Lawrence musicians increasingly turn to local, independent studios

When Cowgirls' Train Set was ready to record this fall, space in the studio was a valuable resource.

To keep sounds from bleeding together during the process, they recorded saxophonist Albert Moews' parts in the kitchen, while the rest of the band strummed and plucked away in the studio upstairs.

Close quarters were a small price to pay for using Lawrence's 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor, a local recording studio headed by Truckstop Honeymoon's Mike West.

"He understands where we come from, he understands our community, he understands us as a band," says Moews, whose group chose working with West over larger studios they've utilized in the past. "He can relate to local artists on their level. He's not an entity that's going to push record, then stop and say, 'Do you like it?' He gets personally involved with each project."

That personal touch is key, and it's a big reason why Lawrence bands are increasingly favoring smaller, independent, local recording studios.

Going into the studio is no picnic. It's a process that takes passion and precision, and Sugar Britches' Monica Greenwood knows this firsthand. Her band spent most of the summer recording their first album.

"We recorded about 95 percent of our album live, so the increased focus on nailing the take can be stressful," she says of studio recording. "Sometimes you have to do several takes in a row to get your best recording, and that can be particularly grueling."

Luckily for Greenwood, when it comes to recording space, Lawrence has plenty of options. There's a studio for every type of musician, and they're all run by active musicians.

Members of Cowgirl's Train Set record music at 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor

Members of Cowgirl's Train Set record music at 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor

Greenwood admits that cost played a part in her decision to work with a local studio, one run by fellow musician Nicholas St. James.

"He provides an affordable option for local musicians that may not have a large bank roll to fund such a project without sacrificing the quality of the recording," she says.

But money isn't the only reason Sugar Britches kept it local.

"His studio has a very personal and intimate feel to it," Greenwood explains, "which really proves a comfortable space for musicians to create music for their album."

The Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., provides free studio space, but when area musicians spend for recordings, they generally tend to favor keeping their money local, several musicians interview for this story said.

For the local spenders, here's a look at some of the establishments in Lawrence musicians can turn to when it's time to cut a record.

Mike West started the 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor recording studio in 2005, when he moved it to Lawrence from New Orleans

Mike West started the 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor recording studio in 2005, when he moved it to Lawrence from New Orleans

9th Ward Pickin' Parlor

Founder: Mike West

Established: In 2005, when West moved it to Lawrence from New Orleans

Band that recently recorded there: Cowgirl's Train Set

Why do musicians come to you to record an album? "When I started going into making records for other people, it was like, if you all wanted to be in the room together, you can be in the room together," West says. "I'm going to record you in such a way that we get a good capture. That sort of remains at the core of what I love about recording … in the moment, communicating. I always tell people that the most important thing we do is communicating. It's quite an art. You've got to go through all these bloody machines and communicate with people. It might not be your most perfect take, but it's a good take. It might be the take that's the most expressive and true. It might have some shortcomings, but it's the one you want."

The Orin Underground

Founder: Jim Barnes

Established: February 2003

Bands that recently recorded there: Hembree (Barnes' band), Spencer Mackenzie Brown

Why do musicians come to you to record an album?

"I hope musicians come to me because I am a fellow musician with the experience to help make their vision a reality," Barnes says, "someone they can trust with their music."

Prosido Gardens

Founder: Sean Hunt (aka Approach)

Established: 2012

Bands that recently recorded there: MilkDrop, Louiz Rip, Barrel Maker, Left E. Grove, Ajay, Stik Figa

Why do musicians come to you to record an album? “The Prosido has a very comfortable vibe," Hunt says. "You don’t feel pressure when you record with me. What I might lack in audio engineer schooling, I make up for with patience, quality ears, hard work and a natural ability to problem-solve. I am also a recording artist/producer, and this allows me a greater understanding of both sides of the process.”

Skating Polly records an album at Fire'N'Ice Studios in January

Skating Polly records an album at Fire'N'Ice Studios in January

Fire'N'Ice Studios (full service, multi-room facility) and Coil Audio Labs (acoustically designed for mixing and mastering)

Founder: Steve Squire and Matt Mozier

Established: 2012

Bands that recently recorded there: Skating Polly, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds, Kliph Scurlock, Arthur Dodge and the Horsefeathers

Why do musicians come to you to record an album? Squire: "Usually most bands/artists find me via word of mouth. I kind of toe the blurry line between the home studio and the 'fancy' studio experience. Fire'N'Ice is essentially a studio in the trees, like being out of state when it's merely 15 minutes out of town. There’s plenty of natural light, instruments everywhere and enough space to be creative without the typical distractions of a more urban environment. My spaces aren't advertised as 'commercial' but are as equipped and capable as the bigger studios in Kansas City. I don't have a set price or 'card rate' per se — it's a sliding scale depending on what the project demands and whether the band and myself agree that its a good fit to work together. I have a pretty vast collection of rare tube gear and a 1970s-era console, as well as instruments and amplifiers."

Mozier: "We're out in the Vinland Valley, surrounded by eastern woodlands, and we're only 20 minutes from Downtown Lawrence. The space is really comfortable and sounds fantastic. It's a good-sized space and can accommodate entire bands playing live together in the same room, which is how we like to do things. At the same time, we have isolation rooms for separation if necessary."

Yellow Ribbon Studio

Founder: Nicholas St. James

Established: January 2015

Bands that recently recorded there: Sugar Britches, Amy Leigh

Why do musicians come to you to record an album? "I'm not someone to see if you're looking to make a sonic masterpiece," St. James says. "I record artists, in a room, playing their songs live. I like to use as few microphones as possible, and avoid overdubbing, like the way a lot of my favorite blues records were made in the 1930s and '40s. I'm not really interested in capturing the 'best guitar tone ever,' because I want to record songs, not perfect snippets of isolated performances. I'd have no idea how to record or mix a radio pop hit, but if someone wants to make a folk record that sounds like an old folk record, that I can do."

Audio One Recordings

Founder: John McCluskey (aka DJ Johnny Quest)

Established: 2002

Bands that recently recorded there: J. Lee, Stik Figa, Approach, Dutch Newman, The Lonely Hearts Club, The Agency (J School), Kevin Willmott (Hodcarrier Productions)

Why do musicians come to you to record an album? “I primarily work with hip-hop vocalists and producers, singer/songwriters, as well as voiceover recording and post production for film," McCluskey says. "People come to work with me because, as a DJ and producer, they know that I can help realize their vision and bring it to life using a combination of modern and vintage equipment. As an artist myself, I know what it’s like working on a record and can give input and feedback from a unique perspective.”

— Cowgirl's Train Set video and photo courtesy of Pitts Photography

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