On a nondescript cul-de-sac off of Haskell Avenue, across from the Cityplace Target, sits an even more nondescript building. Some of the biggest names in Dallas music have recorded here.
Jeff Saenz started Modern Electric Sound Recorders almost six years ago. Beau Bedford of the Texas Gentlemen joined him soon after as a creative partner, and now the duo have just embarked on Modern Electric’s newest expansion, Studio B, an upstairs recording space outfitted with all the bells and whistles that Studio A has downstairs.
“It’s a smaller room, but we specifically designed it to be an amazing mixing room and a great overdub room,” Bedford says. “It will really complement our other studio, but it can also act totally independently.”
The expansion is meant to grow Modern Electric’s reach into the advertising realm.
“There’s such an amazing advertising industry in Dallas,” Bedford says. “We want to be a great asset in that industry as well.”
Studio A is typically booked 30 days per month, even during the holidays, Saenz says. With Studio B, Modern Electric can accommodate more recordings, like jingles and voice-overs.
“There’s a lot of overflow work that’s not being caught in this town,” Saenz says. “We could really serve the Dallas audio houses and advertising community by picking up the slack they’re not able to catch right now because they’re so busy.”
It seemed a natural progression for the studio. Bedford’s family started the Bedford Advertising company in the 1980s. His parents died several years ago and left day-to-day operations to Bedford and his siblings. He took over the production company, Take 1 Productions, and his sister oversees the advertising arm.
Bedford eventually hired someone to take over his role with the agency so he could get back into producing music. “I’m not alive if I’m not making records. It’s the reason I was put here on earth,” he says.
He’s been working with Paul Cauthen, Dancey Jenkins, Eric Pulido and Dan Dyer, and he released TX Jelly with the Texas Gentlemen this past fall. The Gents recorded the album at the famed Muscle Shoals in Alabama when Bedford’s schedule opened up unexpectedly. Since he had the Gents there to play backing, they threw an impromptu album together, which Bedford finished off at Modern Electric.
Shortly after TX Jelly’s release, the Gents got nods from Texas Monthly for being one of the best backing bands in the business. “The Texas Gentlemen are the Swiss Army knife of music,” Bedford says with a laugh. “Music’s always going to be our main focus, but we want to be an outlet for all audio needs.” It's a busy collective of musicians; all have side projects and often play studio sessions for Modern Electric’s clients.
While Bedford and Saenz produce albums independently, they often help with engineering duties on each other’s projects.
Saenz hails from Los Angeles and moved to Dallas eight years ago by way of a friendship and collaboration he struck up with the celebrity tattoo artist Oliver Peck. Saenz comes to the table with serious chops. He was an A&R scout with Warner Bros. Records and learned how to produce from Dave Cobb, the prolific Grammy-winning producer who’s made records for Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell.
Saenz used to be in the band the Strays, which was signed to TVT Records just a year after its first show. He gave up the musician’s life to produce full time, but he still plays with the Gents from time to time in addition to using them in studio sessions. Saenz is working on albums for Katie Toupin from the band Houndsmouth, Jonathan Tyler, Reuben Bidez, David Matsler of Quaker City Nighthawks and Reverend Horton Heat.
A third regular producer, Jason Burt of Medicine Man, also works at Modern Electric. He also uses the Gents, and the trio of producers collaborate together.
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The grand opening for Studio B on Friday night was an epic party that blended circles of Dallas’ music and art scenes that are often kept separate. Part of the evening’s entertainment was seeing some of Dallas’ best musicians record live in the impressive studio space, which boasts cathedral ceilings. Medicine Man’s vocalist, Keite Young, sang lead, while Taylor Nicks of Atlantis Aquarius sang backup, RC Williams of RC and the Gritz (also Erykah Badu’s music director) lent his talent on keyboard, Daniel Creamer of the Gents played piano and Marcus Jones of the Found band played drums.
The setup looked to be impromptu, yet the track came out hot. After that, Paul Cauthen, another local artist who got nods from Rolling Stone after releasing his breakout record, My Gospel, recorded a track while party guests listened to the live feed from the control room bedecked with a placard stating, “Do epic shit.”
The next Grammy-nominated album might come out of Modern Electric. Burt and Saenz are producing work for Leon Bridges, who spent some time at the studio in December and will be returning soon, Saenz says. The collaboration also involves Young, Burt’s other half in Medicine Man, who teased the partnership with Bridges on his social media last fall with a picture of the two.
“Watching our scene flow together — it’s really cool to be a part of it. It’s like when I was younger and thinking, ‘Man, it’d be cool to have a scene like they had in Detroit in the Motown era,’” Bedford says. “I’m not saying we’re on the map like that, but our vision and belief in what we’re doing is on par. There’s definitely something special in the water out here. It has something to do with the genuine Texas spirit of authenticity — brutal honesty meets Southern hospitality.”