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Lonoke County sanctuary

Blue Chair mines 'ridiculous talent' from small-town Arkansas.

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LOOKING FOR TALENT FROM NOWHERESVILLE: Darian Stribling of Blue Chair. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • LOOKING FOR TALENT FROM NOWHERESVILLE: Darian Stribling of Blue Chair.

Blue Chair Recording Studio has been one of the most reliable places for Central Arkansas musicians to get a professional-quality recording made for as long as this reporter can remember. Adam Faucett, Kris Allen and Elise Davis have all recorded there. It's been the documentarian of country, metal, bluegrass and the Arkansas River Valley sound — Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo, Some Guy Named Robb.

"The most interesting thing about this job," Blue Chair's Darian Stribling said, "is that one day it'll be metal and the next it'll be bluegrass. You have to know how to adapt and get the sounds they're looking for — adapting so quickly from one day to the next. ... It's not easy and it takes a long time, but that's the challenge and it keeps it interesting."

Stribling records in an unassuming one-story building in Austin (near Cabot). A native of the Cabot area, Stribling first rented the property from his brother-in-law and built a small building on it in 1997. "After nine years, we were eventually busy enough for me to buy him out and build a new building."

The studio has every amenity, including a small living space for bands who want to stay there, a dedicated control room, isolation booths for recording vocals and drums, numerous guitars, an electric piano and a vintage Hammond organ. In terms of hardware, the studio's crown jewel is a vintage Neve 5116 mixing desk, which Stribling found on eBay and brought back to Austin from Philadelphia in a rented box truck.

"I'm very old school. Even though I use ProTools to record, I try to get the best analog sounds going into the computer. The old analog preamp really determines whether or not you're going to get a good drum sound."

Stribling, doing several takes with the bassist from Malvern alternative rock band Exit From Dark, operated ProTools in a surgical manner, going back to specific spots in the track that needed work. "That one was a little slow — let's go back to the beginning of the second verse," he told the bassist. Stribling's role in the studio changes with every artist. The younger bands, he said, are often looking for guidance, so he gives them a lot of feedback. "The seasoned bands have more of a vision. It's all about communication. Some people want me to play guitar or come up with parts. Sometimes I even sing and offer harmonies if no one else can do that."

"I've recorded almost everything," Stribling said. "A pistol was shot outside the studio, and we strung enough mic cables out of the studio out into a field to record a gunshot. I've had bands that wanted the sound of lighting a match and a "cigarette."

"We've recorded a didgeridoo, anything you could think of that someone would want to put on a song. Artistic people think outside of the box sometimes. Grand Serenade needed a part to kick in strong, so we recorded light bulbs being thrown on concrete. It sounds great. You hear this sound, and you're not sure what it is. With Adam Faucett, we took a rake outside and hit it against the AC unit and put a bunch of reverb on it."

The difficulty of carving out a niche as a professional musician was no surprise to Stribling, who grew up playing in various bands in Arkansas and as a teenager worked nights and weekends at Jacksonville Guitar. "I figured out in high school that music was the one thing that I felt I was good at," Stribling said. "It came to me naturally, so I wanted a career in music no matter what."

Stribling sees fewer young bands coming to the studio hoping to record the demo that will get them signed to a major label. The reality of the music industry has changed, and the goal for many is simply to document their music to sell at shows.

That attitude reflects the difficult nature of a world where music is essentially free to most consumers. "I don't really care so much about trying to do albums that are going to land someone a record deal," Stribling said, "or recording successful bands already on a label. What I enjoy more is recording someone who lives out in Nowheresville, Arkansas, some country boy with a killer voice, or church groups with one girl, like, 'Holy cow, her voice is as good as anybody out there.' Ridiculous talent from small places. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who gets to hear that. They record an album and pass it around to their friends and family and that's all that comes out of it."

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