North of the Dial

Early last year, Doug Burr finished a suite of Psalms arrangements and decided to record them in a building that had intrigued him for years.

The 130-year old, five-story structure was the original site of Trinity University and has a vaulting auditorium with rough limestone walls that give off a smooth, natural reverb. Burr completed the recordings over the weekend of June 21, and the sessions went like this:

Friday, June 20:

10 p.m.: The musicians, including members of Burr's band, as well as members of Austin-based Deadman, arrive, brew coffee and stare up at the hulking, mansard-roofed structure. "Hey," says producer Britton Beisenherz upon walking into the auditorium, "it's like U2 at Slane Castle." Piles of timber and chunks of old masonry are lying around. Twenty-foot-high windows topped with sections of stained glass line each wall. Town population: 307; intermittently braying donkeys: 3; background cricket noises: indeterminate.

10:30 p.m.: The first song is counted off. To the amazement of all, the first run-through is a take. The feeling rapidly turns from one of general apprehension to surprise and relief at the genuine musical chemistry that seems to have descended. Beisenherz suggests that the band work through the night to maintain the vibe, not to mention the cool night breeze through the open windows of the non air-conditioned building. All readily agree.

Saturday, June 21:

7 a.m.: The eighth and final song of the overnight session is wrapped up, and the musicians stagger across the lawn to the nearby dormitory, a Waltons-style clapboard structure built in 1911.

12:30 p.m.: It just so happens that Josh Pearson, the reclusive mastermind behind Lift to Experience, is getting married to his German fiancée in the very same auditorium. Thirty or so friends, many from the North Texas music community, attend the ceremony amid the cables and mics shuffled to various sides of the room. Doug Burr delivers an impromptu performance of his new song "Wedding Bells."

1 p.m.: It is decided that a gospel-style choir is needed for one particular track. Pearson and wedding guests Emil Rapstine (from The Angelus) and Chelsea Callahan (who books for The Double Wide) are recruited, while Deadman's Steven Collins arranges the parts and leads the choir on the dusty auditorium stage.

Sunday, June 22:

2 a.m.: The final overdubs are added, most of the musicians are down for the night, and Beisenherz begins packing for the return trip to Austin.

12:30 p.m.: The group convenes one last time in town and depart in various directions down Highways 171 and 84.

 
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