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This article appears on page 8 of the November 1, 2012 print edition of Ace Weekly.
Ten Bands in Twenty Days
Lexington project yields an album,
a show, videos and more
By Kakie Urch
It was twenty days in Shangri-la, ten artists, one music producer, an Ivy League attorney/majorette of an executive producer and the power of the Internet.
Add to that whatever is in the limestone-rich water of the Town Branch that makes our city such a generative, creative place and you have “10 in 20: A Lexington Recording Project” compilation album.
The ten bands are: Coralee and The Townies, Chris Dennison, Matt Duncan, Willie Eames, Englishman, The Fanged Robot, Killer Meteor, Little Miss Tammy Smith, (the honky-tonk diva alter ego of drummer Sherri McGee), Oh My Me, and Sunday Valley.
And Shangri-la it is: The six-year-old studio, set in the one of the nondescript industrial buildings on the North Side reclaimed by Lexington’s creative class, is an analog wonderland with digital tools.
Trattoria lights, paper rose garlands, a score of oriental rugs, toy percussion stations, recording areas set off by hundreds of working organs and tube amps, racks of guitars, banjos, dobros, regiments of multicolored vintage drums, rakishly adorned mannequins, Chairy-style seating and a rock gypsy aesthetic bring the 4,000 square feet into focus. The space is warm, real, made of stuff you can touch.
“Bands come from Brooklyn – and from Nashville – to record here, producer Jennifer Miller said.
Producer Duane Lundy sits at the studio’s main board – the very same board on which Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic “In An Aeroplane Over The Sea” was mixed. (Lexington’s Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo and the Elephant Six Collective bequeathed it to him when he upgraded.) To his stage left is a board from the old Island Studios in London. One must refrain from dusting for Jimmy Page’s fingerprints. Or say, simply licking it.
“I did sessions in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville and I didn’t much like any of it because it was all commercial studios and it was all control rooms….it was like going to the dentist,” said Lundy, the producer of the album and owner of the studio.
He shudders recalling what he calls “that machinery of isolation,” — the standard glassed-in recording booth. And, maybe, that studio setup, he thinks, is built on a business model designed to increase billable hours – to keep bands in the studio longer.
”I don’t even have a talkback mike in here. I don’t talk to anybody through headphones,” he said.
Jennifer Miller, your everyday, average Harvard/Stanford Law grad in a March Madness Marching Band majorette costume is the cultural producer behind projects including Hitting the Cycle, the most recent Chico Fellini record and now, 10 in 20.
She handled the Pledge Music crowdsourcing effort (which topped the $5,000 goal), the editing of ten full-length music videos from the sessions, some photography and videography duties, and visual design (the law degree also helped her advise bands and artists on things like starting LLCs and intellectual property issues).
The idea was to choose ten artists and give each of them two days in Shangri-la Studios to record
and mix one track each for the record. Keep to the parameters, that was Lundy’s goal – an Aristotelian exercise with guitar and drums. Work with what is provided and art will ensue.
That meant a real application of what Lundy admires about his favorite producers: Jimmy Page, Daniel Lanois, and Brian Eno. As Lundy characterizes it, ”Go in, open up your box of goodies and get going.”
“They would come in. By 10 a.m. I would already have everything in place…certain pieces and certain micing configuration. Seven of the 10 tracks were started in that very live fashion,” Lundy said. Miller recounts the players moving throughout the studio, grabbing metal pieces and corrugated washboards for impromptu percussion from the array of goodies at hand. And, the videos show that.
Miller also commented on another quality Lundy brings to the table — from an unlikely beginning. Earlier in his life, Lundy was a professional tennis player. He then became a teaching tennis pro coach. “He sees what [artists’] strengths are and really…..coaches. It’s an environment here where they do feel safe to test their strengths and really push beyond.”
Lexington compilation records have a long and rich history. From the seminal SPLAT! Records compilation release in the early 1980s to the Ace Christmas Album in the 1990s to WRFL’s multiple-disc “Know Your Own” series, and the Pet Milk collaboration. Louisville has its “Louisville is For Lovers” compilation project, to which Lundy also contributed.
The core of this compilation’s sound comes from Lundy’s orientation to a roots and Americana vibe and its map runs through the heart of a Lexington band called The Apparitions – a staple of the early and mid-2000s. All of The Apparitions have gone on to national notoriety through their subsequent projects.
The Apparitions were Mark Heidinger on lead vox guitar (Heidinger is now Vandaveer), Robbie Cosenza on drums (Cosenza is the drummer in These United States and is The Fanged Robot of 10 in 20), Justin Craig on lead guitar, (Craig is now with These United States and plays on the Englishman track on “10 in 20”) and Eric Smith (Killer Meteor on the 10 in 20 album).
