The current incarnation of Parlor Studios, in the Irish Channel, looks much like any other recording environment of New Orleans: gear crowds tiny rooms, while everything from tape echo boxes to stacks of drum shells overflow into the hall. A box of donuts hangs in the kitchen, and a mic set-up waits in the bathroom (which of course always makes me think of Jim Morrison doing vocals on L.A. Woman). But this disheveled state hides a massive construction project in the works, namely a state-of-the-art recording facility.
Eric Heigle, Parlor’s chief engineer, opens a closet door and beckons me through, Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe– style. On the other side is a long, twisting hallway, freshly sheet-rocked with electrical wires poking through. On the other end is the main recording space, which is still a cavern of exposed beams and trenches dug for the cabling (though an ambitious September launch is planned).
Not a right angle exists in the place, and we’re not even allowed to photograph certain parts due to the unique plan of designer Dave Mattingly (whose Sound Construction firm, based out of Nashville, has worked with The Black Keys, Peter Frampton, and Jack White, among others). The completed echo chamber sounds nice, but Heigle wonders how effective that long hallway would be for similar effects. In addition to a spacious live room and several isolation rooms, Parlor has a warehouse large enough for a tour bus to pull in and power up. Also promised are editing suites for film and video, as well as a private courtyard. Parlor is being financed by studio veteran Matt Grondin and his mother Judy Van Zant who, in addition to being a music entrepreneur in her own right, is the widow of Lynyrd Skynyrd co-founder Ronnie Van Zant. Said Grondin in a recent Mix Magazine piece: “Royalties from Ronnie’s songs have greatly supported making The Parlor a reality, and in some ways is our continuation of what he started, albeit in some drastically different genres.”
Back through the looking glass, we return to the session at hand, a horn overdub section of the upcoming King James and the Special Men album, to be released hopefully in September. If you’re not familiar with King James and the Special Men, they’re mostly known for their intimate Monday night sessions at BJ’s Lounge in the Bywater—though intimate may be too polite a word. More like a steamy, juke- joint one night stand, for anyone who can party late into a weekday.
Heigle, (who’s served time in the past on drums for the Special Men) is co- producing with frontman Jimmy Horn. They’re about to start tracking on “9th Ward Blues,” which Horn admits is more carnival in character than the usual debaucherous blues and R&B foundation of the Special Men. The horn players are gathered around an old RCA 44 ribbon mic, and though the trappings of modern recording conveniences certainly abound, Heigle notes that his formula for this project is pretty classic: “Tubes, ribbons, tapes—and good players in the right spot.” Heigle also has the benefit of a family heirloom piano, which is a 107 year-old upright that has been in the Heigle family for three generations. While Heigle isn’t sure of the model, he knows the piano has spent its entire life in the Channel. Under keys man Casey McAllister, the piano sounds thunderous on early mixes.
The LP is intended to christen Horn’s label, Special Man Records (published under Horn’s mantra, “Grown Folks Only”). In addition to the dozen or so tunes planned for the record, Horn wants to “Wu-tang the album as much as possible” by way of samples, though he notes they’ll be drawn more from westerns than kung- fu flicks. Adds Horn, when I ask him about it later, “I’m taking my cue from young rappers on Twitter.”