Just half-an-hour northeast from downtown and Music Row (near Gallatin, Tenn.) is Karian Studios (www.karianstudios.com), claiming to be Nashville's only resort studio. Karian is the brainchild of husband/wife team Ian and Karen D'Souza, who bring years of industry experience in a range of disciplines that have coalesced into making Karian an incredibly well-rounded turnkey recording and residential experience. It is perfectly suited for any serious artist or band looking for privacy, quality hotel-level lodging and services, and a great studio environment.
From left: Tantric guitarist Todd Whitener, studio co-owner Ian D’Souza, drummer Matt Taul, lead vocalist Hugh Ferreira, studio
co-owner Karen D’Souza and producer/engineer Elliot Blakey
photo: Rick Clark
How many studios can you go to for $1,000 a day (Karian's grand opening rate; standard day rate is $1,450) and have a complimentary meal each day — on white linen, no less — and a guest suite with turn-down service, monogrammed robes and access to amenities such as horseback riding, a boat at nearby Old Hickory Lake, gourmet catering, private jet and limousine service, and more personal touches like massage, pedicure and the like?
The main studio, which is housed with-in a 10,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style estate on a gated three acres, was designed by Christopher Huston, who has earned more than his share of Gold and Platinum Awards (and a Grammy) for his engineering and production work.
The three-story studio building's main floor comprises the main recording and control rooms, with the second floor reserved for living quarters and kitchen. The third floor has additional living space and a mastering studio, which looks out over the rolling middle Tennessee landscape.
The 800-square-foot control room features an automated SSL 4072 E/G+ console, Pro Tools|HD3 Accel system, Otari RADAR II 24-bit 192 kHz, Otari 2-inch SR, Neve EQs, vintage Neumann and AKG mics, API EQs, Lexicon outboard and numerous Pro Tools plug-ins. Monitors are Genelec 1036s and Dynaudio M2s, with matching sub.
Aesthetically, the control room features three tiers, with theater seating in the top rear. One side of the control room is glassed with full views for everyone to see clearly into the 1,000-square-foot tracking space and four iso booths, one of which features a grand piano. The 600-square-foot mastering room has a Sonic Studio HD mastering deck, Dunlavy custom monitoring, Weiss EQs, Z-Systems compression and Avalon mastering gear, among other things.
Karian officially opened for business in January 2005, and has already been so busy that Ian D'Souza is talking about building a matching facility adjoining the current complex. Among those who have worked at Karian is American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, who was spending loads of time at the studio being pitched by Nashville's hottest songwriters for her debut album. Most recently, Karian has been hosting Maverick Records rock band Tantric for the mixdown of their latest (still untitled) album, which is due out sometime during the fourth quarter of this year. Produced by Elliot Blakey, the project was recorded in Louisville. The band, whose first two albums have sold in excess of a million units, had recorded at a studio that turned out to be poorly maintained, necessitating that they find another place to mix. A referral brought them to Karian.
“The guys [from Tantric] are from Louisville, and they have families there and wanted to stay close to home and keep the costs down,” says Blakey, who met the band during the making of their first record.
“This is a brand-new facility, and you can live on-site and have more of the amenities that you need,” he continues. “We wake up every day laughing because the environment here has been so much better than where we tracked, which was practically held together with Band-Aids. I would love to return here and work because the folks here have been far too kind to us.”
Blakey describes the trio's latest work as being more aggressive in places, while pointing out that there are plenty of acoustic textures and “beautiful pop moments” with undistorted guitars.
Working in the studio the day I visited were Tantric's Todd Whitener (guitar, bass, vocals), Matt Taul (drums) and lead singer Hugo Ferreira, who showed up with wet hair and a Karian robe; he later returned wearing a Motörhead T-shirt.
While I was hanging out in the control room with Blakey and the band, someone jokingly asked if there was any reticence to come to Nashville, as there are those who think that someone may slip into the studio and put a banjo on their music. Without missing a beat, the band exclaimed that yes, there is a banjo that appeared on their music: the culprit, a song called “Fall Down,” which also features harmonica, mandolin and, to provide some yin to the yang, a rap by Nappy Roots' Skinny Deville.
The band is particularly excited about Deville's contribution. “Nappy Roots was working in the place above where we were recording. He laid down the track once and then said, ‘You know what? I need to re-do this,’” says guitarist Whitener. “He knew exactly what he wanted and he just said, ‘Roll it,’ and doubled everything perfectly and put the right emphasis on certain words. He was great.”
With the departure of their former bass player, Jesse Vest, the bass duties went to Whitener. “I've always been a big rap fan since I was a kid,” he says. “In an odd way, that mindset kind of paid off when I started approaching the bass guitar, because most rap music is built around bass lines and drum patterns.”
Taul, who works out all the song arrangement parts on drums with Whitener, says, “Todd's technique and his strength in his fingers seemed like he had been playing for years. It's hard-hitting. In fact, it's the hardest-hitting bass playing we've had on record so far.”
As for working with Blakey in the studio, Whitener states, “Elliot didn't try and change us. It sounds like us playing on a really good day,” he says with a laugh. “Concerning Karian, this is my favorite recording experience of any place we've been.”
Ferreria adds, “I think people who don't want to come [to Nashville] because they think their record is going to sound like mainstream country are crazy. I would rather stay here and work a million times over any studio in L.A. This studio is particularly nice because there are no distractions and you can really get some work done.”
Special thanks to MTSU's Courtney White for helping to put this piece together.