A recent club gathering that radiated that special sense ofcommunity was the memorial benefit for Jack Emerson, held at the MercyLounge. Appearing that night was a who's who of Nashville rock,alt-country and rootsy singer-songwriters who had been touched byEmerson's passion for great music and business integrity, includingSteve Earle, John Hiatt, Sonny Landreth, Jason Ringenberg (of Jason& The Scorchers), Webb Wilder, Billy Joe Shaver and manyothers.
We usually like to cover projects that are being recorded for majorand larger indie labels in this column, but sometimes, the crush ofsongwriters and artists underwriting their own projects and gettingthings done on favors, a wing and a prayer need to get some juice, too.So the rest of this “Skyline” is dedicated to a talent thathas been working hard on the fringe and deserves a look and listen.
Mike Younger is one of those local artists who has been pushingthe proverbial rock up the hill for some time in an effort to get hismusic out to the world. He isn't your average guy, having firststarted playing on the streets and living as a squatter on New York'sLower East Side before making his way to New Orleans for four years,where he used to take shifts on a street corner with a jugglerperforming for tourists. WWOZ disc jockey, former MC5 manager andpolitical activist John Sinclair became a fan of Younger's and gave himan open invitation to play on his radio show. Younger took upSinclair's offer and after only playing a couple of songs, the stationgot a call from Nashville publisher Chris Keaton, who caught the showwhile driving through New Orleans on his way to Texas. He arranged ameeting, and soon Younger moved to Nashville, eventually hooking upwith Rodney Crowell, who would produce Younger's 1999 indie debut,Somethin' in the Air. While that album got some airplay on AAAstations and performances at the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the album didn't sell andmomentum began to flounder.
In October 2002, Younger decided that Nashville wasn't where heneeded to be and made a move back to New York City, settling back intothe East Village near St. Mark's and Avenue A with longtime friend andpianist Bob Packwood. The two started playing together at some ofYounger's old haunts, including 9C and Eric “Roscoe”Ambel's Lakeside Lounge, and eventually assembled a band that includedbassist Skip Ward and veteran Southside Johnny drummer Louis Appel. Allthe while, Younger was writing new songs and getting antsy to recordagain.
Enter two of Younger's best buds from Nashville — engineer RobClark and manager, booking agent and promoter Brian Wagner — whourged him to make another record. Instead of waiting around for arecord label to advance him some money, Younger dug in and startedworking construction in New York and then went up to Maine andharvested blueberries along with seasonal migrant workers. Eventually,Younger saved up the cash that would ultimately fund his Nashvillealbum project, which is tentatively titled Tooth and Nail. WhenYounger returned to Nashville, he brought the band with him and evenpaid them per diems out of his savings.
“I decided to make this record independently because I gotreally tired of letting the business side of things keep me back. I hadsome hard luck in the past and have learned the merits of doing as muchas possible without involving or relying on labels,” saysYounger. “Every time I got frustrated, I thought about the recordI was going to make. I wanted to make the record the way I heard it, asopposed to some A&R guy or producer making the record they heard.It seemed worth it at the time, and it was.”
To make the new album, Younger enlisted Clark to engineer andco-produce. Clark had started out in Nashville four years ago answeringphones at a studio on Music Row, and meeting and eventually assistingon sessions with guys like David Thoener, Jim Cotton, Bil VornDick andmany others. Ultimately, Clark worked exclusively with producer RogerMoutenot, who started turning over more and more engineeringduties.
“I was fortunate as an assistant to work with some greatartists like Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris,Ralph Stanley and Taj Mahal,” Clark says, adding, “Rogerhas also exposed me to some great rock and pop acts like Guster, Beulahand Michelle Branch. It's been hard to break through to thefirst-engineer chair, but the time I spent with the great engineersthat I assisted definitely helped me feel confident and ready to takeon the job.
“Co-producing and engineering this record with Mike Youngerhas been a wonderful experience, because he is willing to sit back andlet me do the things that I want to do, and we have been lucky in thatour respective ideas for this record are very close. To me, thisproject is about him and his songs. There are a few labels interestedin the record already, and I'm sure there will be even more once hismanagement starts sending out mixes.”
The project was tracked for three days at Masterlink on a ProTools|HD3 rig through the Neve V3 console and utilized the studio'sgreat assortment of outboard pre's and classic microphones. Aftertracking, the project moved to Moutenot's studio for overdubs and somepreliminary mixes.
Clark tried a few different mics on Younger's voice before decidingon a Neumann U67. “Mike has a lot of character in his voice, butyou have to be careful around 4 kHz,” says Clark. “The U47just brought out too much of that part of his voice.
“The drum sound comes mostly from a pair of U87s set up in theBritish standard technique, going through a pair of Neve 1081s with aNeve 33609 compressor lightly working on the front end,”continues Clark. “I also used kick and snare mics to fill out thedirect part of the sound. For the room, I used a pair of U87s busedtogether with a Coles ribbon mic, and then compressed the resultingstereo image with an Alan Smart compressor. The bass is a blend of ampand DI on separate tracks, each going through a 1073 and then an LA-2Ato smooth out the peaks. The electric guitar was recorded with a 57 anda Royer 122 active ribbon mic, each through a Neve 1066, and then busedtogether and compressed with a ‘black-face’ 1176. Piano isa pair of U48s through V76s, and then an 1178.
“I tried to do as much compression and EQ as I could get awaywith on the front end before digitizing the signal. There are just somethings that sound better to my ears when done before hitting thecomputer,” Clark adds. “I'm back at Masterlink mixing someof the songs, just because the mix bus on their V3 sounds so fat andbeefy. It's not quite as easy to get this kind of low end out of a ProTools rig without hitting any kind of analog bus.”
Listening to the rough mixes, highlights on Younger's album rangefrom the rough-and-tumble bar-band rock of “SoulSearchin',” to the bluesy “Devil's on the Rise” andthe reflective and topical “Everyday War.” The songs andthe playing are strong; it's obvious that Appel is one rock-solidgroove drummer — what a feel!
“Once this is fully mixed, I'm going to put it out there anyway I have to,” states Younger. “There are a lot of ways toget your product out these days that weren't available until veryrecently. If I have to put this thing out myself, I will. For now, I'mjust gonna let it get around to some people and see what happens. I hada lot of help doing this, and everybody involved was super-cool. I'mvery grateful to them that I was able to do it this way.”
Send your Nashville news toMrBlurge@mac.com.