Nashville Skyline

One of Nashville's most unusual studio complexes is situated south of town at 2465 Old Charlotte Pike on the way to Franklin or Leiper's Fork. With its

From where they stand in Dark Horse Recording Studios, it seems that Alabama-based hard rock trio Triple 40 (L-R: guitarist/singer Brandon White, bassist Nic Carroll, drummer/singer Kyle McCarter with engineer Chris Mara) have everything to look forward to.

Photo: Rick Clark

One of Nashville's most unusual studio complexes is situated south of town at 2465 Old Charlotte Pike on the way to Franklin or Leiper's Fork. With its many gables, covered outdoor walkways and dramatic lookout tower all positioned in a pastoral setting, Dark Horse Recording is as photogenic as it is unique.

Conceived and owned by Robin Crow, Dark Horse ( has been in business since 1992 and boasts a client list that has included Dolly Parton, Jewel, Ricky Skaggs, Rick Trevino, John Hiatt, Larry Carlton, Neil Diamond, Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Amy Grant, Michael McDonald, Wynonna, Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith and Jon Anderson of Yes, among many others.

The facility comprises four studios: The largest, called The Lodge, features Genelec 1039A monitors and a 48-input Bud Wyatt-modified Trident Series 80 desk married to a Martin Sound ACX 24-channel sidecar for a total of 72 channels of AMS Neve Flying Faders automation. The Lodge's three tracking spaces are substantial: 18×20×22, 9×12×12 and 12×20×17 feet.

The second-largest studio is The Cabin, which boasts the identical console setup as The Lodge. The smaller Barefoot Studio and a dedicated Pro Tools room round out the recording options.

I dropped by Dark Horse to check out the facility and connect with producer Chris Mara, who was working there. Mara's work has included projects with the Gin Blossoms, Juvenile and Anderson, for labels such as Arista, Sony, Capitol and Universal, and publishing companies like EMI and Warner Chappell. At Dark Horse, Mara was working with the Alabama-based hard rock trio Triple 40 (guitarist/singer Brandon White, bassist Nic Carroll and drummer/singer Kyle McCarter) on their upcoming album, From Where I Stand. There's definitely a buzz on the band, as a track titled “Run to Me” was featured on a prominent SXSW music sampler. From Where I Stand began as a development project at Boss Studios in Foley, Ala., with producer Eddie Moore, until Mara became involved and signed on as a co-producer.

“Eddie called me and asked me to cut Triple 40 at Boss, which had a great room with a 56-frame Amek Mozart and a MCI JH-24 2-inch machine,” explains Mara. As it turned out, Boss Studios shut down to relocate to a new address, so Mara decided to move the project to The Cabin.

“I do a lot of work at Dark Horse,” Mara continues. “I know that whether I'm working on a label project or an indie rock band, they will treat me and my clients with the same care. [Studio manager] Bill Elder and his staff are great at tending to all of the details associated with clients who are from out-of-state, including having guest quarters right at the studio. This helps me to concentrate on producing and engineering instead of worrying about all the peripherals.”

Once at Dark Horse, they made the transformation from 2-inch to RADAR. “This is rock 'n' roll,” says Mara. “It should be on 2-inch, but sometimes the budget doesn't allow for it and keeping multiple takes costs money. RADAR sounds really good, especially when your front end is a great-sounding Trident 80 Series like the one here.”

On the last day of each session, Mara transfered the tracks from RADAR to Pro Tools|HD. The album is slated to be mixed by Russ Zavitson on Nuendo in early April and will be released on the ElectiK Records label.

After hanging out with Mara and Triple 40 at The Cabin, I walked over to The Lodge to see Elder in session producing 19-year-old Oregon-based singer/songwriter Debra Arlyn, who's tracking with some of Nashville's finest session aces. The project is being done for Elder and engineer Michael Modesto's Burning Building Productions.

Elder first came to Nashville a few years ago after playing and recording in Texas and Colorado with a band called Ezra's Poundcake. He took the gig at Dark Horse two years ago and formed its production company with Modesto last October.

When I arrived, Arlyn and the band were laying down a rather sultry Norah Jones — like number. Most of her material, however, is geared more to the pop area inhabited by artists such as Alicia Keys, Vanessa Carlton or John Mayer. “The pop market is our primary focus on these sides. There is a fun, yet mature sensibility to what Deb is doing that would work nicely there or even in the Norah Jones world,” says Elder.

For Arlyn's piano, Modesto employed a spaced pair of Geffel UM 92s on the ballads and a C 24 on the more up-tempo songs. “I love the sound of the C 24, but it doesn't give me the wide stereo image that a spaced pair does. And the piano is a main focus along with the vocal,” he says.

Arlyn's vocal was captured with a Brauner VM1 with a Universal Audio 6176 pre. “I used the Brauner because it is relatively flat and transparent,” says Modesto. “When combined with the UA pre, the sound is nice and round and yet in-your-face.” The mic collection that Modesto used to achieve Steve Brewster's drum sound included a D112, M147, SM57, 451 and the C 24.

“The sessions were tracked on a Pro Tools|HD rig instead of 2-inch analog because I didn't want the musicians to be limited by tracks,” Modesto points out. “If they had an idea, I wanted them to be able to lay it down. We mixed 24 channels through a Trident 80B using both plug-ins and outboard gear — namely Distressors, Tube-Techs and an Eventide DSP 4000.”

Arlyn was clearly pleased with her Dark Horse experience with Elder and Modesto: “I chose to work with Bill Elder because of his passion and energy for creating original music,” she confirms. “Michael worked really hard with our ideas and changes. I've really enjoyed the work atmosphere at Dark Horse, and I think all the songs have come out great.”

At the time of the session, Arlyn had finished tracking four sides. “The flexibility and wide range of resources at Dark Horse make it really a wonderful place to create,” says Elder. “This project is testimony to the fact that we are accessible to independent artists as well as major labels.”

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