Nashville Skyline

Since I first heard about producer/engineer Roger Moutenot several years ago, his name has regularly popped up in conversations about a variety of interesting projects that are not the usual mainstream Nashville fare.

Since I first heard about producer/engineer Roger Moutenotseveral years ago, his name has regularly popped up in conversationsabout a variety of interesting projects that are not the usualmainstream Nashville fare. As a producer, his credits include Yo LaTengo; Guster; Beulah; Heather Eatman; Freedy Johnston; Joe, Marc'sBrother; The Pierces; and Josh Rouse. Moutenot's production (with JoePisapia) of The Pierces was a wonderful album that should be ineveryone's CD collection who loves great, melodic Crowded House —type pop. As an engineer and mixer, Moutenot's credits have includedsuch diverse, notable artists as Lou Reed, Olu Dara, Bill Frisell, ManuKatche, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gillian Welch,They Might Be Giants, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash and RobertEarl Keen Jr., among many others.

A mutual friend of ours, Andrea Pizzano, told me that Moutenot wasin the studio with singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet. Since the mid-'80s,Prophet has created a rich body of work as a solo artist and with hisold band, Green on Red. Upon hearing that Moutenot and Prophet wereworking together, I decided that it was time I made the call.

Moutenot's Studio 491 is located just south of downtown Nashville onHumphreys Street. When I arrived, Prophet was tracking a laid-back,funky groove with bassist James “Hags” Haggerty, drummerMarc Pisapia and keyboardist Jason Borger, while Moutenot addedpercussion.

There is no separation between control room and studio in Moutenot'ssetup, which is a large, high-ceilinged, wood-floored space with pilesof gear and instruments (old MIDI synths, drum machines, vibes, piano,organs, Moog, full-size and toy drum sets, guitars, bass and amps)scattered around, and a Soundcraft console set up on the other side ofthe room.

“I finished my room and was up-and-running about eight monthsago,” says Moutenot. “I made the control room large so Icould have the musicians right there in the control room with me, whichI think makes everyone more comfortable.”

When the musicians took a break, I learned that this was part of anongoing multi-city guerrilla undertaking that also included recordingsat Wavelab in Tucson, Ariz., in Los Angeles and at friend's apartmentin San Francisco. This would be Prophet's second album for the New Westlabel.

“I asked New West what kind of record they expected and theysaid, ‘We just want a Chuck Prophet record.’ They have hadfaith in me from the get-go,” says Prophet. “I've kickedaround 10 songs or more so far, and I'll kick them around until themoney runs out,” he says with a laugh.

Prophet's manager, Dan Kennedy, offers another take on the project:“Chuck is a master at finding a way to record an album on anindie-label budget through his creative energies, ever-expanding circleof collaborators and dedicated work ethic. When all is said and done,this album will have been tracked in three different studios with threedifferent engineers.”

Prophet first encountered Moutenot last summer when he was inNashville on a songwriting trip to work with friends Angelo, Kim Richeyand Dan Penn. “It was completely like a chance meeting,”Prophet says. “A songwriter friend of mine went to visit and whenI walked in there, Roger was working on something that he was writinghimself, and I could just tell that he had a sideways take on thingsand I liked his sensibilities. He had an Abstract Impressionistapproach to making records. We hung out and never really made anyformal arrangements or anything, but I wrote another batch of songs andhe said, ‘Why don't you come out?’ So I came out here to dosome writing and said, ‘Would you line up some musicians andwe'll just dive in?’ I've got a lot of faith in the process, andafter being here, I love it. I told Roger that with him and his studioand these players, there isn't anything that we can't at leastattempt.”

“It's a real treat working with Chuck,” says Moutenot.“He's an awesome songwriter and a great musician. I recorded toPro Tools and will mix to half-inch 2-track just to get some warmth anddepth of tape. As far as cutting, I use Neve mic pre's and very littlecompression. I monitor through my Soundcraft console.”

Adds Prophet, “With all of this equipment available to people,it's easy to get bogged down by pouring the songs from beaker tobeaker. I'm just into capturing the magic. For me, the songs have theirown needs, but really, it's how you cast the movie, you know? It'sabout the characters and the instruments more than anything else. I tryto track something that has enough mystery in it that makes me want toreturn to it, and I don't always return to everything Itrack.”

Besides Prophet, Moutenot has recently worked on projects withMarykate O'Neil (with help from Jill Sobule), New York City-based theHonorary Title and local band Character, whose album Moutenot justreleased on his Fictitious Records imprint.

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A few miles away from Moutenot's studio, producer Gene Evaro wasworking at Starstruck Recording on Maria Matto's solo debut for SonyDiscos. Unusual for Nashville, the session featured some of Miami'sbest players and a handful of local session aces. Bob Bullock, one ofNashville's finest engineers, manned the console, while Matto ran downthe vocal and a 10-piece ensemble laid down a percussive Latin popgroove with great precision.

The mood in the control room was very up, and Evaro was clearlyhappy with the way the sessions were turning out. “I've worked inmost of the wonderful rooms in Nashville, but hands down, Starstruckwas the place to do this,” he enthuses. “Bob Bullock'sknowledge of song, production and tech surpasses any other engineer Icould have ever gotten for this project.”

Evaro first met Matto last year at a Sony showcase. “I wascompletely amazed with her songwriting and performance style,” hesays. “Her vocals were totally unique. Maria's ability to combineLatin and middle-American melodies was special, and her lyrics tellunique stories with a refreshing style. My approach as the producer wasto create an album that combined Maria's Latin roots with Americancountry and pop. I feel the relationship has always been there, butnobody has ever tapped into it. I've been working on this concept formany years, and Maria's project gave me the opportunity to do it. Myapproach for this album was to track everything live — nosamples, no programming and no synths. I just wanted to get back toeveryone just playing.”

The project was recorded through an SSL 9000 console to Pro Tools|HD24-bit 48k. For Matto's vocal signal chain, Bullock used a Telefunken251, Neve 1073 preamp and a Manley compressor. Among the tracksrecorded include “El Hombre Que Yo Amò,” “RisingAbove” (which was inspired by 9/11) and “Sad,” whichMatto describes as “a song that reflects upon young mothers'heartbreaking stories when they have to put their kids up foradoption.”

“I've always heard Nashville is a magical place towork,” says Matto. “Gene thought there was no other placeto do this album, and now that I'm here, I see he's completelyright.”

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