Five towering racks of analog audio equipment loom over the occupants of the small, stuffy studio control room at ElectroMagnetic Radiation Recorders in Winston-Salem. The unassuming studio, a small, dumpy building with boarded windows, holds a history much more glamorous than its physical appearance, including the recording of several of the Avett Brothers’ early albums.
In the studio the afternoon of Jan. 7 are the three members of the Chapel Hill folk group, Mipso Trio, who will take the stage at Cat’s Cradle for the first time Saturday.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
The group is at work on its full-length debut with Doug Williams, sound engineer and owner of EMR Recorders. Even though it’s Mipso’s first time in a professional studio, the band feels at home in Williams’ haphazard accommodations.
“I love Doug’s philosophy of recording and I like the way this place feels,” says Joseph Terrell, guitarist. “Doug is interested in getting the live sound of the connection musicians have, rather than using smoke and mirrors with a bunch of fancy programs.”
The lack of stringent production on the recordings mimics the laid-back atmosphere of the sessions themselves, which involve impromptu Petty covers while double bassist Wood Robinson tunes his behemoth of an instrument. When an instrumental take is lost in an accidental deletion, Terrell jokes, “We’re that bad — it won’t even record us,” while mandolin player Jacob Sharp proclaims, “It’s Wood’s fault.”
“There’s absolutely no pressure being in the studio,” Collman says assuredly. “The goal here is to make the best possible representation of their work, however long it takes.”
Collman, a cardiologist at UNC, started Robust Records in 2008 as an outlet for his love of music and to support local acts.
“I’ve been going out to shows in Chapel Hill for quite some time and I decided that I wanted to get involved,” Collman said. “Not having any musical talent, I thought that my role could be to assist talented people that need help, either by virtue of funding or business skills.”
When Collman got the chance to meet Jim Avett, father of Scott and Seth of the Avett Brothers, he explained his mission to help propel a local band and managed to get Avett on board.
On the lookout for a promising band, Collman got a tip from a friend that Mipso Trio —a new group of UNC students — was getting close to selling out their first CD release and immediately bought tickets.
“So I went to see these guys at their CD release show at the (Local) 506 and I was instantly excited by their potential,” Collman said.
Collman called the band the next day and by the end of that weekend in March 2011, they decided to work together. Through his connections with Jim Avett, Collman discovered Doug Williams and EMR Recorders.
Jim Avett was originally scheduled to produce Mipso Trio’s album up until a few weeks ago when the two parties decided that the group should produce its own album and hire Williams as a sound engineer.
“Jim has a very specific idea about what a producer is and I think he felt what would be needed from him as a producer was not really going to mesh with this project,” Williams said. “He decided that for the band to get what they want, they should self-produce, that they had the idea of what they wanted and he really didn’t need to get involved.”
Despite their creative differences in the studio, Jim Avett will still open for Mipso Trio at Cat’s Cradle, and the group will open for Avett at several of the stops on his upcoming tour.
“All three of us have grown up going to a ton of shows at the Cradle and seeing most, if not all, of our musical role models on that stage,” Sharp said. “It’s going to be a surreal night to be able to share a little piece of that history.”
Despite their speedy rise to local success, Mipso Trio remains humble and extremely grateful for the opportunity to record an album and play at a famed venue such as Cat’s Cradle.
“We’re very young as far as making music goes,” Sharp admits. “It’s very much a process we’re learning, but I know that I like what we’re doing and I’m totally happy doing it the way we are right now.”
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