“The clothes make the man,” the saying goes. In the case of 25-year-old Forth Worth, Texas native Leon Bridges, clothes kicked off his career. The dapper Bridges caught the eye of fellow Texan, White Denim’s guitarist Austin Jenkins, a similarly debonair dresser. It was Bridges’ velvety tones, however, that really caught Jenkins’ and White Denim drummer Joshua Block’s attention as they were readying their Niles City Sound studio to kick off their production company. Housed in a 14,000-square foot former golf equipment warehouse, everything collected here is from 1948 to 1962. This is where Bridges’ Sam Cooke-channeled, natural throwback doo-wop soul is captured.
“We picked our favorite putting green, built a tent city around that, and put the equipment around the green,” says Block of creating a temporary, makeshift studio. “We used an 8-track Studer tape machine with an old Neumann U 67 microphone which was edgy and cool for ‘Better Man,’ ‘Coming Home,’ and ‘River.’ We broke everything down and set back on up a different putting green with an 8-track 1-inch Ampex and used a Neumann U 47 for a more classic male vocalist sound for ‘Lisa Sawyer.’ The idea is that we could capture different depths of [Bridges’] vocals. U 67s have a snappier bleed and sound upfront, but you don’t hear the throat as much. The U47s have a chesty bleed with more mid making for a warmer room. [Bridges] sounds great in front of a U 47.”
In addition to the change in gear for “Lisa Sawyer,” Bridges’ stirring ode to his mother, the instruments are isolated differently. Bringing the pieces closer together, the angles are adjusted on the amps for control of the sound bleed, and baffling is added. For this Block and Jenkins used anything they found in the warehouse including HVAC insulation boxes. A 1948 Collin dual mono tube desk, similar to Sam Phillips’ RCA, is used for tracking.
“During the first session we had everybody singing into the same mic positioned around or behind [Bridges] in accordance with their vocal strength and capacities,” says Jenkins. “Finding the right dynamic between [Bridges] and the backing vocalists was a challenge. The only processing we did was hitting a 2-track tape machine pretty hard. But there was definitely no dumping into Pro Tools, stacking delays on top of each other to make his vocals last for minutes. He did that on his own.”