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Monday, 26 March 2012 14:50

Sound rooms: The Texas Room studio mixes vintage with modern

Sound rooms: The Texas Room studio mixes vintage with modern Jarred Gastriech
Written by Francisco Fisher

For a while now, Cherokee has had a strong reputation for supporting the visual arts with its galleries, outdoor festivals and street art. Yet the proliferation of music venues and recording studios, including the five month-old Texas Room, is making Cherokee an increasingly good place to keep your ear to the ground for new homegrown sounds.

Add to the list of local musicians associated with Cherokee St. (i.e., Sleepy Kitty and Pretty Little Empire) the indie rockers Jumbling Towers who are currently recording at the Texas Room Studio.

The Texas Room's owner, Louis Wall, says he was a huge fan of Jumbling Towers' 2007 self-titled release, one that is filled with haunting vocals and raw instrumentation. He was impressed. The following year, Wall proved to be more than a typical fan by joining the group as its new drummer. And while most fans wanted to buy Jumbling Towers' next album, Wall wanted to be the one to record it.

In November of 2011, Wall put together the Texas Room by assembling his established collection of recording gear in a second-floor apartment off of Cherokee St. Since then, a handful of bands have recorded in the space including his own Jumbling Towers, members of which are now split between St. Louis and Chattanooga.

Wall's studio is cozy with an old sofa and shelves well stocked with books, DVDs, VHS tapes, CDs, records and copies of "Tape Op Magazine." And yet there's enough elbow room for a four-piece band to move about the amplifiers and instruments that are set up and ready to be flicked on. On the kitchen table, Wall glues blocks of wood to his homemade diffuser board that will improve acoustics in the main room. In the fridge there's beer, which he offers.

"A lot of studios can be formal, stuffy and sterile," says Wall. His is not. "But I'm not looking to sacrifice quality."

Apart from the laid-back décor, which includes a hanging installation of a dozen or so of his retired skateboards, Wall's equipment means business. An upright Schafer and Sons piano sits at one end of the living room with a Rhodes Mark II at the other. A stack of preamps tower next to his workstation that features a MacBook Pro laptop. In a separate room are the drum kits, waiting to be introduced to his arsenal of microphones.

The equipment Wall uses varies in age and origin, but he has a preference for vintage gear from the '50s and '60s. "There was a point where nothing was broken [as in, if it ain't broke, don't fix it] in terms of style and quality," he says.

Wall says the public's interest in a more organic, vintage sound has increased in past years thanks to bands such as the Black Keys, the drummer for which recorded the group's 2004 album "Rubber Factory" in an abandoned tire-manufacturing plant.

Wall has taken the spirit of "Rubber Factory" and brought it to a more inhabitable environment. And despite the professionalism Wall brings to the recording station, he is interested in forming relationships with his clients and be an active part of the process. "I don't just diddle the faders," he says. "I'm playing drums with people."

Though divided by state lines, which makes touring an ordeal in terms of time and money, Jumbling Towers converges at The Texas Room to explore new directions in their music. According to Wall, the group has worked on more than 60 unreleased tracks. And they have indeed updated their sound since the first album; for example, "Ramifications of an Exciting Spouse" offers a more full and melodic ensemble that downplays the drums and brings out singer Joe DeBoer's characteristically, well, weird vocals.

But there's nothing wrong with weird, as any Jumbling Towers fan will tell you, and there's plenty of room for being different in the Cherokee neighborhood. With a laid-back atmosphere and a multi-talented owner -- in his spare time, Louis Wall composes hip-hop beats and cell phone ringtones: "People are listening to music in shorter bursts," he says -- the Texas Room reflects the creative ethos of the Cherokee artistic community, which borrows from the past and drives new ideas into the future.

All photos by Jarred Gastreich.

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