In the unlikely area of Uptown Dallas, near Cityplace Market retail stores like Target and OfficeMax, sits Modern Electronic Sound Recorders. It's one of the last places that you might expect to find a recording studio that's played host to artists both local and national, but in its few years of operation it's become very much a part of the close-knit community of recording studios in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But historically, this space is known for producing advertising slogans.
Thousands of radio jingles have been recorded at this location, including the first to be syndicated. From 1961 to 1978, the studio was the home of PAMS Productions, one of the most famous jingle production companies in American broadcasting in its heyday. After early success with advertising jingles, PAMS eventually became known more for producing radio station ID jingles. After PAMS, the space was also home to Thompson Creative, another producer of jingles for both radio and television.
When Thompson Creative gave up the building, ownership changed several times before current owner Jeffrey Saenz claimed the studio back in 2012, responding to a Craigslist ad. He found the studio in a rough state: The rooms and acoustic treatments were intact, but previous owners had left lots of junk behind. Saenz had to clear the space and spend a considerable amount of time installing a mixing console, redoing all the electrical work and wiring it to his specifications.
"I don't think there's another studio in town that's intact from the kind of golden age of '60s rock 'n' roll recording that has the vibe and curated gear along with that to kind of set the tone for what a lot of bands are trying to do," Saenz says. Rather than being a studio geared towards any kind of act, Modern Electronic Sound Recorders caters to rock, indie rock, country and Americana. It's certainly a departure from the studio's history.
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"It's more of what I would dream of when I was younger," he continues. "A place I would think the Rolling Stones would cut a record at." The studio is enormous with high ceilings, and the hallway leading into the cozy control room is lined with guitars and pictures of old country artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb. Staring at the live room from the mixing console, it's not hard to imagine a band like Led Zeppelin making use of the space.
Saenz moved to Dallas from L.A. five years ago. Part of the music industry for 15 years, he is currently in a band called J. Charles & the Trainrobbers. He once had a band called the Strays, as well as another group called Death on Wednesday. He has toured extensively and had record deals big and small, but Modern Electronic Sound Recorders is his main gig now. Saenz's mentor was Dave Cobb, the acclaimed producer of albums by Sturgil Simpson, Jamey Johnson and Jason Isbell.
The Reverend Horton Heat recorded his latest album, REV, at Modern Electronic Sound Recorders. Heat actually took Saenz out on his first national tour back in 2001. "It's a pretty awesome full circle," he says. Kirby Brown, Wesley Geiger, the Roomsounds, Quaker City Night Hawks, Jonathan Tyler and Kirk Thurmond have also recorded at the studio. A quick preview of particularly great new tracks by the Roomsounds and Quaker City Night Hawks serve as an indication that something special is happening here. The full sound and raw energy of these bands has never been captured quite like this before; members of Spoon even showed up towards the end of the interview.
But that's not all. Leon Bridges, the soul singer from Fort Worth who is currently taking the world by storm, has also worked here and the results are surprising to say the least. In fact, this might be the best stuff Bridges has ever recorded. One song, "Conversion," starts off like a cappella gospel music. But Bridges' voice is louder; he takes interesting pauses and does not resemble Sam Cooke. When the music kicks in it's funky, even jammy. Another track, "Gabriella," offers more of the same. This stuff is more comparable to Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Cliff.
It's also a far cry from what you'd expect to find happening in the neighborhood.
"It's this weird little street," Saenz says, of the studio's location. "I don't know how this building has survived," he says. The Kroger Grocery Store nearby used to be a movie theater. But other than apartment complexes, there wasn't much else before the area turned into a retail district. And there isn't any other source of music in the area. "Not that I know of," says Saenz.
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