While many people are content to simply label Nashville a countrymusic town, one thingIlike about it is the depth of theartistic community and how the range of expression in the area is sorich. Country, Americana and roots music may be a given, but thereis so much more.
Venus Hum, a synth-based trio comprising Tony Miracle (synths,guitars), Kip Kubin (synths) and vocalist Annette Strean, has donequite well for itself during the past few years. The band (www.venushum.com)released a major-label effort, Big Beautiful Sky (on Geffen inthe U.S. and BMG/UK for the rest of the world), and have toured almostnonstop for the past year-and-a-half, playing numerous shows inEngland. The group has also opened for Blue Man Group's tour in thelast six months, playing sold-out theaters, sheds and arenas in almostevery state in the U.S.
“We call our music ‘folktronica,’ a word we stolefrom a Momus record of the same name,” says Miracle. “Thesound is very electronic, but the songs are pretty old-fashioned. It'sa bit like Kraftwerk being fronted by Rosemary Clooney. Annette is abig fan of show-tune music and '80s post-punk; Kip loves Tomita andcurrent producers like Timbaland and Missy Elliot; and I love the BeachBoys and Burt Bacharach, as well as Thomas Dolby and recentexperimental electronica. If you mix it all up, you get a bit of whatVenus Hum sounds like.”
Their self-produced debut was cut and mixed at Chessington SynthLabs, a studio housed in Miracle's basement. “I picked the namebecause it sounded like one of those old studios where they'd makeSwitched on Bach-type records, and we have a fetish for oldmodular synths,” remarks Miracle.
“We are pretty self-sufficient in that we write, produce,record and mix everything ourselves. The jobs bleed into each other sothat sometimes it's hard to draw the line between sound design, mixingor the writing process. So instead of hiring a producer and a bigstudio, we took our recording budget and bought a few pieces ofequipment we needed for our studio — namely, a good vocalchain.”
Some of the key pieces utilized by Venus Hum are modularsynthesizers: Roland System 100m, Doepfer A100 and ARP 2600 and twovirtual Nord Modulars. “We're big on old analog synths and havequite a collection,” says Kubin. “We use these to makesounds, of course, but we also like using them as processors. Manytraditional and even acoustic sounds get filtered and modulated withthese old synths and transformed into something otherworldly!
“We do a lot of laptop-based work and are very excited aboutthe new digital gear, like Native Instruments Reaktor, Ableton Live,and Cycling '74 Pluggo and Max/MSP,” Kubin adds. “We dolike to use the more experimental VST instruments alongside old analoggear and acoustic instruments.”
The band uses Pro Tools|HD for recording. For their mic chain, theyuse a Blue Kiwi, SM58 or a C12 for vocals. The mic pre is an Amek 9098,which is usually run through a Tube-Tech compressor to a Mackie32×8, used primarily for monitoring. They also use Emagic Logicfor sequencing and sometimes audio.
The band did go outside of the basement studio for a couple ofelements during the making of their album. “We cut strings withour good friend Shane Wilson engineering at Pentavorit StudiosNashville on one song,” Kubin explains. “We also did astring session for three songs in London at The Dairy, working withengineer Fulton Dingley and string arrangers Sean O'Hagan and MarcusHoldaway of the High Llamas, Tony's favorite band.
“We had the luxury — or curse, depending on your view— of being on two major labels, so we spent some money on a realrock 'n' roll experience. We took five songs to London and mixed withSteve Fitzmaurice at Astoria, the studio owned by Dave Gilmour of PinkFloyd. The studio is in a renovated Victorian houseboat that used to beowned by Charlie Chaplin's manager, who used it as a party boat,”Kubin continues. “The studio was amazing, and they had someone tocook meals for us! Steve Fitzmaurice did a great job mixing those songsand was a total thrill to work with, but we only ended up using two ofhis mixes. It's nothing against what he did, and we'd love to work withhim again, but there was just something right about those cheapbasement mixes.”
Most recently, Venus Hum has been involved in writing and recordinga new song for the TV show Alias. “J.J. Abrams, the show'screator, who is also a musician and wrote the show's theme, approachedus,” says Miracle. “He bought our record from Apple'siTunes store and just became a fan. He sent us the theme song as ProTools stems and invited us to mess around and see what happened. Wesampled some elements from the theme and wrote a brand-new song aroundit. They've decided to use it in the show, which is a total blastbecause it's such a great show and the working process was so low-keyand fun. I'm glad it came out of that spirit instead of it being somemarketing guy at the record company's idea.”
Meanwhile, across town in Berry Hill, you wouldn't think that themusic industry was in any kind of a slump, judging from new studiosthat are being built or opening in that neighborhood. One newfacility is The Blue Room, which is owned by engineer/producer/nice guyTom Fouce. The Blue Room was designed by Christopher Huston, built byMarco Lima and Mike LeBlanc of Tri Star Builders, and the wiring wasdone by Jason White of White Noise Technologies.
I drove over to The Blue Room and spent an early evening hanging outwith Fouce, who moved to Nashville several years ago from his hometown,L.A. During his years working in L.A., he was a staff engineer at KennyRogers' highly regarded Lion's Share studios, where Fouce had theopportunity to work with Rogers, Richard Marx, Julio Iglesias,Christopher Cross and a host of other predominately mainstream popartists.
Like many recording industry talents who have relocated from L.A. toNashville, Fouce was attracted to the quality of life and pace that theMusic City offered for him and his family. “We wanted a placethat was a little slower and a little more sane in terms of raisingkids; Nashville is pretty family-friendly,” says Fouce.“It's amazing what's going on in Nashville musically. Really justabout anything is happening here, from the Nashville Symphony to rockand blues and hip hop and bluegrass and jazz and country to theChristian market.”
Many of Fouce's old L.A. peers have also moved here, and now some ofthem have become his clients at The Blue Room. Among those are BobBullock, who also was a staff engineer at Lion's Share, producerMichael Omartian, Marx and engineer Eric Rudd.
Rudd recently has been in The Blue Room with producer Rick Chudacoffcutting sides on pop-country artist Halie Loren. “The drumsounds, as well as the Yamaha C-7 piano, sounded great, and all vocalsand overdubs [which were recorded from the center of the main room]came out beautifully,” admits Chudacoff, who also mixed thetracks there on the Trident console. “Honestly, it is one of thebest-sounding control rooms in Nashville; very nonfatiguing. It is anextremely comfortable environment to work in.”
Recently, Bullock has been in the studio engineering overdubs oncountry band the Great Divide with producer Chris Leuzinger working onthe facility's Pro Tools system. Michael Hanson was the assistantengineer. The project, which was tracked at SoundStage's Frontstage onPro Tools, was eventually mixed on Nuendo at Bullock's own studio, TheDining Room.
When I asked Fouce about why he relocated to Berry Hill, he says,“It seemed to have a kind of hip factor to it. I had had anoffice on Music Row for a long time, which is fine — I'm notanti-Music Row — but I didn't feel that if I were going to have arecording studio, it needed to be on the Row. I didn't think that wasimportant, and apparently 30 or 40 people who are located in Berry Hillfeel the same way [Laughs]. It is nice over here.”
Send your Nashville news toMrBlurge@mac.com.