger. “It’s a system comprised of microphones that capture the ambient character and sound in the studio, which is then processed through very sophisticated DSP algorithms and reintroduced into the space by an array of speakers distributed throughout the room — it can recreate the sound and acoustical experience of a very different space. Depending upon the way you vary the system controls, the ceiling can appear to be anywhere from a few feet higher than the actual space to a height beyond that which is physically possible and can only be imagined. The reflected energy from the walls can be controlled similarly, and the virtual materials on those surfaces can be changed. It’s a very sophisticated system — more musical and realistic than any other I have heard.”
Franklin’s musical genre was another reason Berger chose the E-coustic technology. “Kirk is a Christian artist who creates praise and worship music,” he says. “When you pack a 15-voice choir into a studio, much of the life and character of the acoustical environment is getting sucked out of the room. But the press of a button can change the apparent acoustics of the room, placing the choir in a space that responds just like a cathedral or a small church. All of a sudden they’re singing and hearing themselves as if they’re in that large and very different sounding space. It enables us to create a virtual space tailored to the instrument and its desired ambient environment. Hit a button, and now you’ve got a two or three second reverb time for an organ or the sound of big drums in a stairwell or the intimate sonic experience of a small club. It is completely different and way more effective than simply applying reverb after the fact, because the musician is reacting to what they hear in the room while they perform as if they were in that virtual space.”
Petsche Music Group operates the Cove Studio and two independent labels. SpyderPop Records is dedicated to the broad spectrum of rock and roll that includes alt-rock, power pop, glam rock and melodic punk. Mesquite St Records focuses on alt-country and Texas rock. Both labels release music in both digital and vinyl formats. In addition to promoting label artists, Petsche Music Group is committed to enhancing and furthering the appreciation of all the genres mentioned above.
Fo Yo Soul Recordings is a joint venture between gospel music icon Kirk Franklin and RCA Records. The Dallas-based inspirational music label, which was established in 2013, showcases some of the genre’s most talented emerging artists and established performers, including GRAMMY-nominated and Stellar-award winners The Walls Group, Stellar-award winner Tasha Page-Lockhart, BET’s “Sunday Best” season 7 winner Geoffrey Golden and rapper/singer Christon Gray.