Memphis, Tennessee - April 2008:
Although it is arguably the lesser known of Tennessee's great "music cities," Memphis has nurtured a long, rich legacy of groundbreaking artists and independent record labels, and continues to support a bustling and eclectic contemporary music scene that shines on the national stage with exceptional brilliance. At the heart of the luster, however, is a gritty world view borne of life's very real struggles and triumphs. Although the musicians who call both Memphis and Memphis' Archer Records their home have carved out distinct niches in the disparate genres of Americana, Classical, Folk, Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, and Rock, they all approach their music with an authenticity that is the hallmark of their great city. In 2007 label owner Ward Archer acquired the Sounds Unreel studio located in one of Old Midtown's historic limestone buildings. With design help from David Cherry and George Augspurger, he rebuilt and rewired the studio, completely reversing the layout and adding more isolation rooms. The equipment was upgraded to include a 5.1 PMC monitoring system, a 96-channel Pro Tools rig with blackburst synchronization, a 24-track Sony analog tape deck, and, in keeping with the organic honesty of the music he releases, a 48-channel, all-analog, all-discrete API Vision console with full 5.1 implementation.
Archer Record's happy blend of studio/record label is something of a Memphis tradition. Sam Phillips operated the Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records out of the same studios, which are now one of the city's highest volume tourist attractions. It was there that Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and many others recorded and released some of the most cherished and influential albums in the history of modern music. Willie Mitchell, recently awarded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, ran Royal Recording and Hi Records and recorded and released albums by Al Green, Syl Johnson, and Ann Peebles. Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton ran Stax Records out of an old movie theater, again taking on the synergistic tasks of recording and releasing Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Booker T. & the MG's, and The Bar-Kays.
"Memphis has something of an independent streak to it," reflected Archer. "People here tend to do their own thing, guided by their own inner light, and sometimes it breaks through nationally and internationally." Archer's signees, including jazz/blues/pop-inspired singer/songwriter Amy LaVere, classical guitarist Lily Afshar, boogaloo outfit The Grip, American neo soul innovators The Gamble Brothers Band, jazz singer Kelley Hurt, and blues man Sid Selvidge, benefit from Archer's keen marketing insight and, more importantly, his unwavering dedication to the truthfulness of their music.
Archer's plans for the new studio center unambiguously on his artists. "We've built it to be a very comfortable place to create," he explained. "We were careful to keep the isolation booths within view of the main live room and the control room since we all like to cut tracks with everyone playing at the same time. I like that vibe. If we're not using it, I'm happy to have other like-minded artists rent it." Archer is marketing the studio separately from the label-naming it "Music + Arts" studio.
In addition to providing the ideal working environment for his artists, Archer is excited to foster further ties with Memphis' burgeoning film community. Director Craig Brewer shot "Hustle and Flow" and "Black Snake Moan" in the city, and Archer Records has licensed three songs to films in the past few years, including Amy LaVere's "Take 'em or Leave 'em" to the Ben Stiller romantic comedy "Heartbreak Kid." The film community's growing expectation for surround mixes is part of what motivated Archer to purchase the surround-capable API Vision. The other, arguably larger part, is API's legendary analog sound. The studio is presently working on music mixes for the motion picture, "Gospel Hill," directed by Giancarlo Esposito and starring Angela Bassett, Danny Glover, Adam Baldwin with music director Scott Bomar and engineer Kevin Houston.
Despite the fact that most Memphis engineers and producers have API rack equipment and also cherish the "API sound," Archer Record's Vision is the first API console in the city. The Vision is the only fully-discrete analog console in production that was designed from the ground up to effortlessly mix for mono, stereo, and surround simultaneously and incorporates API's signature mic pres, EQs, dynamics, moving faders, and bus topology. Archer argues that the Vision's pristine signal path is the very best way to get signal into the digital domain and to mix it subsequently.
With the new console up and running as of January 2008, the Archer Records roster is breaking the new studio in with the sort of inspired and spontaneous creation that Archer had hoped for. Of course, everything they do sounds wonderfully organic, wonderfully analog!