(Note: In honor of Elvis week, I’m going to spend Monday of day next week living like the king. Think of this as sort of a preview.)
Memphis’ Sun Studio launched the recording careers of many music legends. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, etc. all got their start recording in Sun’s famous one-room studio. And now, you can add my name to the list – not the legends list, mind you, but to the list of people who have recorded at Sun.
In addition to being a museum, Sun Studio, which opened in 1950, is still an active recording studio. They’ve got a recording engineer on staff, and musicians the world over have come to cut records in that hallowed room.
On Monday night, I took my two ukuleles to Sun to record a few tracks with their engineer, Matt Ross-Spang. Matt’s a former Sun tour guide and a musician (he plays with El Dorado and the Ruckus and the Bluff City Backsliders). He’s also a super friendly guy – he made the recording experience so much more comfortable than it might have been.
Because face it – recording yourself playing something is hugely awkward. For me, it was the fact that it was my first time ever being recorded. I was also playing an original song on an instrument that I’m only mediocre at playing. I’m kind of terrified of singing in front of people. And I was sitting on Sam Phillips’ desk. With no shoes on.
I was sitting on the desk because Matt decided he wanted to record me in the small office at the front of the building. It has a nice echo, and it seemed (at least to me) like a little bit less pressure than recording in that room.
As for what got recorded, I brought an original song with me, as well as my army of ukulele-inappropriate covers (“I’m on a Boat”, “Ignition Remix”). We started with the original, a song that – despite now being a real song that was recorded in a real studio – has no name. Take a listen to it, and tell me if you can think of a decent name for it.
After much ukulele tuning and screwing up and re-recording, Matt and I finally got a take that we were happy with. Then, he recorded me playing “I’m on a Boat”. In retrospect, we should have started with that – it’s way less intimidating to play someone else’s silly song about boats than your own song about…well, you.
Once the recording was done, Matt went into mix master genius mode and adjusted the tracks so that they sounded great. This meant listening to the tracks a bunch, which is admittedly a little weird when it’s just you and a cute recording engineer and your weird voice playing loudly through the speakers. The finished songs still have that nice acoustic echo, and you can tell when I almost start laughing, but they’ve got a way-better-than-bedroom quality to them.
If you’d like to see video of other bands playing in Sun’s hallowed recording studio, there’s tons of video up on the Sun Sessions page. If you’d like to tour the studio and museum, it’s open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
706 Union Ave
Memphis, Tennessee 38103