- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Patton Avenue traffic whizzes by its intersection with North French Broad, escaping the stop-and-go of the rest of downtown and making its way toward the interstate. Just around the corner, in a red-brick building with vaulted roofs and stained-glass windows, lies one of Asheville’s most prominent musical draws.

From the street, Echo Mountain Recording Studios certainly doesn’t look like the big deal that it is. There’s no large sign - in fact, there’s no real sign at all - no 20-foot-tall fiberglass guitar adhered to the exterior of the building, once home to a church. There’s no tour bus outside with its engine humming, or line of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite performers.

Unless you’re a musician yourself - or know one personally - you might drive past the studio on a quiet Sunday morning, hear the faintest echo of organ and think nothing of it: Church must be in service.

But for the last 10 years, Echo Mountain Studios has acted as a second home for big-name musicians from in town and all over the world.

“Because of our 10-year anniversary, we actually went through and tried to count the numbers of bands we’ve worked with over the years,” said Jessica Tomasin, studio manager at Echo Mountain. “The number we came up with was somewhere around 146.”

In the studio, local recording artists perform and track on equipment shared by the likes of Band of Horses, Flogging Molly, Widespread Panic and Dierks Bentley, among others.

But why record in Asheville when Nashville, New York, Los Angeles and Austin exist?

Local musician Jon Stickley, of the Jon Stickley Trio, ventured a guess, and it comes in threefold: The city, the staff/space and the sound.

“Word gets around that it’s a really fun place to record,” he said. “Everybody’s gone to Nashville to record at this point. Oh boy,” he continued, sarcastically. “It’s cool, but Asheville is it’s own thing and experience. The staff is very easy to work with, very accommodating and very skilled.”

Tomasin added that a lot of musicians come in initially as clients and end up becoming good friends with the staff by the end of their stay.

“Bands come here, have a really good time and enjoy Asheville, and then come back through on their days off and just spend time here,” she said.

Part of Echo Mountain’s success as a recording destination comes not from the world outside the studio, on the busker-filled streets, but from underneath its Tudor-style ceilings, where the coffee’s always flowing and music bounces from wall to wall just right, peppering each album with a unique, only-at-Echo sound.

“They have multiple lounge rooms, a full kitchen that they always keep stocked, and there’s always coffee made. Always,” Stickley emphasized.

“The coffee pot never goes empty! We love that!” echoed Mary Frances, keyboardist and vocalist for Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band.

“And the setting of the church is just - I’ve never been in a studio like that,” Stickley said. “There’s just something that you really cannot recreate with studio reverb. It’s a sound that only comes from being inside that old church, using the vintage gear that they use. It adds a distinct flavor to it that I think I can hear in a lot of stuff that’s recorded there.”

Frances’ husband and Booty Band drummer Lee Allen said there are no worries at the Asheville studio. “The important thing about recording music is to feel comfortable in a space and let the music come out freely,” he said.

For one recent and notable project, Echo Mountain worked with the Asheville Symphony to produce a collaborative album featuring local bands and musicians, using the symphony’s collective power to enhance each individual artist’s unique sound.

“Being here for 10 years and having the opportunity to work with all of these different bands, and then work with the symphony as well to bridge the gap between those two parts of the music industry here, was just really fun and exciting,” Tomasin said.

A decade ago, on May 21, Echo Mountain opened its doors, plugged in its amplifiers and invited local musicians to be the first to record at the brand-new studio. And in 2016, the party is still going - moving over to the in-progress venue Salvage Station for a free anniversary party in celebration of all the music made within those years.

“I would hope that in 10 years we are still making really great records with talented artists,” Tomasin said. “We fully recognize that we’re in the service industry here; we’re providing a service for people. We don’t take lightly what people are doing in the studio, helping someone to create their art and their dream.”

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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