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.
Pictured is Jonathan Pekar, Director of Ardent Studios’ Film Department, holding his Emmy award for Best Commercial Spot.
Ardent Studios is proud to announce that their mild-mannered Director of the Film Department Jonathan Pekar has won the 27th MidSouth Emmy award for Best Commercial Spot for creating the animated Memphis Music Foundation commercial.
Pekar commented, “I’m stoked to be a part of the entertainment scene in Memphis. The intense level of creativity that goes on here is inspiring.” This project also showcases the talents of painter Lamar Sorrento and Singer/Songwriter Keia Johnson.
Pekar is presently developing a new television series called Kids of Memphis. It is set to air in November 2013.
Reminder to all our UK friends: BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME will have its World Premiere on October 20th & 21st at the BFI London Film Festival! Tickets are on sale now. Filmmakers Drew DeNicola, Danielle McCarthy, Olivia Mori and the legendary John Fry will all be in attendance. Hope to see some of you there! And there’s more festival news to come soon so stay tuned!
We are sad to report the loss of another pivotal Big Star figure: Ice Water drummer and Ardent Records promoter Steve Rhea.
From Studio Manager Jody Stephens:
Our very good friend, Steve Rhea, passed away today. He was an integral part of Ardent’s history. Steve was introduced to John Fry and Ardent Studios in the late 60s and by the early 70s he had become a part of the creative evolution of what was to become Big Star. He played with Chris Bell in The Jinx and then Ice Water, a late night studio project which involved Andy Hummel. Steve had been playing drums on the projects with Chris and Andy and his return to college in Texas left an opening for a drummer Jody Stephens. Upon graduation, Steve returned to Memphis and Ardent, this time enlisted by John Fry to promote Ardent Records’ releases. His projects included Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We will miss him.
Steve Rhea, a key figure in the history of legendary Memphis rock group Big Star has died.
Rhea, a drummer in Big Star precursor bands the Jynx, Rock City and Icewater, as well as an Ardent Records staffer, died on Wednesday morning at his home. The 62-year-old Rhea, who became a successful banker and financial planner, had been diagnosed with cancer last year.
“Steve’s playing just struck me pretty powerfully,” said Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who took over for Rhea behind the kit in 1971.
“From my perspective, he was such an integral part of Big Star’s evolution,” said Stephens. “And yet, he was somebody fun and very laid back, always great to work with.”
Rhea’s death is another blow for fans of Big Star, which has lost band members Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, group producer Jim Dickinson, and various other associates, including photographer/logo designer Carole Manning and songwriter Tommy Hoehn, over the past three years. The period has also seen a renewed international interest in the group’s history, thanks to a Grammy winning box set Keep An Eye on the Sky, and documentary film, “Nothing Can Hurt Me.”
A pivotal player in the early Ardent studio scene of the late 1960′s and early 1970s, Rhea was a gifted musician and occasional songwriter. He joined future Big Star founder Chris Bell in the high school garage band the Jynx, before following — along with bassist Hummel — in subsequent outfits like Rock City and Icewater.
Rhea’s greatest contribution was as the writer and singer on the Icewater song “All I See Is You.” The song came out on the 2008 collection Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story and 2009 Big Star anthology Keep An Eye on the Sky.
Rhea left the Ardent fold in order to attend college at Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1970. His departure opened up a spot for drummer Stephens who joined the soon to be rechristened Big Star. Rhea would return to Ardent to work as a promotions man in 1972, helping on the campaigns for Big Star’s first two, ill-fated, LPs.
After his involvement in the music business, Rhea went onto a successful career in finance in the Mid-South where he served as a vice president at Leader Federal Bank, Union Planters Bank of Memphis, and the Union Planters Corporation.
He eventually left to work with his father, S. Herbert Rhea, as a consultant at Rhea Financial Corporation. Most recently, Rhea had been the principal at Summit Asset Management.
Rhea is survived by his wife Leigh, and daughters Emily Rhea and Elizabeth Rhea Cook.
In the photo above: Steve Rhea and Chris Bell at the National Street location of Ardent Studios.
A private graveside service will be held on Friday morning May 18th. Visitation will be at Second Presbyterian Church at 12:30 pm on the same day followed by a memorial service in the Sanctuary at 2 p.m. Memorials may be sent to the Second Presbyterian Church Foundation, 4055 Poplar Memphis 38111, to WKNO, 7151 Cherry Farms Road Cordova 38016 or to the Church Health Center, 1210 Peabody Avenue, Memphis 38104. Memorial Park Funeral Home, “Behind the stone wall”, 901-767-8930. Condolences may be offered at www.MemorialParkOnline.com
With everyone from the Ardent camp back home and the dust settling, let’s take a look back at all things Big Star at SXSW.
From the press:
“…with the presentation of a Big Star documentary and a symphonic concert celebrating the band’s music. Playing opposite much-anticipated festival sets by Bruce Springsteen, and various other big names, the Big Star event managed to pack the city’s Paramount Theatre, and generate a rare buzz amid the din and clatter of this massive industry gathering.
“…Such labyrinthine twists provide the ballast for “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” The 93-minute documentary, by New York filmmakers Drew DeNicola, Olivia Mori, and Danielle McCarthy, was screened as a “work in-progress” version at the Paramount. Still, the film was a powerfully evocative piece, eliciting a standing ovation at its conclusion.”
“Ambitious in scope, Nothing Can Hurt Me digs into deeper contexts than the average music doc, encompassing Chilton’s pre-Big Star musical pedigree as the face and voice of the Box Tops; the mentoring influence of engineer-producers John Fry and Jim Dickinson; the clubhouse atmosphere at Fry’s Ardent Studios; the band’s connection to photographer William Eggleston and other artists; Ardent’s historic 1973 promotional stunt, the first-and-last Annual National Association of Rock Writers Convention; the decline of Big Star’s would-be distributor, Stax Records; the post-Big Star solo careers; and a busy culture of reissues, reunions, and homages.”
“The movie is brilliant—a boon to Big Star fans, as well as an indispensible primer for anyone who ever has wondered what artists such as the dB’s, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, the Bangles, the Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, This Mortal Coil, the Posies and literally thousands of others found so inspiring.
“The second half of Big Star Tribute Night was just as fulfilling as the band’s last surviving member, drummer Jody Stephens, and long-time fans Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter led a large ensemble complete with Mellotron, horns, string section and a parade of guest vocalists through a rendition of Big Star Third/Sister Lovers in all of its soul-wrenching sloppiness and haphazard perfection.
“The procession of cameos included some big names—R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, M. Ward and of course Posies and latter-day Big Star members Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer—but just as valuable were the contributions of many younger and lesser-known musicians who’ve passed through Stamey’s recording studio in Chapel Hill, N.C. All of them clearly loved the album and poured all they had into songs beloved by fans who never thought they’d get to hear them live: the rousing ‘O, Dana’ and the despondent ‘Holocaust,’ the frightening ‘Kangaroo’ and the furious ‘Kizza Me,’ all building up to a ‘We Are the World’ sing-along on the perfect tune to stand as the band’s epitaph, ‘Thank You Friends.’”
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.