The Old 97’s new album, Most Messed Up, is a raucous, debauched rock-on-the-road concept album. Yet, the band recorded in a private, light-filled villa near Austin. Texas Treefort Studio is home to retired aerospace engineer Jack Rock’s jazz label, Viewpoint Records, and his constantly expanding collection of rare vintage and hand-built equipment.
“People come here and they don’t even recognize some of this esoteric broadcast and military stuff,” says the Old 97’s engineer, Jim Vollentine. “They’ll go, ‘That’s a 1-channel mic pre? It’s as big as a microwave oven!’”
Vollentine and producer Salim Nourallah recorded live to Pro Tools in Rock’s living room, with its wall-of-glass view to the hill country. Though guitarist Ken Bethea will sometimes overdub additional parts, those live recordings—including Rhett Miller’s vocals and acoustic—were keepers.
“Rhett’s vocal chain was a [Shure] SM7 through a broadcast mic pre and one channel of Jack’s Fairchild 670,” Vollentine explains. “For his acoustic, I had a long-body Telefunken U47, and then an M582, an East German version of Neumann’s KM 54. The U47 went through a Telefunken V76 pre, and the 582 to a Collins Broadcast amplifier.”
On electric guitars: “Ken’s main amp is an amazing-sounding Matchless, but Jack also has an old Gibson Les Paul amp from the ’50s, plus piles of other small vintage amps—Magnatones, Fenders—so normally I have two or three amps going through old Unidyne 57s and RCA BK5 ribbon mics. I will blend those together on the fly to one or two tracks.
“Jack doesn’t like many engineers coming in because it’s all antique stuff, but he knows I’ll take care of it,” Vollentine says. “He lets me put his M 49 on the kick drum, which is really nice of him!”