“We don’t want to be in the studio business, it sounds terrifying.” Austin Tackett told me over Skype. His studio partner, friend and audio engineer Atlee Hickerson agreed, “I want to make recordings that I want to make; the gear isn’t too expensive. If it isn’t costing me more than my time, it’s not a big deal.”
Tacket’s former guest house in Oklahoma City’s Crestwood neighborhood, once inhabited by fellows housemate and Purple Church drummer Lucas Dunn, evolved through a two year labor of love into a fully analog recording studio. True to its name, Dust House sports a modest tracking room with walls covered in vibrantly speckled salvaged foam and a front lounge with a comfy leather couch. The mixing console and monitors are in the kitchen. Equipped with full outboard gear, a decent selection of microphones, and a vintage Ramsa mixing board, Dust House has become a recording venue of choice for vintage minded audiophiles.
Dust House records exclusively onto one-quarter inch magnetic tape that provides a gritty but forgiving sound that digital studios cannot provide. The end result is a distinct sound reminiscent of recordings from 40 years ago. “Ninety per-cent of what’s online, the finished songs, are on old ass tape. We just reuse the reels.” Atlee said. At first listen, there is a refreshing, warm quality to the output that demands your attention and draws your ears to the music. It’s not a gimmick: it’s the spirit of a living band.
“It has a Jack Endino sound from that early Sub Pop Records era,” Austin said. The legendary producer and musician of the Seattle grunge period who recorded Nirvana’s Bleach and Mudhoney’s self-titled debut on similar low-budget, mid-fidelity studio, even got in touch with Dust House after he stumbled onto Dust House’s web presence.
“Nobody gives a shit about CDs, vinyl is way too expensive. If it’s ever economically feasible we may put out a compilation.” Austin said. Until then, the studio collective updates its ‘low brand multi-media empire’ through Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Bandcamp. You can download all releases for free in high-resolution FLAC files and .mp3.
In this democratic era of laptop recording, there is a huge gap in sonic quality for new bands which creates an even greater barrier of entry to high fidelity. Either pay up for a session with a stranger or remain limited to what you can do on your own. Dust House’s idea is to bypass this money trap entirely by providing a safe space and artistic care. “All we want to do is help make your material,” Austin admitted. “Let’s capture the lightning in a bottle.”
“There are some low-rent aspects that are played up, but that’s part of the beauty.” Atlee said. “It’s more like a curated craftsman project but that’s how I see the trade: to make your name visible. It won’t be the best recording but we promise it will at least sound cool when I’m done with it.”
Their approach mimics their attitude when they press record. “We may be in a singles era again.” Atlee said. “The way things are now, a lot of local bands put a lot of work into a full length then it’s like, yeah, alright.” Given the money, time and limited exposure for LPs made in Oklahoma, Dust House believes it makes more sense to Do It Yourself Right Now than waste time and cash on something that won’t make a return.
“With singles, you can come in a day and in literally seven hours, you get a release. There are bands who don’t have releases but that’s a large portion of the music scene [here]. Once it’s online or on an iPod, there’s something to show other people.”
Since fully operational, the two have had no shortage of work. Unique, burgeoning local acts like Glow God and Power Pyramid recently completed tracks. Long-time Oklahoma indie-rock stalwart Little Bear finished a few new songs and a noisy, tongue in cheek Dave Matthew’s Band cover. Even Austin’s father, Jeff Tackett, crooned sappy love songs to tape. A new project, Baby Trees, recorded the theme to local podcast Two Average Dicks one afternoon.
“Everyone is so prolific and there are so many people we can’t keep up with our own projects – that’s not a complaint.” Austin said. The Purple Church is working on a full length record and a new project called Anklets. “We’re in the studio every day, all day doing something.”
Serving smaller bands on a tiny budget allows Dust House to focus on a totally novel approach to in-house recorded music production. Dust House eschew rates for a reel of tape you bring in for the day. Austin’s fiancée Lacey Dillard does all the photography and cover art; even found-footage music videos are produced on site. “It feels like a weird, community art thing. Our friends come over, we shoot video, play music, and just hang out.” Austin said.
Long term plans focus on the practice of what Austin and Atlee call a ‘standardization of Dust House procedure.’ “Labels are dead – they don’t mean anything anymore.” Austin said. “We want to shift the scene: everyone just wants to sell you something. I see Dust House as a church for people who don’t believe in God, but for fellowship with other artists, and to feel the love of creativity without the business ventures and trendy restaurants.”
The two don’t see a sacrifice in quality through their approach. If a take isn’t totally precise or in the pocket, Austin is quick to comment: “dude, whatever. Don’t worry about it.” admitting, “There’s something charming about the result.”
-Robert Oxford, New York