Studio gives bands a multimedia platform
HUNTINGTON -- These days every phone is a camera, every person a self-proclaimed photographer, and most every touring band's Facebook and band pages filled to the brim with blurry, muddy speaker-blasted videos so bad Bigfoot could stomp on stage and you'd barely notice.
Since 2011, Bud Carroll, Michael Valentine and Adam Harris and friends have been elevating the music video game with a local venture called Live at Trackside Studios where their crews have taped some 50 studio-quality sound and movie-quality videos of 15 bands from Austin, Texas, Detroit, Asheville, N.C., as well as some of the best bands in the region such as The 1937 Flood and Carpenter Ants to hustling, up-and-coming acts such as The Demon Beat, The Boatmen and Deadbeats and Barkers.
Loaded up onto Trackside's YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/liveattrackside), the videos are used as a tool for promoting bands when they're on the road or to turn on new fans that wouldn't otherwise find them.
Trackside, which started popping up videos last November, also put together some as part of the 2012 Appalachian Film Festival in February 2012.
This fall the first season is being filtered onto the Huntington Public Access Channel 20, which is programmed by Richard Bartram. The Trackside session with The 1937 Flood has already been seen nationwide in Canada thanks to a Toronto-based documentary music series.
Carroll, the locally-based guitar hero who's been signed to a major label, done several national tours (opening for Tom Petty and Allman Brothers) and who has taken former acts to Mountain Stage, said Trackside developed out of conversations with Valentine, an award-winning indie filmmaker and Marshall University graduate, and ardent local music supporter Adam Harris, who also happens to be the producer of Mountain Stage in Charleston.
"The initial idea was to help artists we knew that would benefit from having such a high quality video," Harris said. "That doesn't mean we invited every single buddy to record for free. We've had to be slightly choosy. The one thing I've tried to contribute is to get everybody on the same schedule and when they show up it is the magic of Bud and Mike and Max and Courtney and everybody who seemingly have an innate ability to capture the vibe. They have an innate sense of compositions in the shots. It is also just off-the-cuff enough that it doesn't seem overproduced."
With audio engineers Carroll and James Barker taping studio quality audio of what consists of a band jamming live in a circle, and with an agile team of videographers such as Courtney Holshuh, Max Nolte, Kyle Quinn, Kelsie Cannon and Trifecta's Josh Edwards (who shot the recent Hatfields and McCoys documentary) armed with still cameras that shoot video, Trackside captures intimate angles of a band in their true habitat hanging out to jam at the cozy studio filled with rock posters and distinct wooden block walls.
"If you go to a show you are not behind the drummer looking down at his feet," Valentine said of the ability of the small cameras to zoom in on the bands while playing. "I mean you can do that once then you're carted off in handcuffs. Here you can get all of these looks that you can't normally get."
Though Valentine has made a handful of short films and music videos, both he and Carroll wanted to reach beyond scripted band videos and to marry their strengths and those creative strengths of their friends.
"Usually people who make movies want to film bands or people who record audio want to make a video and one or the other is crappy," Valentine said.
"You go back and look at videos with a plot and even bands with a lot of money make some horrible videos," Carroll said. "You go back to say 1982 when MTV was just getting going and you'd see The Cars playing the song on a sound stage, and I just love those real performance videos. If you go back and look at music videos with a plot through history, can you think of a very good one except for 'Thriller?"
"Well, maybe the one where Ric Ocasek turns into a fly," Valentine added, "and 'Sledgehammer' of course."
Carroll said he feels Trackside is reaching beyond the stagnation of a studio, capturing some of his favorite slices of bands he loves from veteran rockers such as The Muggs and The Carpenter Ants to such Eastern Panhandle rockers as Demon Beat and Prison Book Club.
"There is a whole different philosophy that goes into making a record that this thing dispenses with," Carroll said. "They come in and play the song and it's over with in 3 minutes and 33 seconds, so there is an immediacy that a band's record can't really convey, and I think the best part of it is that maybe it isn't note perfect or pitch perfect or have the ultimate fidelity that you could have making a studio recording but it has the vibe and the energy of a completely relaxed live performance without the pressure of having to perform with an audience or the fact that the monitors don't sound good. It is like a band practice."
Nobody does band practice like The 1937 Flood, the eclectic string band that started back in the 1970s when top-shelf fiddler Joe Dobbs got together with autoharpist Dave Peyton and guitarist/singer Charlie Bowen.
