As much as I try to stay on top of everything happening in Nashville, it always helps to get calls about projects happening in town. I especially appreciate it when I find out that someone I like and who I'd lost contact with is working on a project. Such was the case when I was contacted by a friend who told me that David Leonard was in town mixing a project at East Iris.
I met Leonard in Memphis during the '80s, when he was engineering and mixing a David Kahne-produced Columbia Records band called Human Radio. It was a very cool self-titled album that sadly got buried, but during their time in Memphis, I quickly realized why the band liked him: Not only does Leonard have a great instinct to get wonderful sounds and create musically energetic mixes, he's got a very likable, easy-going personality.
By the time of the Human Radio project, he had already enjoyed considerable visibility as the engineer and mixer for the hugely successful John Mellencamp albums Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee — projects that blended rock and roots music instrumentation in a way that influenced many artists — as well as albums for Fishbone and many others. Since then, Leonard's engineering credits have included Tony Bennett, Shawn Colvin, Hootie & The Blowfish, Paul McCartney, Santana and Avril Lavigne; production credits include Indigo Girls, Barenaked Ladies' Number One Stunt and a particular fave of mine that got lost in the shuffle, the Rave Ups' Chance.
This time out, Leonard was mixing the as-of-yet-titled Zoe/Rounder album by the Cash Brothers, which is due out this summer. The album was recorded 24-track analog 15 ips by James Paul at The Rogue in Toronto. The mix took place at East Iris, Leonard's favorite mixing room. “I think it's the best mix room in the world; as good a room as you're going to find,” enthuses Leonard, who comes down from his home in New Hampshire every month to work at the facility. “I keep an apartment in Nashville, and I keep my equipment here, so it is kind of my mixing home. This is where I mixed Barenaked Ladies and Avril Lavigne.”
Leonard lived in Nashville full-time for a while after he engineered and mixed Dwight Yoakam's wildly successful This Time, but even though the album won awards and great critical and popular acclaim, Nashville was slow to pick up on Leonard. “When I first came down here, I met with a lot of producers and shook a lot of hands and nobody ever called. When I met with [Jimmy] Bowen, he asked if I had ever done any country music, and I told him that I had just done Dwight Yoakam's record. He said, ‘No, I mean Nashville country. Call back when you've done some Nashville country,’” says Leonard with a laugh. “Having been around here longer, I've met a lot of people and it has opened up bit more.”
That said, Leonard is quick to point out that there is so much more to the town than country, largely due to the abundance of great facilities and talent in the area. “You are not going to find any city in the world that has more high-quality studios and more gear than Nashville — in the same square footage. The studio facilities are world-class, and they pull in a lot of people. Even though my home in New Hampshire is only a few hours from Manhattan, it is more attractive and cheaper to keep an apartment in Nashville and work here than have the cost and hassle of going into Manhattan and staying there for a project. Sometimes I fly here and sometimes I drive, but it is cheaper in the long run.”
Leonard noted that the Cash Brothers' music is a vocal harmony-rich blend of Americana and rock. “The unique thing about them is that they sing in harmony constantly: There is a lower vocal part that kind of shadows the lead vocal. It's an interesting mix,” says Leonard.
“This is a rock record with tight Simon and Garfunkel-esque harmonies,” adds Andrew Cash of the Cash Brothers, who rather jokingly calls it “arena folk” music. “Our early influences centered largely on the West Coast country rock scene of the early '70s where harmony singing played a big part: the Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, Neil Young & Crazy Horse. People rarely comment on Neil's use of harmony singing, but it was really very unique-sounding, especially on records like After the Gold Rush and Tonight's the Night.” Cash also pointed out that the brothers also drew inspiration from artists such as Steve Earle, U2, Springsteen and Dylan, as well as Beck, Grant Lee Phillips, Dwight Yoakam, Pearl Jam and Wilco. Among the album's highlights is a Wilbury-ish track called “You're It” and a dramatic guitar rocker titled “Shadow of Doubt.”
“It was wonderful working with David Leonard,” Cash said. “He immediately heard the kind of vocal blend we were going after and was able to really bring that out while keeping the tracks rocking. I also really appreciated his work ethic: He would walk in the door and immediately start rolling tape. Then he'd go hard at it for 12 solid hours — sometimes more — every day. Even the NS-10s were crying for a dinner break.”
Leonard is also currently mixing some tracks at East Iris for artist Ashley Wentworth and preparing to do some work with producer/guitar session ace Kenny Greenberg over at Quad.
Also in at East Iris, Japanese pop superstar Namie Amuro was able to be in two places at once: A busy promotion schedule for her single “Wishing Upon the Same Star” kept Amuro in Japan, though vocal mixing for additional tracks was needed. Mugen Enterprises producer “Cobra” Endo and engineer David Z relied on Rocket Network's Internet-delivery technology to help with double-duty. Amuro laid down vocals in Tokyo, then audio and session files were e-mailed to Rocket's Website, which was then downloaded at East Iris.
“Basically, we got the same vocal tracks sent to us via Rocket Delivery for a mix session, then we sent mixes to Japan for some back-and-forth mixing,” explains Jerry McBee, project manager for Mugen Enterprises. “The system worked perfectly. It's very secure, and the audio was great. We had no difficulties listening to nuances so that we could judge and mix the vocal tracks.”
The Amuro project was mixed on an SSL 9000 console in Studio A with assistant engineer Mike Paragone.
Send your Nashville news toMrBlurge@mac.com.