How many engineers can boast recording—in the span of three days—the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Fountains of Wayne, Lily Allen, Richard Thompson, Gillian Welch, Tom Morello, Spoon, Regina Spektor, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Decemberists, Dr. Dog, Paolo Nutini, Feist, Pete Yorn and Rodrigo y Gabriela? And that’s only about half the acts Lij Shaw—who recently opened a studio in East Nashville, The Toy Box—will record, produce and engineer this weekend at Bonnaroo. But instead of using his own studio, he’ll transplant most of its equipment to a trailer behind Bonnaroo’s main stages.
Inside these small confines, roughly 30 Bonnaroo acts will record three-song sets and give interviews that will be broadcast throughout the weekend to about 30 of the country’s biggest rock stations, including KFOG (San Francisco), DAVE FM (Atlanta) and WXRT (Chicago), and in Nashville, on WRLT Lightning 100. It’s all part of Bonnaroo’s unique approach to radio outreach, designed by Asheville, N.C., music marketing company Music Allies.
“I have a great time,” Shaw says by phone from Los Angeles, where he’s producing a sophomore album for St. Louis rockers Living Things. “It’s definitely stressful. We turn bands over once an hour—load in, set up, get sound, mix it to stereo on the fly and have it ready for radio in about 20 minutes. But it’s really inspiring. Every hour you’ve got some amazing artist coming in, playing their best material, and it just completely blows you away.”
Imagine a reality show called Build a Studio. That’s how carpenter David Gehrke describes the task ahead of him—building the recording and radio studios essentially from scratch. “Every year they throw changes in,” says Gehrke, drummer for The Bees (U.S.) and co-owner of Niko’s bar in East Nashville. “This year, I’m doing a proper control-room window. I’m really polishing a turd...trying to make a room that is in no way, shape or form acoustically fit for recording, trying to make it sound, look and feel good.”
Shaw and Gehrke are two among a team of local music types involved in the project, which also includes Tom Hansen and “Lt. Dan” Buckley (Lightning 100’s engineering director and head of production, respectively) as well as Hansen’s son Collin, Belmont student Bo Boggs and local engineer Daniel Feese.
Of course, recording Gillian Welch while Tool’s playing on the main stage 50 yards away presents a problem. “A couple of years ago I was just losing my mind, thinking, ‘We’re screwed,’ ” says Music Allies president Sean O’Connell. “So I drove my car and saw a farm with a bunch of hay bales. I’d seen references to using hay bales for sound insulation, and it works great. And it’s become its own mystique.” With hay bales stacked as high as the studios, it looks like a redneck trailer park—but with decked-out tour buses (used to house the crew and visiting DJs) alongside. Sort of a rock ’n’ roll Beverly Hillbillies.
According to Gehrke, the setup is just as much a boon for the artists and radio stations as it is for Bonnaroo. “When you’re on the road pushing a record, you usually have to do a bunch of radio interviews, and it’s exhausting. Here, in 20 minutes, they can do one interview that’ll go to the biggest stations all over the country, then they can go watch the other bands. The artists love us. And the stations have access to all these artists in one space, and can reap the benefits of each others’ questions.”
“Every once in a while you get someone who comes in with a frown,” O’Connell says. “One year, Dave Schools of Widespread Panic went in kind of grudgingly, but he walked out saying, ‘Man, that was awesome! I haven’t heard the other guys in the band like that in years.’ It forces them to play softly, more stripped-down, and there are no retakes. It’s a refreshing thing for most of these recording artists at the level they’re at.”
These segments will also be broadcast on Radio Bonnaroo, which airs 24/7 to the campgrounds and surrounding area for the entire festival. “We lease a local radio station [Manchester’s Fantasy 101.5] for five days and put a frequency on the air,” says O’Connell. “And we have speakers all throughout the campground. When you’re crawling into your tent at 5:30 in the morning after seeing the Flaming Lips do a late-night set, and that hot sun is starting to come up on the horizon, you may hear Brian Eno holding a note for 20 minutes. We want this to be part of your dreamscape. Nobody has the luxury to program a radio station like that.”
Lightning 100 will broadcast segments on Bonnaroo several times a day Friday through Sunday, with an hour-long recap show each night. Check nashvillecream.com throughout the weekend for photos from the recording trailer.
This post just introduced me to Justice Yeldham. Holy shit.
Never heard of any of these artists?
Awesome!Love everything Jerry puts out. Definitely check out the Tue Mommies bandcamp for more golden…
the no droning rule is fucking dumb
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning...wait, what? That's not napalm??!"