RSR039 – Jody Stephens – Big Star & Ardent Studios - Recording Studio Rockstars

RSR039 – Jody Stephens – Big Star & Ardent Studios

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR039 - Jody Stephens - Big Star & Ardent Studios

My guest today is Jody Stephens a rock star, session drummer, songwriter, composer, producer, and studio administrator in Memphis TN. Jody’s music has had a great influence on me through his work as the drummer for the legendary band, Big Star. So it is a great honor to be here today at Ardent Studios to interview Jody as part of my “Memphis series.”

Jody’s session work and live performances have allowed him to play with many artists and bands that include Matthew Sweet, The Afghan Whigs, Velvet Elvis, Golden Smog, and Bill Lloyd. He has been working in and around the studio for decades and is also the administrator for Ardent Studios and Ardent Records.

Jody’s recent band is called Those Pretty Wrongs with Luther Russell of The Freewheelers. They have released a beautiful single called “Lucky Guy” that instantly takes me back to Big Star.

"Lucky Guy" - Those Pretty Wrongs

“Good music comes out of struggle or uncertainty” - Jody Stephens

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Ardent Studios

“Magic can happen here at Ardent Studios” - John Fry

You walk through these doors and we have three studios, it can be a pretty communal experience. When Big Star was working on the third album we were maybe in B at that time, but Steve cropper had a session in A. Steve kind of wandered over and laid a guitar down on Femme Fatale (our third record). But that happens all the time, and even if it’s not that kind of interaction, people walk through those doors knowing that there are folks in other studios pursuing that same sort of dream. Sometimes you walk into a studio a little uncertain about the outcome, but having people around you going through that same experience is very communal and can be comforting. John started Ardent when he was 14! We're celebrating the 50th anniversary this year!!

“You aren’t trying things if you aren’t failing a lot” - Jody Stephens

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A -My parents were amazingly supportive as was my older brother Jimmy, him and I played in a lot of bands together, he was kind of my mentor. The first thing I always thought was silly with my taking up drums is it's the most embarrassing instrument to start out on because you sit down and you’re trying to make your left hand and right hand, and left foot and right foot all do independent things and you just feel awkward and clumsy. When I was 14 or 15 I thought, “wow, I wonder if I could get away without playing the bass drum to make it easier?!” Obviously you just kind of keep at it and things like that work out. 

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- I think the best advice is pursue it because you’re passionate about it, because you have fun doing it, and because you enjoy that interaction with other people. The problem is, if you’re going to be pursuing it for money you’re going to be really disappointed. 

“It’s all in technique and balance” - Jody Stephens

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A- Dynamics in drums. I have a tendency to hit drums really hard, but I think you get better sounds by not hitting them real hard. Some of my favorites are when I wasn't hitting the drum really hard, but if it's sort of an uptempo rocky thing I just can't help it. Life is White on Big Star's Radio City Album, if I had been hitting them really hard, Hampton used to say you'd choke the drum. So that's part of it is how hard you hit, dynamics. 

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
You know the kind of stick you use to hit it has a lot to do with the way the drum kit sounds, not to mention the way you hit it. We have a lot of vintage gear here that I’m certainly grateful to have, vintage mics and that sort of thing that make a difference sonically and the way you hear someone's voice or the way you hear the drums, Fairchilds come to mind. We have stereo and mono Fairchilds and those are always kind of cool for voices. It’s nice having those options. We have a compliment of really nice tape machines.

“There's not one best sound thats universal for all songs” - Jody Stephens

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - One thing that attracts people I think is the talent at the studio, the engineering and the production talent I think that's probably first and foremost. I think if you're an engineer coming to a studio or producer, you want a nice compliment of gear. You want a console that sounds good you want to know that everything is serviced properly and works.

Q - Any advice to keep your finances working?

A - Diversifying helps we have royalties coming in from artists that we worked with as a record label and others as a publishing company.

"The common denominator for all [styles] are melodies and engaging lyrics” - Jody Stephens

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A Buy an instrument, learn how to play it and have a passion for playing it and just enjoy playing it, then things start to happen. People hear you and are engaged by what you do, people start helping along the way. That's how you gain entry. It's a long process, there's no real short way to having that studio experience, unless you have some sort of financial backer. To make it brief.. How to do you get to carnegie hall? You practice.

Those Pretty Wrongs Facebook

Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!