By Max Stewart
It really hurts when the dwindling physical fragments of our culture keep getting torn down to make room for shiny new toys. In a world where seemingly everything vapidly exists in the cloud and many listeners stream their music, live music venues and physical recording studios are hallowed grounds for music fans and historians. As an obsessive music fan and native Atlantan, it pains me to say that Southern Tracks Recording Studio is currently being demolished in Atlanta.
As I sit here and write this unfortunate news, I have been for years working as a passion project on a comprehensive piece on the famed studio, with my goal being to interview as many people involved with the studio as possible. It has unfortunately been on the back burner as life and other priorities have gotten in the way of me getting this completed. I fear that I may have waited too long to shine a light on this landmark, as it is clearly now being torn down without any semblance of a celebration for the magic that occurred in those rooms. For the past few years, the building has been abandoned and falling apart. A few times I went and parked behind the studio, looked at the worn exterior that was overgrown with shrubs and I would daydream of the musical history that took place there.
Sure, many are aware of Atlanta’s iconic hip hop status, but it is not widely known that ATL has its fair share of rock credit as well. Tons of iconic recordings were worked on at Southern Tracks, in big thanks to Brendan O’Brien and his pioneering producer / engineer acumen that was the backbone of so much music in the 90s and beyond. Something about the sonic magic he was able to produce in combining an epic drum sound with a towering arrangement cemented O’Brien as a sought after producer by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC to Pearl Jam to Trey Anastasio. From having seen him perform at Chris Cornell‘s Tribute Concert in L.A. and when he sat in with Pearl Jam in Atlanta in 2003 when I was in 7th grade, it is clear O’Brien is a fantastic guitarist in his own right (which no doubt must help him in his producer role). O’Brien’s engineers Nick DiDia and Tom Tapley were also integral pieces to the successful sessions completed at Southern Tracks.
When I started my project to dive into the studio a few years ago, I connected with Jeff Calder (of Athens new wave band Swimming Pool Q’s) and we talked of the studio briefly, as he was manager during the heyday of the 90s. He reminded me of the history of the studio as famed Georgia producer and publisher Bill Lowery opened the studio in the 60s and it had been around for many years before the momentum boost of alternative rock. Also everyone associated with the studio has spoken wonderfully of the late co-owner Mike Clark, with a consensus being that he was the driving spirit of Southern Tracks. Given this disappointing news, I plan on picking up this project now and digging deeper into the the unsung musical history in Atlanta that took place at the studio.
It is just a damn shame to see the building gone, but hopefully this can be a reminder of the amazing songbook that was recorded between those walls.
Below just scratches the surface on some of the sessions that took place:
- Bruce Springsteen recorded and / or mixed albums The Rising (2002), Devils & Dust (2005) Magic (2007)
- Stone Temple Pilots recorded Purple (1994) and No. 4 (1999), with a lot of their catalog having been mixed there
- The 90s hit “Interstate Love Song” was apparently completed by Scott Weiland in just one take and the song was written by bassist Robert DeLeo on the I-85 interstate near the studio
- Atlanta’s own The Black Crowes recorded their classic 1992 album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, featuring “Remedy,” “Sting Me,” and “Thorn in my Pride.”
- Pearl Jam seemingly made Southern Tracks a second home for a while
- Sessions for Vs. (1993), Vitalogy (1994), Yield (1998), and Backspacer (2009)
- Former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese mentioned on Facebook his memories of the studio while recollecting a basketball game with members of The Black Crowes: “I recorded a lot of Pearl Jam drum tracks at Southern Tracks in Atlanta. I just was made aware to the fact that it has been bulldozed to the ground. Sad. As a side note, in the photo you can see the reflection of the basketball hoop. It was on this hoop, while playing a friendly game of horse with members of The Black Crowe’s, that I learned not to attempt a 360 layup while wearing Birkenstock’s. Ouch.”
- Aretha Franklin recorded part of her 1998 album, A Rose Is Still A Rose
- Rage Against the Machine recorded part of The Battle of Los Angeles (1999) and a few other sessions
- Phish’s Trey Anastasio recorded his solo album, Shine, in 2005
- According to Phish.net: “Unlike the majority of songs Trey has written, “Tuesday” was developed in the studio and wasn’t road tested before it was recorded. Anastasio worked out his third “day” song (“Ether Sunday,” “Friday”) with producer Brendan O’Brien after flying down to the famed producer’s studio in Atlanta with just a backpack in tow. It took Brendan and Trey just one day – the second or third day of their sessions in Atlanta – to work out the arrangements for Tuesday and to record “virtually” all of the tune. O’Brien plays bass, drums and keyboards and also sings backing vocals on the version that made Shine. In fact, besides Brendan and Trey, the only other musician who performed on the track was percussionist Cyro Baptista.”
- Curtis Mayfield‘s final studio album, New World Order (1997), was partially recorded there
- Atlanta metal godfathers Mastodon‘s Crack the Skye (2009)
- Train recorded “Drops of Jupiter” with Chuck Leavell coming up with the iconic piano arrangement in the studio
- Indigo Girls – Shaming of the Sun (1997), 1200 Curfews (1995)
- The Nightwatchmen (Tom Morello) – One Man Revolution (2007)
- Widespread Panic‘s Aint Life Grand (1994) was mixed there
- Incubus – A Crow Left of the Murderer… (2009) and Light Grenades (2006)
- Matthew Sweet – 100% Fun (1995)
- Audioslave – Mixing of Out of Exile (2005)
- Records of Aerosmith, Soundgarden, Beastie Boys mixed there
- So many more…
Even in the earlier days, there were sessions with recordings by Johnny Paycheck, Atlanta Rhythm Section, .38 Special, and Tinley Ellis. I even discovered a rare gem of a recording that took place with James Brown, some of the Atlanta Falcons, and members of the Atlanta Rhythm Section called “Atlanta Will be Rockin'”.
Well, cheers to the historic Southern Tracks Recording Studio, another relic of music history that will live on thanks to the songs.
Checkout our playlist below with some songs with ties to Southern Tracks!