Midlake is Taking Over Dallas Music with Redwood Studios

The Orbans record inside Redwood Studios, Denton's idyllic recording space
The Orbans record inside Redwood Studios, Denton's idyllic recording space

2014 was a pretty good year for Redwood Studios. The Denton recording studio, co-owned by Midlake members McKenzie Smith and Joey McClellan, played host to the sessions for some of North Texas' biggest albums of the year, including Sarah Jaffe's Don't Disconnect and Bethan's debut full-length, Time Gone By. And now 2015 looks to be just as busy, with records on the way from Seryn, Shadow Shows and the Azalea Project.

Barely two years old, Redwood has grown into one of the areas most influential studios -- and the sky would seem to be the limit. "We just started pre-production on the new Metallica record," boasts McClellan slyly. Then, breaking into a laugh, he says, "Just kidding."

See also: Sarah Jaffe Found Her Muse Through Collaboration on Don't Disconnect Bethan's Time Gone By is a Masterpiece of Playing the Long Game

Redwood, which was opened in the fall of 2012, started as a concept formed across multiple states. "I was living in New York and I started playing in Midlake when McKenzie and I started kicking around the idea of opening a studio," McClellan explain. "He found the house of his dreams that happened to have a workshop in the back yard. Essentially, it was one of the reasons I moved to Texas."

"We sealed the deal [on the house], and started talking to Joey and then spent about nine months building it out," adds Smith. "Working into the wee hours. That's how it started."

The studio has been transformed from its original vibe into something really unique. It is lined by reclaimed wood, with an intimate vocal booth built in to one side, a very relax-and-enjoy-a-beer-on-this-couch-while-I-play-the-last-take-back-for-the-tenth-time area glassed off where the engineer can try to get his work done, and beautiful equipment adorning most of the studio. They continue to add more features in the space, with goals of having a habitable RV for bands to stay in and even hope to install a hot tub. For their underwater mics, of course. And beer.

"The vibe is a strength of ours," says Smith. "Me and Joey bring versatility to the space. Sometimes people don't have a full band, and we can facilitate sort of a small team of professional musicians to fill it out with live sound, sometimes ourselves included."

Funny enough, the name Redwood Studios (named, logically enough, after the street the studio is on) wasn't their first choice. "McKenzie wanted to call it Idiot's Hill, but [there was some concern] that it might turn people off," McClellan notes dryly. "We had an artist [Johan Örjansson of Basko Believes] from Sweden record here and he actually named his record Idiot's Hill, after that."

However, Idiot's Hill wasn't merely a jest on Smith's part. It's actually the name of the area in Denton where the studio is located, just a couple miles off the square. It's been called that since Joe Skiles started development on it in 1929, althouhg no one exactly knows why. It might have to do with them building on a steep hill or ironically for the professors building houses out there.

Either way, Redwood Studios is a great place to track for artists who need a highly personalized experience and want that cozy feel and help from some proven musicians and extremely talented and chill (read: patient) house sound engineer, Jordan Martin. It shouldn't be underestimated that Jaffe came to Redwood to work with Smith after having worked on her previous two records with John Congleton, who's currently up for a Grammy nomination. That's quite the vote of confidence in this still-young studio.

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Beyond adding themselves to some records, Redwood boasts a great ever-revolving session band, including such recognizable Dentonites as Daniel Hart, Evan Jacobs, Jesse Chandler, Aaron McClellan and David DeShazo, just to name a few. "There's a bunch of cool musicians in the area so we really like to pull from that," says Smith.

The gear list is also impressive, pieced together with something for just about anyone. "[The] center-piece of our studio is a custom built, 40-channel Trident 8t series console. [It] was the last Trident console ever made by John Oram (one of the founders of Trident in the early 70s) before he left Trident," boasts Smith, indulging himself in gearhead nurdery. "We're always trying to acquire new gear; we don't want to become stagnant."

From the looks of things so far, though, that shouldn't be an issue. Beyond the regular session work, Redwood will also be teaming up with 35 Denton for special recording sessions to showcase festival artists. Smith is even opening a new restaurant and bar in Denton called 940's (formerly Banter) while continuing to split his time between Paschall Bar, Midlake, other band projects and numerous other ventures. It's a miracle that they find all the time they do to produce great records. They either have a street prescription or they're just really talented dudes.

"Since we've been back, there's been a lot of activity at home. Things we want to do for ourselves, as well," says Smith. "It's hard to balance everything sometimes. Joey's working on business ventures as well, it's all kind of non-stop. We have people hiring us to play and produce. It gets crazy." He points to a project with Daniel Hart, as well as some "upcoming secrets" that literally do no good to report on, because they could be working on anything.

One thing is for sure, these guys are doing awesome things in the DFW and they show no signs of slowing down. At this rate they may be running the town as a feudalistic society by 2050.

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