Nashville Skyline

I was in Santa Monica, Calif., awhile back, visiting with producer/manager Jim Phelan someone I consider to be one of the good guys in the industry, someone

I was in Santa Monica, Calif., awhile back, visiting with producer/manager Jim Phelan — someone I consider to be one of the good guys in the industry, someone who really cares about his clients. He pointed out that one of his clients was Jacquire King, a very cool up-and-coming engineer/mixer/producer whose credits include Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, Mute Math, Chuck Prophet, Smash Mouth, Jars of Clay, Guster, Third Eye Blind and many others. King has earned an impressive amount of professional recognition, including 13 Grammy nominations, two Grammy Awards, and Gold and Platinum awards. His work with the Archie Bronson Outfit made many Best of 2006 lists.

Jacquire King (right) working on Josh Ritter’s next release with
producer/bandmember Sam Kassirer

Photo: Braden King

What I didn't know before talking with Phelan was that King lives in Nashville. This was the beginning of a few months of communications between King and myself, leading to a meeting at his studio, which takes up the whole bottom floor of his Williamson County home.

At that time, he was producing, engineering and mixing Seabird, mixing Josh Ritter and Sea Wolf, and had just finished engineering Absentstar with producer Dan Wilson. Among the mutltitude of other projects he's recently handled are 67 Special, Archie Bronson Outfit, The Colour (all three as producer/engineer/mixer), and mixing for Langhorne Slim, Dappled Cities, Natalie Grant, the Jane Shermans and Nichole Nordeman. Confirmed projects coming up this summer are mixing Mike Doughty, then Anathallo and Mother Father — also producing/engineering/mixing projects“

King feels that Nashville is unique, not just because there are so many studios and creative people in the community, but because “the atmosphere is not so competitive or dog-eat-dog,” he says. “Some aspects that are amazing about Nashville are that so much songwriting happens here and that the level of musicianship is incredibly high among the players. There are lots of bands making great music here and lots of great venues. It's a very musically motivated atmosphere, and everyone benefits. I've always felt the best things about studios are the people who work there.”

On the subject of Nashville's studios, King is particularly enthusiastic about Blackbird. “It's the biggest and best, and probably the best facility in the world these days, so it's great to have that as part of the landscape here,” he says. Other studios King likes are East Iris, the “B” Room at Quad, Alex the Great and Paradox.

As a method of working, King prefers to set up a recording situation where all the players are as close together as possible and in one space: “You get a better-feeling result that has more spirit, and any technical hurdles become part of the personality of the recording; I see that as a plus. It makes the recording more time- and space-specific to what's going on when it comes together. I love recording to tape in that situation, as well, not only because of what you get sonically, but as it also puts a different emphasis on recording that has been lost due to the computer mindset. Outside of that being the overall goal, my only other rule of thumb is to do whatever it takes to have it sound exciting, even if it's ‘wrong.’”

That said, King says he also enjoys the flexibility that digital offers in other parts of the process. Among King's favorite analog tools are his Neve mic pre's and a pair of original Helios Type 69 mic pre/EQs. Currently, King has a 40-channel Quad Eight console that is in the midst of being broken down into a couple of sidecars. King also loves his Chandler TG-1, which he uses for drum compression and vocals.

“I recently went back to using an old Altec mono tube mixer for recording drums,” King notes. “I put up a few very old mics and make a blend through a dbx compressor and print it to one track. It sounds slightly Motown, slightly vinyl-sample, and just has great attitude to put in the drum mix with the more basic drum tracks. I got the re-inspiration from reading my copy of Recording the Beatles and how Geoff Emerick miked and balanced drums on a little sub-mixer through a Fairchild.”

For mics, King feels John Peluso is “making great mics these days, and I love the U47 copies he has. I love to put it in front of a bass amp, and it's great on vocals, too.”

One local band that I've followed for the past few years is also one that King is especially dedicated to as a producer — The Features. “My interest in The Features has been long-term,” he says. “They're one of the first local bands I saw after I moved to Nashville. After that, they evolved and had some lineup changes. I heard their Exhibit A album and could really feel the brilliance coming on, and I was further convinced by spending time with Kings of Leon and them being such huge fans. I then had the great fortune to be asked to produce The Features' second album, and we made all the preparations to go into the studio and do that. Then, a week before we were to start, the band made an artistic choice about some music that the label wanted them to record, and that resulted in the band being let go from their label. It was quite a blow for a few days, and there was also some serious fall-out, but I felt like, ‘The obvious thing to do here is just record this great music that we had worked so hard on.’ I went to the band and shared my feelings, and they were just as inspired to carry on as I was so we pulled together and made an EP called Contrast. We're currently in the middle of making a full-length album on our own, and it's going to be amazing.”

The Archie Bronson Outfit, a production of King's that has earned so much acclaim, came to him via some song demos the band had recorded in a bedroom with one microphone. “I thought it was shocking, and the more I listened the more I knew I had to make a record with them. The music was stark and menacing, full of singular-mindedness, and I loved the sound of two guitars and drums making this Captain Beefheart-like, angular, psychedelic, folk garage-rock.”

King points out that the thing he most looks for in an artist is true conviction for what they're doing and a sense of individuality. “After all, that's what I want to help them represent in their art. I don't feel like I have an overriding aesthetic to what I do. I just want the listener to feel the heart of the song, get a sense of the artist's spirit and be able to listen into the sonic landscape of that experience.”

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