Veteran tekkies who've been utilizing simple videos and audio feeds of their almost-famous Wednesday night house jams on Huntington's Southside, 1937 Flood was one of the first bands to try out Trackside with an August 2011 session that turned into two firsts for the band -- a DVD, "The Making of Wade in the Water," and clips of the recording session have been used in an episode of the new "God's Greatest Hits" documentary series on Canadian television that also featured The Fisk Jubilee Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock.
"We were all so impressed with them because once they put us in a circle it was like we were at home and it was as if they had known us for years," Bowen said. "They picked up on what was happening here and so many inside jokes with the band. It's an awful tight connection and they immediately were on the inside, and I think that's what other people pick up on. A lot of people say, 'Are you having as much fun as you look like you are?' And we are, these guys are my best friends."
Carroll said that while it's up to the bands how they use the videos, he's hoping that Trackside can be like Daytrotter in the Midwest - a new regional gateway connecting new fans to good bands.
"Especially now days it's very difficult for bands to tour and rock 'n' roll, and music in general is becoming more localized and centralized," Carroll said. 'The bands that mean the most to people aren't like a Van Halen or KISS. For young people now it's becoming a band like the Demon Beat. My hope personally was to help legitimize a lot of these acts that are like baby bands out working hard, playing shows, and so that you can actually hear them in a setting that is not a cell phone and that sounds good and that represents them in a favorable light."
But that favorable light doesn't mean an antiseptic, audio-white-washed light of band brushed and twisted to perfection.
"As soon as the song is over I hear Bud's voice come over the speakers and say 'that sounds great,' and in this situation they don't get the opportunity to second guess themselves," Valentine said.
More often than not the bands, in the sessions that usually last about two to three hours, knock out a song on the first take. And that's the way Carroll likes it.
"Some of the greatest records of all time, if you go back and listen to Dylan's records you can hear the bass player miss some changes, but it is human and that is something that bothers me about modern commercial music in general is the level of perfection that is being imposed upon everything that is unrealistic."
If Trackside's capturing of a band's beautiful imperfections and their intimate musical conversation has become a trademark, that freewheeling spirit of professionally capturing the jam of friends is also parlayed into Carroll and Valentine's let it be approach to Trackside's future path.
The Trackside crew is fresh off of taping a session with Spirit Family Reunion in the basement of the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center the day of that band's Mountain Stage show, and they're editing down reams of footage from September's Huntington Music and Arts Festival that featured such bands as Qiet and Coyotes in Boxes, two bands they want to do Trackside sessions with.
"We would like to have it get picked up and make a show out of it," Carroll said. "We would like to try something like that but it hasn't come together yet. I hate to use the term, but it's more of an organic build. We get in band, we tape it and they use their videos to promote themselves, and that's kind of the way it goes. I've found out the more I was out trying to force something to be popular was a sure fire way for it not to be popular. If I was doing a good job and was into it, and I felt like it was developing naturally, people seem to catch onto it more. So we just keep doing it. We have no delusions of grandeur. No five year plan. We are just going to keep recording bands and have a good time doing it."
Live at Trackside Studios
WHAT: Live musical performances captured in an intimate, studio atmosphere at Trackside Studios in Huntington
ON THE WEB: Check out 50 videos from 15 bands that have recorded at Trackside online on the YouTube Channel -- www.youtube.com/liveattrackside
SEASON ONE: The Carpenter Ants (Charleston), Duke Junior & the Smokey Boots (Athens, Ohio), The Fox Hunt (Martinsburg, W.Va.), The Demon Beat (Shepherdstown, W.Va.), The Boatmen (Beckley), Deadbeats & Barkers (Huntington), Bud Carroll (Huntington) and 1937 Flood (Huntington).
SEASON TWO: Sly Roosevelt (Huntington), The Muggs (Detroit), The Stereofidelics (Asheville, N.C.), Loves It! (Austin, Texas), Sundown (Columbus, Ohio), The Phantom Six (Granville, W.Va) and Prison Book Club (Sheperdstown, W.Va).
BEHIND THE SCENES: Trackside is the work of audio engineers Bud Carroll and James Barker, video editor Michael Valentine with camera crew: Courtney Holshuh, Max Nolte, Kyle Quinn, Josh Edwards and Kelsie Cannon and consultation by Adam Harris.