Northwest Arkansas could be sketched out with a handful of descriptors: global retail, chicken, the trucking industry. Neil Greenhaw, a 36-year-old native of Harrison, wants to add "music industry" to that list with his analog-heavy Haxton Road Studios in Bentonville.
This one-time professional guitarist-for-hire, who spent 240 days out of the year on the road and the rest in Nashville studios as a session musician before founding Haxton Road in 2010, lights up when describing what magic happens in a recording session.
"I just fell in love with the production aspect of walking into a room with a group of strangers sometimes, or other times your best friends," Greenhaw gushed in his soft, lilting, country-boy accent. "A few hours later and you're going, 'Man, what just happened? Where did the time go?' Then you're sitting here listening to this song that just sounds absolutely amazing, and that happened from creative humans coming together and pouring their heart and their art and craft into the song. And then you walk away with this mosaic of them, a piece of themselves in this song."
Greenhaw left his flourishing Nashville musician career in 2007 when his wife accepted a job in Northwest Arkansas. Although neither Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art nor the extensive bike trail corridor that connects Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale and Bentonville had been built, the area was on the precipice of massive change. Greenhaw decided that growth meant the region needed a quality studio. That was how he could invest in his rapidly growing community.
In an era where digital reigns supreme — and cuts operating costs — Greenhaw eschews the endless combinations of ones and zeros for a warmer sound that physically travels into what, to his knowledge, is the only Solid State Logic console in the entire state, a 48-channel SSL AWS 948 Delta.
Greenhaw said he's often asked about that nondigital focus: " 'Is it really that different? Why would you be using old things versus operating with the newest technology?' I say we're in the best of both worlds."
"The second you walk in here, you'll see that we value analog equipment," he said of the dimly lit two-story studio decked out with vintage gear from the 1950s and '60s. The studio features high ceilings and a Steinway piano right by the entryway and a case of collectible Gibson, Gretsch and Martin guitars that musicians can use when they record their tracks at Haxton. There's gold-plated wiring and an endless choice of cables running from A to Z. Upstairs, there are isolation rooms, a VIP green room for artists and vocal booths.
Then there are the microphones.
"We have the top three vocal mics [manufactured] in history," he said. There's a 1959/1960 Telefunken ELAM 251, a 1960s Telefunken U67 and a 1957 Neumann U47, known as the "Frank Sinatra mic" — the same model used on countless Bob Seger records, which Greenhaw said is also good for recording string sections and kick drums.
"You hear the quality in every aspect of the sense," he said. "If the artist has a great song and a great performance, we're literally hearing it live, saying, 'This sounds almost like a finished record.' We're not having to go in and fix stuff digitally, create artifacts and Band-Aid the stuff that was done wrong. If they've got it, you hear it, and we're in there all grooving. It's super close. All we have to do now is sweeten it up and get the levels right."
Earlier this month, Haxton partnered with Bentonville's Bike Rack Brewing for "Bike Rack Records, Vol. 1," a compilation of music by 10 local artists who cut singles at Haxton Road. Each track is a gift to the musicians — sweet duos like Melody Pond and Smokey and the Mirror, vampy rocked-out Jamie Lou and the Hullabaloo. They own the song so that they can license it if the opportunity knocks.
"We absolutely love the musicians. We love music," said Jeff Charlson, CEO of Bike Rack Brewing Co. "Music goes with beer extraordinarily well. There's nothing that's a better fit than beer and music.
"One song can change someone's life. So, for us, it's 'let's get the ball rolling.' The arts scene is extraordinarily important. Live music is crucial. Let's make this happen. Nothing happens if you don't get going."
In addition to growing the quality and opportunity for local musicians, Greenhaw has plans to launch into music publishing early next year. For him, music is unlike anything else.
"When you look at the world and this chaos that's happening now and the divisions, it's a time more than ever for when faith in music is needed," he said. "It brings people together, drops barriers, transcends culture differences. Music is about love. It's about feeling good. It can save somebody. I truly do believe that."