It's approaching 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night. A snowy, wet weekend is drawing to a close; most folks at home are probably winding down into their end-of-day exercises. But for Missy Thangs, her work is just about to begin.
Her main task this evening is calibrating a Studer A800 MKIII, a thirty-year-old, twenty-four-track analog tape-recording machine. Her "office" is the control room at Fidelitorium Recordings, the renowned studio owned by Mitch Easter in Kernersville, about an hour and a half down Interstate 40 from her Raleigh home. She'll use the machine the following day to record new music by the Asheville band Konvoi.
Thangs has been a figure in the Triangle's music scene for several years, but for much of that time, she's participated in it as a musician in a list of acts that includes Birds of Avalon, Todd lers, Soft Company, No One Mind, and The Love Language. But for the past three years, she's focused on honing a different set of artistic and technical skills—not as a performer but as a recording engineer.
"I was so jaded of playing in bands and the drama about being in a band, and I was just over it," she says.
Thangs's winding path to the Fidelitorium has stretched over nearly a decade and a half, beginning at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she earned a bachelor's of science degree in recording arts. In 2004, she moved to Chapel Hill and began making pop-rock tunes as Soft Company.
She recorded some of her own songs, but only in mostly informal, home-studio settings (it was also around that time that she adopted her "Missy Thangs" moniker, which is not her given name but a semipermanent nickname). Within a few years, she'd linked up with The Love Language, which, for a couple of years, seemed like it would be The Next Big Thing to come out of the Triangle.
That was when her audio engineering skills began to take a backseat, Thangs says—one of her bandmates, B.J. Burton, already had a strong reputation as a producer, and Thangs felt more comfortable stepping back from the board. When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, she says, her inclination has always been to let others take the lead.
"I think it just all got away from me, and I forgot that I even studied it in school and that I knew these things. People were around that knew what they were doing, so I just kind of stopped acting like I really knew what was going on and didn't really deal with it," she says.
But in 2012, frustrated with the life-enveloping instability that comes with being a hard-touring rock band, Thangs decided to leave The Love Language. Another band she was involved in, Toddlers, fell apart. She was frustrated and exhausted.
"I was throwing in the towel, and meeting with friends just to be like, Hey, what else is going on?" Thangs says.
One of those friends was the Fidelitorium's studio manager, Amanda Lindsey, who Thangs knew through the bands Celestogramme and Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies. Not long after their conversation, Thangs got an email from Easter himself, inviting her to work at the Fidelitorium. He thought she'd be a perfect fit.
"I just remember being like, Me?!" Thangs recalls.
Thangs declined Easter's offer at first, but he followed up with an even longer e-mail that ultimately convinced her to say yes.
"I'm very opinionated, and that can be such a pain in the ass for a lot of people, but for him, it's maybe a good sign," she says. "When you take the reins of a project and you've got five people in the room, you need to have a strong opinion on how to move forward, especially on a tight timeline."
Thangs came aboard at the studio in 2013, but her first official sessions as an engineer were with See Gulls in 2014, recording the band's You Can't See Me EP. It didn't take long at all for her to feel comfortable in the esteemed studio.
"It was a lot of fun, and it just felt natural," she says. "All of the years I kind of felt like I didn't know what I was doing—and I felt like I'd been treated that way too—it was like all of a sudden, I was like, Oh, I can put this mic here!"
Recording in a hallowed environment like the Fidelitorium is a nervewracking experience for some bands, who perhaps feel a little nervous about meeting the challenge of making a perfect-as-possible document of their talents. Thangs would know, because she lived through it for a spell when Toddlers used the studio to record their 2013 self-titled LP.
"Recording here for three weeks helped me figure out how to work with my clients. The artists I work with come in here, and I know what it's like—the frustrations, or just being nervous being in here," she says.
And so she knows how to set bands at ease to help them achieve their best work, a process that begins before the band even arrives in Kernersville. Her job isn't just tweaking mics and running the soundboard, but making holistic considerations of what a band wants and how to make that happen.
"I'm fully immersed in the whole process, from listening to demos before we get in to how we get the sounds, what sounds we decide to get," she says.
Thangs typically works with varying strains of rock bands—Las Rosas, Estrangers, Cold Cream, GHOSTT BLLONDE, Ex Hex, Gross Ghost, and Skemäta among them—and they've often pulled her in interesting directions. One project she worked on included recording a tap dance solo for one song, and for another band, she had them throwing triple-bagged trash from the studio to give one track a conclusive crash.
"The bolder the color, the bolder the stroke, the better," she says about her approach. "The more I read and the more I learn and explore, the more I learn that there is absolutely no rule in the book. You can do the strangest thing, and it could still be a hit," she says.
As Thangs continues to grow and thrive in her role as an engineer and a producer, she says it's changed her whole approach to music. Even records she's loved deeply for years, like Lou Reed's Transformer, feel completely new again.
"I feel like a toddler when I listen to music now," she says. "I can't hear it in a way where I'm not analyzing it from a technical standpoint. I'm in that zone."