I have been lucky enough to get to work in Ardent Studios on a couple of occasions, and I can attest that it is a very special place. They just don’t make ‘em like Ardent anymore.
Usually, a studio falls under one of two categories: A.) funky and cool but a little less than state-of-the-art, or B.) top notch technologically, but sterile, with no atmosphere. Ardent Studios is the only one I’ve ever worked in which is both first-class sonicallyand incredibly cool, vibe-wise. You feel like you can get as artistic and esoteric as you want, without compromising any sound quality. That’s a very rare combination.
We recorded part of our debut album there, ‘Spills And Thrills,’ and we tracked completely live in the huge, almost church-like A-room. We wanted that “high ceiling” room sound on the drums, which would not have been possible in a smaller studio. I was in a vocal booth and my guitar amp was isolated with baffling, but other than that, we were all in the same room at the same time, cutting live just like at a gig. The intention was to overdub nothing but backup vocals, if at all possible. Of course, we did end up overdubbing a few things, but all in all, those tracks are still about 80% live. We could have done that in other studios, but certainly not with the relaxed, artist-friendly attitude you get from all the Ardent staff.
We live in an era when most recording is being done at home, on computers, and one of the arguments for this is that the artist is completely empowered and independent, and is not forced to sell an arm and a leg to pay for studio time. While this is certainly true, it is a tradeoff. For one thing, there’s no substitute for the kind of classic analog equipment and acoustically tuned rooms found at Ardent. And recording the way we did, with the full-band-live-in-the-studio approach, would be impossible to do in a home studio.
At Ardent, you feel just as free to get creative and take risks there as you would in front of your demo rig at home, but you can do it with a full band, live on the spot, and the results you will get on tape (or hard drive) will have all the warmth, richness, and complexity of the classic records we all grew up on. And no other studio gives you that almost mystical feeling of being close to greatness; if you’re a Big Star fan like I am, it’s always in the back of your mind while working there. (Of course, it’s hard not to think of Big Star when Jody Stephens drops by the session to say hi!)
For some kinds of music, you have to use a real studio. And for those kinds of sessions, I’ve never encountered a better facility than Ardent. It was an honor and a pleasure to get to work there.
—John Paul Keith