Grads give voices, recording space to local artists

Grads give voices, recording space to local artists

Grads give voices, recording space to local artists
September 03
22:54 2014

By Dalton LaFerney/Senior Staff Writer

As touring artists, McKenzie Smith and Joey McClellan understand the impact record producers have on young talent trying to make it. The two said they realize that the artists they work with depend on studios like theirs to make big dreams come true.

“You always want to challenge yourself,” Smith said. “I think the best thing we can do is help aspiring artists and bands get a product they feel comfortable and proud of and put it out into the world.”

Redwood Studios, a recording studio in north Denton that opened in 2012, has produced local sensations like Kaela Sinclair and Sarah Jaffe. Smith and McClellan,co-owners and band mates in Denton’s Midlake, said they were a long way from the top, but that it’s important to “pay it forward” in gratitude of those who recorded and produced them as young artists.

“It means a lot to us that people would choose us, considering we’re a newer studio,” Smith said.

McClellan added, “It’s exciting when we produce somebody or a group that makes it and is talked about.”

Background and influences 

Smith grew up in a musical household. His father was a jazz piano player and singer. His older brother was a drummer and his older sister was a singer. His mother played drums in high school.

“Music was always played around the house,” Smith said. “Both live music and records all the time.”

Smith remembers the first tapes his father bought him as a kid. They were “Buddy Rich’s Swingin’ New Big Band”—an album Smith said most kids didn’t listen to but he fell in love with—”Best of Motown,” “Best of Chuck Berry” and “The Mamas & the Papas.”

“From a very early age I listened to everything,” he said. “I have respect for all sorts of music. You can have your preference, but I’ve learned to have a respect for all different kinds of music because that’s what makes the world round.”

He attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston as a jazz student. Smith’s father once took him to see UNT’s One O’Clock Lab Band perform at HSPVA.

“When I was deciding schools, I was really close to going to the East Coast,” Smith said. “It was between Berklee College of Music in Boston or North Texas. It just felt right to come here, and they wanted me here.”

Smith was a member of the One O’Clock Lab Band and said it’s a proud part of his musical history. He spoke of his course requirements and said he appreciates his time with the Mean Green.

“Even though I’m a drummer, I’m glad I took those music theory classes because now as a producer I have much better understanding of those things, so I can contribute to the conversations,”he said.

Born in Indiana and raised in Dallas, McClellan was homeschooled before attending a Dallas community college and eventually heading to UNT to study jazz. His dream was always to tour internationally. With Midlake and other bands, he’s been to countries all across the globe.

“It’s never what you except it would be,” he said. “But getting to travel the world and play music is pretty cool.”

McClellan said the reason he started playing guitar was because of Slash from Guns ’N’ Roses.

“It’s weird because nobody would ever assume that I’m a Slash fan,” he said.

When he was 7 years old, his parents bought him his first guitar. He listened to artists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.

Synced up 

Smith first met McClellan in college, but it took a while before the two paired up.

McClellan was a band member of The Fieros in Denton. The band moved to New York and McClellan followed.

Smith’s band Midlake was touring when they suddenly needed a replacement guitarist and Smith said he “jumped at the opportunity” to get McClellan.

After touring with Isreal Nash Gripka in Europe, playing in the band HYMNS and backing Daniel Johnston, McClellan joined Midlake in 2010.

Smith bought a house with his wife in June 2011 that had a guest house behind it. The wheels in his head began turning. McClellan and Smith had long wanted to open their own studio and the house on Redwood Street was ideal.

“We’d dreamed of opening a studio for a long time,” McClellan said. “And when they bought this house and he [Smith] could have a space where he could be separate from his house and not annoying his wife all the time with music, it seemed like the perfect scenario.”

After McClellan and his wife moved back to Texas to join Smith, Redwood Studios became a reality.

In early 2012 they began renovations for what was to become Redwood Studios. It was an old wood shop turned motorcycle repair shop by the previous landowner.

Left behind were old cans of oil and chemicals, inches of dust and a few pieces that McClellan and Smith kept for decoration, like the old American flag hanging on the wall and an old phone that adds to the nostalgia of the studio.

“It was mostly Joey and me with the help of a few people who were super-important, because without them we couldn’t have done it,” Smith said.

McClellan’s father, a carpenter, guided the first-time do-it-yourselfers through woodworking and a friend installed the lighting for the studio.

Most of the walls are made of reclaimed wood from the wood shop the space used to be. The transformation took about 10 months to complete because at the time, the men were working on an album at Midlake’s recording studio near the Square.

The cozy setup of the studio creates a secure and homely atmosphere for artists to work in.

“We didn’t want something boring and bland,” Smith said. “We thought cedar was a good idea because it looks good, it smells good. And we wanted a place that was warming and inviting.”

Both men said they don’t mind spending hours upon hours working in the studio.

“We love being in here,” McClellan said.

Business mixed with pleasure

The owners hired Jordan Martin as the house engineer to record and mix as he’s done for the last nine years. McClellan and Smith both agreed that the operation couldn’t have succeeded without Martin.

“Without him, we would have been lost in the beginning,” McClellan said. “He’s been a huge help and people really love him and enjoy working with him. He’s really intelligent, talented and well-rounded.”

Redwood’s first client was local violinist Daniel Hart with a band called Dark Rooms. They scheduled Hart before finishing renovations and the studio wasn’t operational until the day before the first session.

Since there weren’t any structural changes to the building, the City of Denton didn’t administer any major permits or inspections. Redwood Studios is more of a home studio.

“The best way to put it, is that ‘Joey McClellan and McKenzie Smith are a music production team who have a space to operate out of,’” Smith said. “We can work anywhere.”

Legally, Redwood Studios is a limited liability company (LLC). This means that although they aren’t a corporation, they are recognized by the state as a business. The federal government does not tax an LLC. Instead, the members of the LLC (Smith and McClellan) are taxed for the work they do.

McClellan said the studio will always continue to grow. They’ve dreamed of moving to Los Angeles to open a studio. Smith said they’re continuously looking for ways to get better and that it will never stop.

Featured Image: McKenzie Smith and Joey McClellan, both possessing a knack for interior design, transformed an old wood shop into Redwood Studios with fresh-smelling cedar and reclaimed wood. Denton artists like Sarah Jaffe and Seryn have recorded here. Photo by Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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