Pictured above are engineer/co-producer John Hampton, Mikey James, and engineer Adam Hill.
On record, Admirers is predominantly a one-man act, the brainchild of Mikey James, who first came to recognition as the drummer in Longwave during their peak of popularity and critical buzz (from late 2001 to early 2004, during which time the band was often associated with the Strokes because both bands shared a manager and toured together just as a buzz started to percolate). James was asked to join Longwave by Longwave bandleader and childhood friend Steve Schiltz. The pair met in high school.
Prior to joining Longwave, however, James had amassed a large body of his own material. He has always been highly active as a home recordist and continues to be so today.
James has led and fronted several solo-driven acts before and after Longwave, including The Mercies and Mikey Jukebox — both of which have charted on indie charts and had songs featured on hit TV shows including Gossip Girl, New Girl, Ben & Kate, Traffic Light, The Lying Game and the film The Secret Lives of Dorks.
James also plays drums in and produces the Demos.
James has changed the name of his projects frequently, which can make it confusing to keep track of his discography. (See discography below.) Admirers is the latest of these projects. Involuntary Memory is the first album released under that name, but it is not technically a debut.
James tends to favor a combination of lo-fi and more lavish production values. A large portion of his body of work started out on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder.
As a listener and music fan, James developed a strong attraction to production values at an early age, which heavily informs all of his work. He considers himself just as much a fan of certain producers as he is of bands.
Although he typically self-produces during the initial stages of tracking and does a lot of mixing on his own, he is particularly fond of collaborating with producers. He feels that the stronger individual vision an artist has, the more they should feel confident in collaborating with a producer, and that albums go into unexpected territory that neither the artist nor producer would be able to achieve on their own when a collaboration occurs.
In the case of the Admirers album Involuntary Memory, co-producer John Hampton contributed most heavily on mixing decisions. Engineer Adam Hill also worked on the mix.
John Hampton has worked with Alex Chilton, The Cramps, Replacments, Gin Blossoms, White Stripes and others. Mike was drawn to John Hampton, at first, on a gut feeling on seeing his picture. Later, Hampton’s range as a producer and his association with Ardent Studios (and Ardent’s connections to Big Star) helped him make the final decision.
Adam Hill has worked with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Big Star, and Don Nix.
Located in Memphis, Ardent Studios is famous in part for its historical links with iconic pop band Big Star. (Founding Big Star drummer Jody Stephens works as the studio manager.) Involuntary Memory marks James’ third time working there.
James has often approached producers out of the blue – with no prior established connection or even clear means of contacting them. In his earliest attempt to do so, he was still a teenager and somehow found a way to call producer Bob Clearmountain, who was sitting at his pool when James called.
Aside from Involuntary Memory co-producer John Hampton, James has worked with Dave Fridmann, Henry Hirsch, Howie B, JBAG, among others — and he tentatively worked with Hirsch as a possible candidate to mix Involuntary Memory. He has also approached several high-profile remixers, and a remix album is in the works as a companion to Involuntary Memory.
James is a huge fan of the production on Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, which was produced by Hirsch and had a tremendous formative impact in his early years as a listener. In fact, the album title Involuntary Memory was largely inspired by James sitting down and listening to the Kravitz album recently and feeling completely taken back to the sensation of listening to that album on his mom’s couch as a teenager.
However, Involuntary Memory wasn’t influenced so much by the sound on Are You Gonna Go My Way as much as its cohesive blend of sounds.
Involuntary Memory was influenced by many production styles, including Britpop, glam, house, New Jack Swing, EDM, doo-wop, disco, classic rock, modern pop, and Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies,” to name just a few. A full list of influences would take up several pages.
James enjoys wearing his production influences on his sleeve because he feels that he always arrives at his own distinct combinations, that his combinations always sound natural because of the sudden whims that go into his decisions, and that he never falls into the retro trap. The common thread running through all of his work is his songwriting style.
James tends to be a relentless tinkerer when it comes to mixing his music, and often goes through dozens of radically different versions of mixes, even working with different mixers and scrapping entire albums’ worth of mixes of the same songs before settling on final definitive versions. (He is almost as particular when it comes to mastering.)
Whenever he’s working on an album, James usually maps out the production direction of the next album and has a particular sound in mind for the songs that come next. In this case, he has the next album planned, but in the process of making that next record it will likely go through several shifts in direction.
