It's been a few years since they teamed up and started playing together - now Joey McClellan and McKenzie Smith have started a recording studio together. They've had local and international acts come through to record and produce in their studio, tucked away quietly in north Denton - now we're looking forward to seeing and hearing what they'll be doing next. Lucky for us, we didn't have to go far to catch up with the dynamic duo.
What brought you to Denton? What keeps you here?
McKenzie Smith: I moved to Denton in 1997 to study jazz at UNT. During those first few years, the beginnings of Midlake were already forming, and by 2000, I had quit school to focus on the band and make a living as a full time musician. It wasn't exactly easy, I had to work a full time job teaching music at a school up until April of 2006, when the band began touring heavily for our second album, "The Trials of Van Occupanther."
There are a lot of things that keep me in Denton though. This is a great town to be creative in, with an amazing community of artists and musicians, and it continues to grow and thrive. It seems to be heading in a direction that is going to make me stay here even longer. The band, the studio, and the bar we own are three key factors of why I'm still here, but I think it might just be the fact that I can get the best sushi I have ever had anywhere right here in Denton at Keiichi.
Joey McClellan: I moved to Denton from Brooklyn after playing guitar with Midlake on a couple of tours in the US and Europe. After work on the new Midlake album began, it just made more sense to move here rather than traveling back and forth all of the time. At the same time, Mckenzie and I had talked about building a recording studio and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do both.
Denton is a great little town, with a lot of growth potential, and its exciting to be here watching it develop so rapidly. As with any great town - it's the good people that make you want to stick around, and Denton has that in spades. People here are passionate, have a thirst for knowledge, and are driven to express themselves creatively. I have no doubt that national recognition is on the horizon for Little D.
Can you give me a brief history of your career in music?
JM: I co-founded a band with my Brother Aaron called The Fieros that received two Dallas Observer Music Awards before relocating to Brooklyn in 2008. From there we were able to sign on with a music licensing company owned by MTV and have had songs featured in numerous television shows and even one Simpsons commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.
In NYC I began playing bass for a band called Hymns and did a tour with Texas legend Daniel Johnston that kicked off with a performance at ACL in 2009. Mckenzie called me in 2010 after the departure of their then lead guitar player Max Townsley and asked if I'd be interested in touring with Midlake. After two tours with Midlake I relocated to Denton to begin working on the newest Midlake record that is slated for release this November.
MS: I started drumming at the age of 5 and never looked back! I went to the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, TX, where I was born and raised, and then got a full scholarship to the UNT Jazz program. After playing in the 1 O'Clock Lab Band, my interest in school started to wane drastically . I left to work on the band and begin trying to figure out how to make a living playing music.
Along the way, I have been really fortunate to play with some great artists such as Regina Spektor, St. Vincent, and Sondre Lerche, to name a few, and being a studio musician has become a huge passion of mine. Midlake is my main priority in the music world, but I stay busy with lots of other projects as well, drumming, producing and mixing.
What is driving you to switch gears into becoming a producer? What does your role as producer for Redwood really look like?
MS: I started messing around with the producer thing about 10 years ago, when my sister was working on some music. I tried my hand at helping her complete some songs. Over the years, more and more people began to give me the opportunity to help flesh out their ideas and collaborate. I started to really fall in love with music production.
When Joey and I started talking about our mutual dream of opening a studio, it seemed like a good chance for both of us to work on projects we are passionate about. It didn't hurt that we would be able to work right from my back yard.
Every recording situation is different, so defining an exact role is difficult. Generally speaking, producing is helping facilitate someone else's music. At Redwood, we love to work closely with the artists that ask us to produce, which can be anything from co-writing, arranging, playing, and hiring the right musicians for the song or album.
JM: Music production has been a passion of mine since I first started writing and recording songs in my late teens. My approach is always to bring the experience I've gained over the years in the studio and touring while trying to not stifle the vision of the artist that I'm working with.
Tell us about the history of Redwood - how did it get started - what really drove you to start your own recording studio?