The other artists are all people Lundy has worked with before and all have a bit of a roots, Americana or blues base, whether they lay that through an alternative, punky, rock or folky prism.
The musical result is just what Lundy had hoped for — a strong unified album.
“Americana and roots music is sort of where I have found my niche. I think there is this idyllic concept by the artists that they are getting back to it, by coming here. “
“Only in the last ten years have I started to understand the full scope of the American songbook. I found that that organic format gave me an opportunity to participate more” in the production rather than the pop and modern music format which is “so constructed,” Lundy said. That new orientation guided his choice of artists. So many of the compilation albums that come out, he said, are “hodge-podgy.”
Three of the 10 bands recorded, The Fanged Robot, Oh My Me and Matt Duncan, were highlighted in a recent Paste Magazine “50 States Project” in the “10 Kentucky Bands You Should Listen To Now” feature.
Erin Reynolds and Chris Rawlings of Oh My Me (compared favorably to Alabama Shakes by some observers), wrote about the experience. “It was like a two-day summer camp for miscreant musicians. We got to drink bourbon and wear funny hats (the former is typically frowned upon at summer camp). The song turned out better than we could have ever hoped. We have an abundance of love and respect for everyone involved with this project. It’s been a wonderful experience that will hopefully shine some light on the vibrant Lexington music scene.”
And the project is not just a music compilation. It is a video compilation, with a strong session video of each song, with much footage shot by Mark Cornelison deploying an analog, vintage feel.
The video is imbued with the lighting, coloring and shot selection of the era that produced the tube amp, the working Ray Manzarek Doors-era Vox Continental combo organ against the wall at Shangri-la, the red sass of Little Miss Tammy Smith’s lipstick and the real, touchable, analog, limestone-waterfed Lexington sound of “10 in 20.”
The “10 in 20” show at Cosmic Charlie’s should be quite a family reunion.
November 10 is the Live Concert featuring the “10 in 20” family tree. Cosmic Charlie’s, 9 p.m. $12, 21+ (Guests will include those who pledged on PledgeMusic) Nov. 13 Vinyl copies available in Lexington stories and at 10in20.net
10 in 20 Artists
Coralee and The Townies: Energetic female-fronted roots rock
Chris Dennison lead singer for Chico Fellini
Matt Duncan Extraordinary singer-songwriter, keyboards, horns, Nu-Wop
Willie Eames blues guitar virtuoso (Tall Boys, et al)
Englishman Alternative rock band with brilliant lyrics and vocals by Andrew English
Little Miss Tammy Smith (the honky-tonk diva alter ego of drummer Sherri McGee, Velvet Elvis alum, the Yellow Belts, etc)
Sunday Valley alt with a roots rock bite
The Fanged Robot: One-man project by Robby Cosenza, drummer of These United States
Killer Meteor: Band with roots punk sensibility fronted by Eric Smith
Oh My Me: Band fronted by Erin Reynolds’ soaring vocals
Executive producer and Lexington native, Henry Clay/Harvard/Stanford alum Jennifer Miller, says her creative role evolved over time. She handled some videography of sessions, collaborative
conversations and visual design of the Web site and the record cover. She also did the video editing on the 10 music videos for the project. She is co-Producer of the film Hitting the Cycle, and executive producer on Chico Fellini’s most recent release. And she is the “cruise director” for March Madness Marching Band … the remarkable grassroots community band that has played Forecastle twice and wowed em at Austin’s HONK! Her Lexington roots run deep. Her cousin is John Winn Miller, the Pulitzer-prize winning political reporter and newspaper publisher. Her other cousin is Allison Miller, who plays Carrie on NBC’s “Go On“ with Matthew Perry. And, the “Recovering Politician,” former Kentucky state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate, is her brother.
Producer Duane Lundy graduated from EKU as a business major. He is a guitar player whose producer influences are Jimmy Page, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. Locally, he’s played with
Chico Fellini and Scourge of the Sea. He opened Shangri-la Studios about six years ago and is a full-time producer, recording and mixing projects in Lexington and by commission in other cities. His credits include the first three albums released by Ben Sollee, the most recent album by Vandaveer, solo work by My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James, several records by These United States, several records by The Apparitions and compilation albums for SubPop and other alt labels. He has also worked with Matt Duncan, Lexington movie composer Stephen Trask, and Coralee and the Townies.
Also in this issue:
P. 4 Centre VP Debate Wrap-Up
P. 5 Ace’s photos from the VP debate
P. 6 Paul K biopic to open at Kentucky Theatre
P. 10 Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail gets a sibling
P. 11 Movies out on DVD that you might have missed
P. 12 Latitude Arts Community introduces their neighbors
P. 13 Is it squash or is it pasta? Ask Chef Tom
P. 14 Ace interview with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman