A job is a job for most teenagers. Whether it's waiting tables or working as a life guard, having a job is a way to kill time and make some money. Not many high schoolers are already pursuing their life's passion, and they're probably not interested in squirreling away for hours on end behind the control panel of a recording studio. But Nash Griggs isn't your typical teenager. At age 16, working with his father Nathan Adamson at Ferralog Recording Studios is already a way of life.
Adamson has owned Ferralog, which is located in a gorgeous Deep Ellum space, for the past three years. The studio and control room are in the back. In front of the building is a stage, a nice bar and ample space for a crowd. The place is big enough that it could easily double as a venue.
Father and son make for quite the pair. At 41, Adamson is still young but seems younger and has a scruffy beard and hair to his shoulders. Griggs has a thoughtful, boyish look and short hair parted to the side. Adamson talks a lot and speaks his mind; Griggs considers his words carefully.
"Do you always act like bros?" Laura Harrell once asked them. They do seem like close friends tied together by obsessions with music and attention to minute detail. But Adamson is clearly a father providing guidance, even if he addresses his son as an adult.
Adamson has been a part of the local music scene for over 10 years and producing music since 2008. After working with an estimated 30 bands, he currently plays with the Hazardous Dukes, Whiskey Folk Ramblers and the Jack Kerowax, who recorded their debut album at Ferralog. Their single, "Bliss," has received airplay on 91.7 KXT. Nathan got the building four years ago and spent a year carefully building the studio he wanted. With the exception of a laptop he uses to store rough mixes, the studio's equipment is completely analog.
"There are a lot of people who can't execute without a computer," Adamson says. The studio typically uses a 16-track or eight-track machine, but over the weekend they just recorded five bands directly to two-track for an upcoming Hand Drawn Records compilation. Until it goes to mastering, everything is done by hand here.
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Griggs has been helping his father run the studio for the past three years, ever since it opened. A quick study, he was working on his own after helping his father for a year, then only 14 years old. During the production of Goodnight Ned's second album, Ned, he sat in with David Ponder from Somebody's Darling and ran the control room unsupervised.
"He had been asking me for a while," recalls Adamson. "I saw that he was comfortable enough to do it so I just stood back." Griggs also ran the tape machine on the overdubs, which was his first extensive production work. "I felt like I could interact more freely with the band members," Griggs says. "Instead of Nathan's kid I was just another person working here. What was new was the responsibility." He is credited as an assistant engineer on the Goodnight Ned album.
Soon after that, Griggs was working on the first Party Static EP, This Isn't Music. He was left alone in the control room to work with the band in studio. With Goodnight Ned he did the tape operation and ran the session. But this was full production. Adamson checked in on him periodically, but it was clear that he knew what he was doing. After growing up around live music and production for the past 10 years, Griggs felt very comfortable in the environment.
After working with Goodnight Ned for several sessions over six months, Party Static presented a very different challenge for the teenager. "They work really fast," Griggs says. "They don't waste any time." The band goes into the studio completely prepared. "They are very well thought out," adds Adamson. "Of all the songwriters I've met, Laura Harrell is among the most prolific. She writes really interesting lyrics."
Griggs worked with Party Static again for their recently released second EP, My Cat Doesn't Like That, and now he has recently joined a band for the first time, taking over on bass for the Jack Kerowax, again working with his father. He has already performed at several Deep Ellum venues with the band and will soon tour with them in New Mexico and Colorado. "This will help me grow as a musician," Griggs says of the upcoming tour.
Adamson and Griggs have also had a half dozen releases under the FourReelz Records imprint. Adamson is a collector of old typewriters and has several in the studio. Their first release was an edition of 50 CDs that came with the notes typed onto paper using these typewriters. FourReelz is something they are carefully developing and it is a crucial component of what they do at Ferralog, as studios often need production companies and publishing companies to remain profitable.
After high school, Griggs plans to keep working in production and making music with bands. With on-the-job training that leads directly to employment, he has no plans for college, something which his father supports. "It's very hard to explain to people who aren't in the music business that this is a legitimate business and it's not like American Idol," says Adamson. "We're doing hard work and people don't see most of that. Party Static, for example, works very hard to make that chaotic music. It's not just an accident."
In fact, Adamson finds it odd that some people think they can make it in the music business by dedicating only a small percentage of their time. "This is a vocation where you're never going to run out of things to learn," he says. "You learn about business, electrical engineering, and physics." Griggs has always been interested in psychology and sociology, but realizes that he learns a lot about people by working in production and making music.
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College leads some to music, connecting them to the right people or perhaps they hone their skills in a school studio. But as a sophomore in high school, Griggs is already doing what he wants to do. As a musician and producer, he is in a place that many people wouldn't be able to get to without college. Griggs is already bright enough to see that many people go into college as a backup plan that becomes the plan. "Why not just go full-on into your dream if that is truly what you want to do?" he asks.
The Jack Kerowax will perform with Picnic, Lighting and TALL, at 8 P.M., Saturday, March 7, at Shipping and Receiving, 201 S. Calhoun St. in Fort Worth, $7.
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