News & Features » Miscellany

Planetary Records' first live recording session gives fans a glimpse of what really goes on in the studio.

A Nitty Gritty Session


The recent evening of live recording at In Your Ear studio by longtime Americana music scene stalwarts John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson had its wild and woolly moments. But the event nonetheless laid the foundation for a series of collaborative efforts that could bode well for Richmond's musical future. Billed as "Live From Out O' the Blue Radio Revue," organizers captured the up-close, live energy of the duo's show for a future Planetary Records release and for use in "kitchen" segments on Page Wilson's "Out O' the Blue Radio Revue" on public radio. It also gave an intimate group of about 40 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fans a chance to see their heroes work — and play — in the studio. "It's been a nice little cooperative effort," Planetary Records label manager Steve Douglas said before the show. "I think just about anything can happen." Those expectations were met in spades during an evening that included McEuen's masterful picking and Ibbotson's country baritone, rambling stories and frequent maniacal smiles that reflected years of life on the road and all-night sessions with Colorado neighbor, writer Hunter S. Thompson. There were more than a few fingers crossed during McEuen's and Ibbotson's session as McEuen tried to rein in his unpredictable partner who was often caught up in a stream-of-consciousness mode. Despite numerous stops and starts, Planetary Record's president Jim Bland says enough material was culled from the session to release a CD later this summer. Asked about the pairing with his old musical compadre, McEuen explains that they reunited for shows in November 1998 and again this February. "We've never really been untogether," McEuen says of his and Ibbotson's 20-year off-and-on musical relationship. "Sometimes the spaces are close together, sometimes they're farther apart." McEuen says the studio session came about after he and Ibbotson booked a tour for April and were headed to Virginia. He knew Wilson through his radio show and gave him a call about a chance to record a "kitchen" segment. Wilson then hooked up with Planetary's Bland and the folks at In Your Ear and got back to McEuen with the idea for a live CD recording. Quickly, the collaboration between musicians, record label, radio show and recording studio became reality. McEuen says that recording for a small independent record label such as Planetary felt right. "Major labels don't understand," he says. "This is just a good thing to have this opportunity." Bland agrees that the event had a very special flavor. "Everybody was interested. John [McEuen]…made it easy," he says during a break in the music. Bland says the long-range plan calls for more live recordings by national or regional acts. There are no firm commitments but he, Wilson and the In Your Ear folks hope this is just the start. "The idea is to have a series," Bland said. "Down the road [we've] got our fingers crossed." State-of-the-Art Studio Lodged behind a preserved 19th-century brick fa‚Ä°ade at the foot of Church Hill, In Your Ear's new digs are certainly stuff for a new millennium. "This is the real deal. It certainly is," In Your Ear president Carlos Chafin says as he winds his way through the hallways' connecting rooms in the nearly completed 19,500-square-foot building at 1813 E. Broad St. Decked out with three "full-blown, no-gag music rooms" for recording, two music composition rooms, lounges, offices and cores of fiber optic wiring running under, through and to each studio space, the $4 million plus facility offers many new recording possibilities. "This room will kick your butt," Chafin contends as he points out consoles designed with the latest Dolby "home theater" digital mixing capabilities. These features allow engineers a full palette of recording possibilities as well as the capability to mix audio from film to Digital Video Disc. Chafin says the new technology gets the best six-channel sound around. "The engineer is able to recreate the exact environment they want you in," he explains. "It's to put you where the [recorded] event is occurring." Chafin says he's unaware of any studio "outside of New York or L.A. similarly designed from the git-go." Studios in Washington and Atlanta can also do this work, he acknowledges, but he notes that these facilities "band-aided it," tacking on technology as the need arose. In Your Ear started in 1990 when Chafin, Vice President Robbin Thompson and Chief Engineer Joe Sheets became frustrated while employed at another local studio. They and some fellow engineers left to fill what they saw as a creative hole in local recording services. Most studios then — as now — concentrated on recording bands or radio spots. Instead, the In Your Ear guys plan was to create a high-tech music and audio service for production companies that needed sound for ad campaigns, movies or TV projects. After hours, they could still rock 'n' roll and work with the occasional band. Settling into a home at 1300 W. Main St., business grew rapidly at In Your Ear as some old clients from the former studio stuck with them and production companies in Atlanta and Minneapolis learned about the Richmond group. The engineers were soon creating projects for Purina, Time, Miller Lite and United Airlines. By 1995, however, they'd outgrown their space and the owners' vision for a new state-of-the-art facility began to evolve. They decided to stay in Richmond — despite clients' complaints about the airport and Interstate 95 — and started planning their future. In 1997 Chafin chose a site behind four derelict, crumbling houses near Broad and 19th streets in Shockoe Bottom for the new studio. A Swiss company from Los Angeles designed the studios while local firm BOB Architecture handled the preservation work. Chafin says they decided to "make it as perfect as we could buy." Though there were costly snags along the way and there will no doubt be equipment updates down the line, In Your Ear's new home opened Jan. 25. "[The new studio) makes you want to [work]," Chafin says. "It's everything we never had

Add a comment