Next Wave: A Houston Compilation
Sugarhill Studios, Photo: Dan Workman
The best part of living in Houston is all of the opportunities that can fall in your lap. About six months ago, I found myself in front of Josh Applebee and Casey Waldner of SugarHill Studios here in Houston. The two were both at a crossroads on how to garner new clientele for the Houston landmark, and how to do so without breaking the bank. I would guess that you’d know that albums aren’t being made in a traditional studio like they used to be. In fact, if any parts of albums are being made in a traditional studio today; many times it’s just that…parts. I suggested a compilation that showcased some of Houston’s best up and coming artists, something that would shine a light on what could be done in a traditional studio while propping up those that have hustled from day one. What transpired after weeks of meetings and pre-production gatherings will become “Next Wave: A Houston Compilation.”
For the record it should be stated that SugarHill did more work than I did. All I contributed were names and the album title. The name comes from how I feel like my mind and many others minds work towards music today. We all want to know what’s next, and what the next wave of music will be, or at least I do. We consume music today like our parents consumed credit card debt twenty years ago, yet those of us with open ears and open minds are always looking ahead to the future, which would explain the lineup that’s featured on this compilation.
The only rule I was given from the studio was that they wanted artists who had never recorded there before. That being said, I don’t really know who and who doesn’t know about SugarHill, but it’s a rare find and a true treasure for our city. The studio, founded in 1941 by Bill Quinn under the name Quinn Recording, and is the oldest operating studio in this part of the country, and as I’m told, the oldest alongside Abbey Road that still operates as a recording studio. Legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins, The Big Bopper, The Sir Douglas Quintet, and George Jones all recorded there. Quinn would change the name to Gold Star Studios and have such greats as Roy Head and Willie Nelson both record there. In the late sixties, International Artists leased Gold Star and brought in The Bubble Puppy, The Red Krayola, Moving Sidewalks, and BJ Thomas. When Huey Meaux took over the studio’s ownership in the early seventies, Jandek, Asleep At The Wheel, Todd Rundgren and many more recorded there. In 1996, Dan Workman took over ownership and ushered in a new era for the studio. Acts like Destiny’s Child, Brian McKnight, Beyonce, Frank Black and hordes of locals recorded there. The studio has a natural reverb chamber, which to my knowledge is the only one of its kind left in the United States. Which leads us to where we are today with in house producers Josh Applebee, Steve Christensen, Dan Workman, John Griffin, Analogue Escape. These higher ups if you will were paired with staff engineers like Allen Gibson, Jeremy Rojas, John Guel, Jonathan Chan, and Cody Franz for the first time to collaborate together on the tracks. With all of the mastering to be done by Chris Longwood.
So, I know so much of you would think, “it’s a compilation, so what?”
However these songs were done strictly for this compilation, though some will later appear on releases by those featured on it. Usually, when a compilation happens, it takes tracks that have already existed and puts them on basically a playlist. What Next Wave does is take five artists, and places them in a professional studio with a producer and an engineer, and allows them to record a fresh new track that won’t exist anywhere prior to this release. Out of kindness and sheer generosity, Workman has made the tracks license free for those involved. The concept and execution is something that’s never existed before, at least here in Houston.
The artists, were chosen for varying reasons. For me, hustle, hard work, and going above and beyond those in your genre goes a long way. Starting off with Jawwaad, he’s a guy that gets love pretty much everywhere except for his hometown. He made an album with Jneiro Jarel and MF Doom under the name The Shape of Broad Minds, he has a next level jazz band called The Young Mothers, and he’s toured the world over. His latest project, BLVCK FETISH with Lonnie Lester’s drummer is something insane, inventive, and intense. Last year he released an amazing hip hop album called “The Bully Love Set,” and I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everything he does is pure gold. This brings us to Houston three piece, Catch Fever who released my favorite local release last year with “Shiny Eyes.” There’s something engaging about a band who would do whatever it takes to make music their full time job, and grabbing Emily Lazar from The Lodge to master their debut was the first step. Since then they’ve recorded an EP due next year, they’ve produced and made quality videos, and they’ve gotten on festivals and top tier shows simply by busting their tails. If you think I’m making this up, go see them when they perform at House of Blues and you’ll see a line of girls who want pictures and autographs from them.
When it came to electronica, there was really only one name that came to mind; Houston’s black kite. In under one year this dark and brooding band has gotten on all the right shows, they’ve been in Noisey, and they have a large and sincere following. The way in which James Templeton furiously beats a drum kit while birdmagic drops electronics, and Vicki Tippit’s vocals dance atop it all is like nothing I’ve heard before. And, since gaining label attention and festival appearances, their follow up to their debut, 2013’s “Bird” will drop early next year. When speaking of powerful vocals, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t elated to have Dollie Barnes be a part of this compilation. Like black kite, she’s one of those artists that enchants me with each and every performance. To hear such an emotive and powerful voice come from someone so small in stature is still something that invigorates me, while she makes tunes that remind me of a mix of Loretta Lynn and Stevie Nicks. Though she had technically recorded with Christensen in the past, this was the first time they were afforded the ability to utilize all of the studio’s resources. Which of course brings us to the fifth and final artist, Guilla. This guy turned tragedy into triumph when his hard drive melted and he had to put a capella backgrounds on last year’s “Rap, Trap, & Drums” EP. Since that release he’s busted his butt to make himself a household name including getting on big name shows and festivals in and out of Houston. It’s been a long time coming that I say this, but it’s a rarity to see someone work so hard to make music their only pursuit, and Guilla represents that to its definition.
The compilation will also have a component that rarely exists today…charity. Teaming up with Music Is Our Weapon, the album is set to be released for FREE digitally, but people can “pay what they want” with 100% of the proceeds going towards using music literally, as a way to help those stricken with dementia and Alzheimer’s. In various nursing homes across Texas, Music Is Our Weapon implements music programs by using mp3 players as a platform to offer personalized playlists for individuals in memory care facilities. By connecting with these residents, they identify the significant music from the resident’s past in order to bring them comfort and help them remember who they are. Music opens a door for care on an emotional level that no prescribed medicine can possibly reach. Music Is Our Weapon will use any monies collected through this compilation to provide the devices needed to further expand into the Houston area. Please join their volunteer group HERE if you would like to get involved.
The compilation is set for release later this year or early next year, and is something like you’ve never seen or heard before. By choosing artists from different genres that represent different demographics and different scenes throughout Houston, this could set a new standard as to how compilations are made. The “Next Wave: A Houston Compilation Vol. 1” is set to be released later this year or early next year, and will be accompanied by a live show featuring all five artists to take place at Houston’s Walters.