Live, Admirers performs as a full band.
James came across the term “involuntary memory” while reading Proust. He chose the name “Admirers” while randomly thumbing through an Oscar Wilde book in search of a bandname.
James has an uncle who is a literature professor and encouraged James to read at a young age. Whenever he’s making an album, James consciously resists influence from whatever music he’s listening to at the same time and does not typically go back and listen to the records that are influencing what he’s working on. But he does allow whatever he’s currently reading to filter into the music.
James is based in Rochester, NY.
Memphis artist Craig Davis was in Studio C recently, cutting 11 songs over the course of 3 days for what will be the debut album for the Craig Davis Band. Jeremiah Tucker (John Kilzer, Keith Sykes, Levon Helm), who had been co-writing songs with Craig for some time, came in from Nashville to produce the recording. Their choice for an engineer in Adam Hill was a no brainer, as Jeremiah and Adam have known and respected each other for years. When the decision was made to cut this record to analog tape, their attention came to Ardent Studios. From manager Laurena Stanos:
“Craig and Jeremiah agreed that tracking full band live to analog tape was how they wanted to record the album… It needed to be comfortable and provide a room that allowed Craig and the band to make eye contact with each other.”
It was these criteria, along with the know-how and attention to detail of engineer Adam Hill that led them to Ardent.
“Jeremiah had known Adam Hill since the late 90′s and is a fan of his work as an engineer. Craig and I [sic] agreed with Jeremiah that Studio C at Ardent would be the place.”
Point your browser to Craig’s website for more info.
In the Photo, L to R: Producer Jeremiah Tucker, Jody Stephens, Laurena Stanos, Craig Davis, guitarist Chris Johnson, engineer Adam Hill.
Memphis southern rock and country act The Dirt Brothers have been in and out of the studio this year and last, working on 14 songs that will make up their LP debut, Riding Dirty. Most recently the guys have been in Studio A under the guidance of Nashville producer and engineer extraordinaire Mike Clute (Faith Hill, Diamond Rio).
Ardent’s Mike Wilson has made Clute’s and the band’s settling in as smooth as possible, making whatever they need available to them at a snap of the fingers.
But with the Dirt Brothers, it’s more a stomp of the foot than a snap of the fingers. The band stands firm on its commitment to Memphis as a hometown, and their belief in what they do has been heard echoing through the halls of Ardent throughout the time they’ve been working here. Those who would say that country is a Nashville thing, take heed – The Dirt Brothers are comin’.
Look for their 14 track LP to release in March of this year, and keep an eye out for The Dirt Brothers on the road in support of Riding Dirty.
In the picture, L to R: Producer/engineer Mike Clute, Chad Gatewood, Justin Gatewood, Mike Wilson, Andy McCullough, Traci McCullough, John Salazar, and John “John Boy” Hall.
Memphis based engineer Wes Leyshon recently brought a new project through Ardent in an effort to capture his client’s sound in the best way possible. The artist, Colin Elmore, met Wes at the wedding reception of a mutual friend, and a new working relationship was forged. This is the second project that Wes has produced for Colin. The first was a Springfield, MO based indie rock project with Elmore’s previous band, Berch (2010′s Before and After the Fall). This time around, and under a solo moniker, Colin wanted to put his songwriting in the center of the project. Looking for that “warm and slightly dirty” sound, they knew they wanted to cut to analog tape, and they knew that Ardent was the best choice for just such an undertaking.
Over the course of 4 days, and with the help of in-house engineer Mike Wilson, Elmore and his band (consisting of Emmet Franz and his family) cut seven songs and two instrumentals, mixing on the final day. This release will fittingly be billed under the name of Colin Elmore and the Franz Family band, and will be entitled This Side of the Sun. The instrumentation on these recordings reflects a recent return to acoustic roots for many artists – acoustic guitars, dobro, upright bass, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, etc. Some of the songs were flushed out further with Hammond organ, cello, french horn, flugle horn, trumpet, piano and accordian.
According to engineer Wes Leyshon, “[Mike] was everything I could’ve hoped for in an assistant. Loved the new board in C and the assortment of compressors Mike held for me to mis with on Thursday. The mic choice I had was a dream. The live room is amazing and we made good use of it. All of the Ardent staff seemed excited and encouraging about the whole project. I really hope to be back there in the near future.”
