Getting Down, Downtown
If, as they say, perseverance is half of the battle in the music industry, go ahead and start making room in the winner's circle for the diehards at one of Raleigh's newest studios, Downtown Sound. The dream and brainchild of former Indianapolis musicians and studio veterans Chip Birge and Judd Kemper, Downtown Sound is a verifiable labor of love, built by the two men (and their friend, Lawrence Bozella) almost entirely of materials culled from local construction waste and Habitat for Humanity scraps.
"What we basically built here is a half-million-dollar-or-more studio for a small, small fraction of the cost," Birge says.
Birge and Kemper first worked together back in Indianapolis when they formed the synthesizer-driven, Ween-reminiscent project, The Sealers, which eventually grew into an eight-member, revolving-door collective. Birge eventually abandoned his business as a door-to-door water sealer (hence, the name of the band), and began freelancing as a studio engineer and assistant in Indiana haunts, cutting his teeth in a local jingle studio before eventually landing spots at the famed studios of The Gaither Brothers and John Cougar Mellencamp. Constantly recording somewhere, Birge spent most of his spare time making six records with The Sealers and four more as a duo--fittingly dubbed The Ex-Sealers--with Kemper.
After growing disenfranchised with the Indianapolis circuit, Birge eventually landed south in Raleigh to finish graduate work in aerospace engineering at N.C. State and to free himself temporarily from the music business. But then he started going to clubs.
"I was amazed and am still amazed by the caliber and quantity of the songwriters right here in Raleigh and in the Triangle," Birge says of his first weeks in the city. "I mean, rock 'n' roll here was boiling over, and so much of it was so unique and so different."
In late 2000, Birge and Kemper decided to make the next Ex-Sealers record, but the two were left scratching their heads when they began searching for the right place.
"I was surprised there wasn't a studio in Raleigh at the time like what we have here," Birge recollects in Downtown Sound's mammoth control room. "Indianapolis is so much bigger, but their scene is so much smaller and less active than this one. ... But there are five or so studios there that have a setup like ours."
And what they have is something special, indeed.
Specializing in vintage equipment (Birge absolutely beams when he says he has perhaps the largest collection of Altec Lipstick Tube Microphones in the world), a multitude of specialized compressors ("They can be overused, but I try to be careful") and a natural reverb system made possible through the studio's six-room configuration ("I've really never had to put much reverb into anything we've ever done"), Downtown Sound has earned a reputation for making honest, fantastic records since their first session with NSD in 2001. A winning, crisp sophomore effort from Chapel Hill's Allday Afternoon was just released, and sessions with local rockers Meltdown Yellow sound as warmly made and recorded as anything you've ever heard. In fact, Birge and Kemper are doing so well and having so much fun, that the last Ex-Sealers record has been in pre-production for three years.
For more information on Downtown Sound, call Chip and Judd at the studio: 835-9767.
Lincoln Livin' Large ... Maybe
Despite talk of the Lincoln Theatre temporarily shutting down for a month or more following Edwin McCain 's Aug. 2 gig at the 126 E. Cabarrus St. club in order to add a long-overdue upstairs' balcony, Lincoln co-owner Mark Thompson maintains that no plans are final as of yet.
"We're definitely planning on closing at this point, but we still don't have the permits right now to say either way," Thompson told The Indy.
In other Lincoln news, Acoustic Syndicate banjo man Bryon McMurry celebrated the first two hours of his 35th birthday after midnight on June 21 in front of a near-capacity crowd at Lincoln Theatre. The band--one of the most versatile and most passionate staples of the jamgrass circuit--jammed a pickin'-and-grinnin' take on "Happy Birthday" for a few minutes (McMurry picked right along, even taking a solo) before finishing a winning set of crafty originals and a brilliant batch of covers. Set highlights: a huge bass solo courtesy of Jay Sanders during "Believe"; teases of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" throughout the evening, and a gut-wrenching reworking of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Helplessly Hoping."
Raleigh's own Undifinable Rekerds and Thismeanseverything Productions will present the much-anticipated Capitol City Metalfest at The Berkeley Cafe on July 19. Twelve bands are on the bill, and a handful of regional metal favorites will open the day's music at 5 p.m. sharp. A Thousand Falling Skies, in the midst of a 50-stop national tour, will headline. The festival, originally slated for the Backdoor Skatepark in Greenville, was moved to Raleigh in late May to make way for more acts and more metalheads. Other acts on the bill include: Each Passing Moment, The Manhattan Project, With Resistance, Nourish the Flame and Paint the Sky Red.