WV band makes an album with noted producer Don Dixon [Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va. :: ]
(Charleston Daily Mail (WV) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 08--Bald with a blonde soul patch, dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans, beat-up Converse shoes and Clark Kent glasses, record producer Don Dixon looks like a rock 'n' roll mad scientist.
But he definitely knows what he's doing.
Last week, Dixon came to town to work with local band The Company Stores on their first album. They recorded seven original songs over four marathon days.
"He is a freaking machine," guitarist Matthew Marks told the Daily Mail last Tuesday, taking a short break while drummer John Query added tambourine to a track.
On their first day of recording, Marks said the band started working around 10 a.m. and didn't finish until 9 p.m. Dixon went full-throttle the entire time.
"He didn't take a break, he didn't eat . . . and every day has been like that. It's really blown me away. By the end of the day we're all sluggish. He's an animal."
The band recorded in a room at West Virginia Public Radio, where the station usually houses telephone operators during pledge drives.
The space looked a little like a construction site after a few days of recording.
The back of the room was stacked with instrument cases. Cords snaked all across the floor, leading from a menagerie of microphones back to three road cases that contained Dixon's recording equipment, which he stacked in the middle of the room.
Dixon sat behind the stack, twisting knobs and punching buttons as the musicians played just a few feet away.
It's a relatively bare bones setup compared to the gear-packed studios some producers prefer but Dixon clearly knows his equipment well.
Listening through headphones as Marks added a mandolin track to "Silence," the recording already sounded like a finished album track.
Dixon has been in the music business since the early 1980s, playing with noted North Carolina band Arrogance before trying his hand as a record producer.
He co-produced two albums for R.E.M., including the group's 1983 debut album ''Murmur" and the follow-up "Reckoning." He has since worked with Chris Allen, The Smithereens, James McMurtry and many other artists.
The Company Stores, meanwhile, have only been around since late 2012, when singer Casey Litz, Query and Marks got together to play a few gigs around town. They later added bassist Joey Liegel and trumpeter/violinist Joseph Cevallos.
While they are all longtime musicians, none of the band members have extensive recording experience. They recorded a demo tape last summer but were disappointed how it turned out.
Larry Groce, artistic director for West Virginia Public Radio's "Mountain Stage," suggested the band get in touch with Dixon, who has appeared on Mountain Stage as a solo act and is a friend of Groce's.
"When we first met him, we got such good vibes from him. He's been in the business forever. He knows the theory, what sounds good," Marks said.
Litz said working with Dixon has been a learning experience.
"He was just really good at what he did, super efficient. He didn't feed our egos too much. He was like, this works, this doesn't," she said.
While some producers prefer to put musicians in sound-proof isolation booths while recording, Dixon prefers to record in spaces where bands feel comfortable, sitting as close as possible to the musicians as they play.
"I don't always like to use studios," he said. "For me, any barrier is a bad thing. I'm always in the room. I've always been like that.
Marks said Dixon gently steered the recording process, making suggestions, taking some ideas from the band while gently rejecting others.
"We're just like, OK, we trust you. And most of the time he's been right," he said. "I feel like we as a group would really be swimming upstream without Don."
Dixon, however, gives credit to the band.
"They have thought through things very well. The guys can all play," he said. "(And) I love the way Casey sings."
He will return to Charleston in a few months to finish up the album, which the band hopes to release by August.
"Everyday I've been checking my email because he's supposed to be sending us the rough mix," Litz said.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.
(c)2014 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)
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