Be sure to check out a great video of Colin and Emmett performing an acoustic version of one of the album cuts in Ardent’s Studio C here:
In the picture, L to R: Caleb Franz(mandolin, banjo, BGVs), Savannah Franz, Audra Mohnkern (upright bass, BGVs), Colin Elmore (songwriter, acoustic guitar, piano, lead vocal), David Fiser (photographer), Mike Wilson (engineer), Olivia Jahnke (fiddle, piano, BGVs), Wes Leyshon (producer, engineer), and Adam Jahnke.
Memphis’ favorite sons, southern rockers Lucero, returned to Studio A with producer Ted Hutt and engineer Ryan Mall to track a complete new record. Mike Wilson assisted. Please stay tuned for more info!
In the photo, L to R: John C Stubblefield, Ryan Mall, Ben Nichols, Rick Steff, Mike Wilson, Roy Berry, Todd Beene, and Ted Hutt.
Our friends at Visible Music College have come quite a distance during their eleven years in existence. Starting as a modest 21 student, 9 month course and expanding to a 4 year program with accreditation, it’s been a journey that we’ve been proud to be a part of. With the new location downtown and more students than ever, we hope to do everything we can to help Visible students in their coming journeys.
Ardent recently teamed up with Visible to offer a week of studio time as a prize for the winner of their alumni songwriting competition. Erik Smallwood of the class of 2002 walked away with the prize, with a smile on his face and songs ready to go.
Ecstatic to be recording at Ardent, Erik had much to say of his time in the studio: “Just to be in the same room, same building as some of the people who have graced this place is amazing.” His singer/songwriter style is stacked with sweet and soulful sounds, and his songs got the treatment they deserve here at Ardent.
Visible School teacher and producer Kirk Smith was kind enough to spearhead the sessions, making efficient work of a week in Studio A. Relating to the success of Visible, Kirk said “the relationship with Ardent has been key for [Visible’s] audio production department.” Using many of Ardent’s tried and true pieces of equipment, he was able to help craft Erik’s music into beautifully succinct pieces.
It was the first time Erik had the opportunity to work with Kirk and he was more than satisfied with the result. “Kirk and I are on the same page… He seemed to have the same idea I do on where these songs are headed.” You’ll hear more than just the hovering hand of production from Kirk, who also added piano and rhodes on selected tracks. Kirk wasn’t the only musician to have graced the sessions; Drummer Matt Fritzler and singer Sara Jo also were featured in the songs recorded, adding style and heart to music that is already overflowing with emotion and character.
The time at Ardent was spent well, having Erik lay down three gorgeously arranged tracks to show off his talent and the capabilities of studio. To keep up with all things Erik Smallwood, head over to his website at Eriksmallwood.com. And don’t forget to look into who gave Erik the opportunity to have the time over at Visible.edu.
Local rockers The Sheriffs of Nottingham finished mixing their new 6-track release at Ardent over this past weekend, bringing together a year-long labor of love.
“It’s taken us a long time just because of our crazy schedules, but the time between sessions has really helped us focus in on what we wanted,” says guitarist Kevin Lipe.
The 6-track album bursts at the seams with a hard rock style riding on Southern blues waves, satisfying listeners that need something both heavy and full of heart. Hard power chords laid under soulful singing, interspersed with ripping guitar solos and thick choruses, make the Sheriffs’ itinerary a force not to be missed.
Engineers Mike Wilson and Jason Gillespie worked together on the recording process, with Mike putting in the final leg of effort on the mixes. ”Mike and Jason were great!” drummer Kyle Fagala remarks. “We’d always wanted to work at Ardent, and meeting [Mike and Jason] was perfect. They were both easy to work with and helped us get our sound where we wanted it.”
Having the record done at Ardent is something the Sheriffs have wanted for some time, and their excitement was evident ”From the minute we got in there, we fell in love with the whole place!” bassist Curry Smith exclaims. ‘
Satisfied with the final product, their next step is getting the CD’s pressed and distributed. Be sure to hit up ardentstudios.com for full details on the upcoming release.
Paul Mac Bonvin – a restaurateur, vineyard owner and rock and roller who lives in Switzerland – had a dream to track a record in Memphis at the legendary Sun Studios. Having Jerry Lee Lewis’ rhythm section as his backing band was part of the dream. Producer/engineer Jeff Powell was the man to make it all happen. From Jeff:
We cut all of the Sun tracks in two sessions. The second session involved the band driving straight to the studio after a gig with Jerry Lee at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival. They had just played in front of thousands of people and they were on fire when they got to Sun. Most of them still had their stage clothes on, it was incredible.
