The latest crop of local garage rock bands to grace the stages of places like Murphy's and the Buccaneer is turning to a house behind the Kroger on Union Avenue to preserve their songs. Since moving in last August, Keith Cooper has offered his services to up-and-coming Memphis bands like Nots, Time, and Chickasaw Mound. Working under the moniker "Burgundy Sound," Cooper offers a live-recording environment in his living room, where songs get cut in one take and smudges on the recording tape are considered psychedelic blessings. We caught up with the man behind the last three Goner Records releases to find out more about his home studio, his history of home recording, and what the people he shares a driveway with think of their new neighbor.
Memphis Flyer: When did you first start recording bands at home?
Keith Cooper: Every time I would try to record in a studio there just wasn't a sound that captured what I wanted, so I started looking into tape machines and analog recording. I bought a reel and didn't know how to use it for a long time, but then I got a mixer and when the Sheiks started getting rolling I got more serious about recording the bands I was in. I started talking to [local recording engineer] Andew McCalla because I knew he recorded bands, and he helped me out a lot in the beginning. This was all when I lived at my parents' house. Mostly we were just testing out different recording ideas, turning knobs and figuring out sounds. We recorded the first Sheiks single at my parents' house, and we'd be messing around until 4 a.m. before eventually my dad would come up and tell us to chill out.
When I moved into the "Burgundy Ballroom" I figured out how to make more weird psychedelic noises, and Chris Owen from Time asked if I would record his first album. That was my first hired job. There were some accidents during that recording session, but it had a human quality to it and Chris was really happy with the way it turned out.
When did you move into this new spot and how many different recording sessions have you worked on since moving in?
Since I've been recording at this new place, I've mostly been working with Jack Oblivian on his new album. I've also worked with Time, Aquarian Blood, Nots, Chickasaw Mound, Blackberries, plus all of my projects.
A lot of the equipment at your recording studio was either donated or loaned to you. Where did it all come from?
Andrew [McCalla] and I spent two days setting up the room, and Jack [Oblivian] brought over his tape machine and his drum set from when he was in the Compulsive Gamblers, and that's when it became a real studio. I also got a lot of equipment from Kelley Anderson from Those Darlins. She had so much cool stuff, but when she moved to Memphis she couldn't use any of it in her apartment, so she just unloaded all of this cool gear on me. She gave me a lot of tube pre-amps and a compressor, which is helping me keep this place strictly analog. Kelley's also been coming over and showing me how to transfer things digitally, because that's always been the chink in the chain for me. She's been helping me get stuff completely ready to be mastered.
Because a lot of the recording equipment was donated, it seems like a co-op space to a certain extent. Does it have that kind of vibe?
I want it to be a relaxed, creative environment. At the same time, it is my house and I'd like to eventually soundproof this place. My neighbors don't seem to mind, they like seeing the freaks roll in and play music. I guess it does have a loose co-op vibe.
With all the new bands cropping up around town right now, how busy are you with recording? Is there a limit or rules to the types of bands you work with?
Mostly I've been recording garage and punk bands because those types of bands seem to be the most comfortable with doing live, in-the-moment stuff. I try to make that option available to them, but I would definitely be interested in working with other types of bands. I've always told people that if they have something good to cut, bring it on. It's really fun to preserve all this stuff going on right now, ya know? It's going to be on tape forever.
Would you like to see your studio eventually move into a building other than your home?
That thought has crossed my mind, and that would be cool if this becomes something that big. The thing about living at home is that there are time constraints, so I definitely wouldn't be against moving into a real space. On the other hand, I really like having all this stuff at my disposal when it comes to practicing and jamming. There are a lot of times when you're in the zone and then later you're like, "Wait, what the hell was I playing," but that moment is gone forever. Being able to hit record whenever I want helps preserve ideas and late-night jams.
What are you working on right now?
We've been finishing up the latest Jack Oblivian album I'm pretty sure he's done with it now and it's been sent over to Hi-Low. Every song on his new album, besides a couple, were recorded at my house. Blackberries are coming back over, and Naan Violence might come over and get some stuff done.