JM: Mckenzie and I began talking about the idea at the end of 2011. The building was once a wood working shop then a motorcycle shop. We opened the doors by September 2012 with our first client being Daniel Hart's new project Dark Rooms.
MS: When my wife and I were house hunting, this house stood out almost immediately because it had this big backyard with another house in it. It wasn't built out much on the inside, but the shell of a building was there. That pretty much sealed the deal for me - and I made my wife buy this house!
Joey and I spent almost an entire year gutting the inside, hammering, drilling, making huge rookie mistakes, and asking for a lot of help from family and friends. It took a lot of work to get the studio to look like what it does today. We still have big dreams and plans for what the studio will eventually become.
The space itself is really cool - very different. Who designed/built it? Who or what played major roles in your design decisions?
JM: We put our heads together on this, and came up with a design that we felt created the best sonic environment, while maintaining vibe that would make you feel like you're somewhere special. We wanted to avoid creating the generic and sterile environment that you find at most commercial recording studios.
We built it ourselves - we spent countless hours cutting wood and hammering nails in the midst of the Texas summer. We had help from some very good friends and family. It was an unforgettable experience.
MS: If I had the time and energy for it, I would be an interior designer! I'm not kidding, I love design, architecture and spaces that make life more enjoyable. Joey and I share in this passion and wanted to make the studio not only highly functioning, but also a really inspirational space.
We wanted the vibe of the rooms to be cozy - but not cramped, stylish - but not stuffy, and also feel lived in, all at the same time. So many recording studios feel like a spa or a doctors office. That is not what we were going for.
You’ve built quite the team for staffing the studio. Can you tell us more about everyone who is a part of the Redwood team?
MS: We are fortunate in that we all bring something to the table. I love working with Joey and Jordan and feel blessed to have such creative people around me all the time. It doesn't hurt that they also happen to be some of the nicest guys I have ever met.
JM: We were lucky to find our house engineer Jordan Martin through a mutual friend. He has been an invaluable part of this since the day we opened. He's a super talented, intelligent guy, who works really well with our clients. Mckenzie and I co-produce, perform, and sometimes engineer as well.
You’ve got a lot of bands coming in and out of the studio right now - including a few local favorites - Chambers, Seryn, Sarah Jaffe. And you just had a band from Sweden recording. What is it that makes your space the right recording studio for them? What kind of musicians are really attracted to what Redwood is offering?
MS: We are so happy that some really amazing artists have chosen Redwood to work with, even though we haven't even been open a year yet. There is so much local talent that we love, and there are some great studios in the area that people could choose over us, so we are definitely humbled and grateful.
Our plan is to continue to reach out to amazing artists, big and small, and hope that they will consider us for their next recording project. We have a great staff, a great environment to record in, and we're right here in the middle of Denton.
JM: Our initial vision was to always have bands and musicians recording here that we are actually fans of. It's been extremely rewarding to have some of our favorite local and international acts come through the doors and give such positive feedback about their experience here.
We were very selective in the gear we brought into the studio. Our tracking room has high vaulted ceilings which provide a great warm sound. Bands that are looking for a very organic recording experience fit well in this environment.
When bands from out of town come in to record - what are some of your favorite places to take them around Denton?
JM: The first place we took Johan Orjannson when he arrived from Sweden was Chuy's, which he loved and made sure to hit again before leaving town. We also like to take people to Keiichi if we can get in. Taco Lady and Sabrocitas are favorites for tacos, and Paschall Bar, Dan's Silverleaf, and Oak Street Draft House are great for drinks after a long session. We also like to show guests the Greenbelt and the swimming beach at Lake Ray Roberts.
MS: The Mini Malls! We also love taking people to Seven Mile, Loco Cafe , Greenhouse, Dan's Silverleaf, The Cupboard, Jupiter House, Hannah's, Hailey's, Oak St. Draft House, and of course our bar, Paschall's. Oh, and lets not forget... Keiichi.