The next day we moved to Ardent Studio A and did a handful of overdubs and started mixing. I used Ardent’s analog two track MCI to get the real tape slap sound and it sounded perfect for what we were going for. We dialed it in on every song. The Ardent chambers, plates, and tape slap are one of the main reasons I like to mix there. I didn’t use any digital effects or plugins on this record. Paul wanted to stay true to the old analog sound.
Paul Mac’s family joined in the recording process as well, with his daughter Priscilla singing harmonies and his son Nelson adding guitar. Other special guests included Albert Lee in London on guitar and vocals, Susan Marshall on vocals, and Charlie McCoy added harmonica here at Ardent. Lucas Peterson assisted here at Ardent.
In the picture, L to R: Charlie McCoy, John Fry, Paul Mac Bonvin, his son Nelson, engineer Jeff Powell, and assistant Lucas Peterson.
Ardent Music’s newest release is a 7-inch 33-1/3 rmp vinyl, produced to give people a little peak into the special night that was the Big Star tribute to Alex Chilton that took place in Memphis on the night of May 15, 2010 at the historic Levitt Shell.
Here’s a message from Big Star drummer Jody Stephens about this special item:
“For our last performance as Big Star, Jon, Ken and I had some very good friends join us to celebrate the music and lives of Alex, Andy and Chris on May 15, 2010. The performances really tell the story of what happened and how we all felt about that evening at Memphis’ Levitt Shell. The idea of trying to release the show in its entirety was overwhelming in the sense of time and effort needed for all performance clearances. So I thought, first artist first: John Davis was the first of many wonderful guest artists to join us on stage. He wailed on three songs: “In The Street,” “Don’t Lie To Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” These were just the right amount songs (and time) for an EP release. So with mastering engineer Larry Nix and Big Star’s engineer, John Fry, and our Neumann cutting lathe all residing in the Ardent Studios building how could we not cut vinyl?
“We hope to release more of the show down the road. Thank you.”
The first 1,000 vinyls come with a free digital download card for the entire album, in high quality mp3 format, ripped directly from the source vinyl. Stream tracks here, or click here to check it out on the Ardent Music store!
Memphis, TN (June 14, 2011)—UK pop legend Sir Cliff Richard recorded vocals for his new album, Soulicious, at Ardent Studios in Memphis.
Working with producer and Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, Richard first tracked at nearby Royal Recording Studios with “Boo” Mitchell, son of the late Willie Mitchell. The album features a wealth of soul stars, including Deniece “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” Williams, Freda “Band of Gold” Payne and Billy “Me and Mrs. Jones” Paul.
Executive producer for Soulicious is David Gest, who organized last November’s “David Gest’s Soul Spectacular,” at the UK’s Southport Theatre and Convention Center. Featuring 18 of the world’s best selling R&B artists, the show was hailed as history’s largest gathering of soul greats on one night.
Cliff Richard’s new album includes a mix of soul classics and new songs penned by producer Lamont Dozier and his son Beau. Ardent’s Matt Martone served as ProTools engineer at Royal Recording and handled vocal recording at Ardent. Additional guest vocalists included Candi Staton, Percy Sledge, Russell Thomkins, Jr. and The New Stylistics.
Richard has sold over 260 million records in his enduring career. With his backing group The Shadows, Richard dominated the British popular music scene in the pre-Beatles period of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His 1958 hit single, “Move It,” is often described as Britain’s first authentic rock and roll song, and John Lennon once claimed that ”before Cliff and the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music.”
The album’s producer, Lamont Dozier, was part of the legendary Motown production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. A unifying force in the ’60s pop and R&B chart-dominance of the Detroit-based independent record label, the trio later formed Invictus and Hot Wax Records, and enjoyed continuing success with the Chairmen of the Board, Freda Payne, 100 Proof Aged in Soul, the Honey Cone, and 8th Day.
Story by Mr. Bonzai.
In the photo, L to R: Engineer Matt Martone, executive producer David Gest, Sir Cliff Richard, producer Lamont Dozier, and assistant Mike Wilson. Photo by Daniel J. Russo.