Photo by by Julia Remache

Talking About Recording New Album at the Legendary FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals

Hello MD! They say that songs in Muscle Shoals rise up out of the river. They say you can actually hear the muse as you ride along Avalon Avenue. FAME Studios hasn’t changed much since the Swampers, alongside artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, and the Allman Brothers, helped create a new generation of music.

FAME was a safe haven in the heart of the segregated South during the civil rights movement, which speaks to the transcendence that occurs when people are gathered together in harmony. The spirit of openhearted collaboration is what you hear on those legendary records. Being in a room so steeped in groove changed our performance, but getting those classic sounds is also a balance between tuning and recording techniques.

To get that deep thud characteristic of vintage drums we used towels to muffle the batter heads or removed the resonant heads to prevent the bottom of the drum from singing out. Vintage drums are more articulate than modern drums. Playing in the studio requires a different approach than playing a festival stage to 80,000 people. In the live show we use gear that will cut all the way to the last row.

Photo by Mary Caroline Russell

By contrast, in the studio we chose single-ply Evans heads for more articulation and dynamics and to give the engineer a clean signal. We leaned heavily on Zildjian’s Kerope, K Custom Special Dry, and Avedis cymbals to get a timeless sound. Our groove ran through FAME’s microphones and preamps into the Neve console, which gives the room its characteristic sound. In mixing, we realized how important the compressed Neumann U87 room mic is to the Muscle Shoals sound. The studio’s 1967 Ludwig Standard drums have been used there since the late 1960s and hearing them through that console inspired new arrangements aimed at elevating subtleties within each song.

A lot of this project was about getting back to the basics of a band in a room. Making Take Good Care with producers who each brought different perspectives served as a master class in making records and we took those lessons with us to Muscle Shoals. As a group we’ve fostered an atmosphere where everyone’s ideas can be heard. That’s how “All My Friends” took on a back porch vibe that feels like being at grandma’s house. A large part of making an album is grouping songs together that complement each other and we often have to make hard decisions to leave songs we’re proud of for later projects. “Bitter End” was written during the Men Amongst Mountains session but stylistically felt like it belonged somewhere else.

Photo by Mary Caroline Russell

At FAME, amongst the spirits of timeless southern soul music, it felt appropriate to bring the song to life. We encourage songs to continue evolving live and this project gave these songs a chance to continue evolving in the studio. It seemed natural to rework the songs at FAME where open collaboration has always been a huge part of the Muscle Shoals sound. It was a wonderful experience for the band and us. Thank you for checking us out! 

Watch the documentary Made in Muscle Shoals

 

Watch “Bitter End” live video: 

Photo by Zackery Michael