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Born in a dorm room 

Fayetteville's East Hall Recording has been a slow build.

click to enlarge 'PERFECT IS BORING': Delia the cat and Chris Moore's East Hall Recording studio.
  • 'PERFECT IS BORING': Delia the cat and Chris Moore's East Hall Recording studio.

There's a secret spot stashed off of a loping, scenic road on the edge of Fayetteville. An anemic gray wooden building that sits aside a wet dirt spur of road and behind a shaggy gate of hickory trees is mysterious enough to make you reckon it's hiding something really cool, possibly magical, inside. It's a regional hotspot for musicians of all stripes, and stepping into it can bring on a sensory assault of instruments and good vibes.

Inside, surrounded by 40-year old Ampeg bass cabs, Odyssey Arp synths and a newly restored 1970 Ludwig drum kit, the red-haired and squoosh-faced master of the studio dawdles, indifferent to spending another day in this arsenal of gear-head gold. But we're not here to talk to Delia the cat; we're here to talk to her human, Chris Moore, the owner/operator/head engineer at East Hall Recording.

"The studio started back in the early '90s on that," Moore said, pointing at a Tascam recorder, "in my door room at East Hall in Hendrix College." The quarter-century history of East Hall Recording has steadily leveled up from dorm room to bedroom to garage to "half my house ... but it's always kept the vibe of a bedroom studio." Here, a warm energy circulating in the studio does make it feel like a friend's home, sure, but larger and more soulful, like the physical manifestation of an album produced by Jimmy Miller or Steve Cropper. 

But enough about vibes; what about details? Moore tracks the band to tape through the definitive tape machine, a two-inch, 24-track Mara Machines workhorse with "Perfect Is Boring" lettered onto its wooden faceplate. That business gets transferred into ProTools to splice and overdub before bouncing back to analog to mix and master. It's an alchemy of tape compression and audio warming that's instinctual and difficult to nail down in language. "It just glues everything together. There's an intangible quality to it that just sounds right.

"I like the workflow. We're not staring at a computer screen. It forces everyone to listen to what they're recording instead of looking at it. When we're on tape, we're not going to do edits immediately. We're not going to punch in in the middle of a guitar solo. We're focusing on full takes of the full band playing together. It's a better vibe that way."

The central nervous system of the operation is Moore's latest and largest addition to the ongoing East Hall Recordings project: a 1995 Jade Soundtracs console. Forty-eight channels, 96 inputs, all manner of dynamics, compressors and gates, and more knobs, buttons and sliders than anything I've ever seen on one piece of machine in my life. 

"I decided a few years ago that this was the board that I wanted because it worked perfectly in the workflow I had going and the workflow I wanted to get to. So I watched for it. And in March, this thing showed up for sale in Houston. So, the next day I rented a U-Haul cargo van that was six inches longer than this board and drove down and picked it up. Every time it moved it took 10 or 12 people."

After a few months of refurbishing and rehabilitating the board to its full power with direct guidance and dead stock parts from one of Jade's designers in the U.K., it's sitting large and in charge in Moore's control room, where it captures some of the best music in Northwest Arkansas ... when not being used as a warm nap spot for Delia the cat.

East Hall's long tenure means that its audio hard drive doubles as a multi-decade archive of Arkansas bands. That's why, in 2016, I was so excited when Chris Moore offered up what he called "the cream of a very large crop" — a five-volume retrospective of the studio's recording sessions, available for free at easthallrecording.bandcamp.com. Each volume fits on a CD, if that's your medium of choice, with tracks from Terminus, The Chads, Witchsister, Arkansauce, The Good Fear, Ten High and Shawn James & The Shapeshifters. In the digital liner notes, Moore sends the listener off thusly:

"While I'm immensely proud of the body of work we've put together, I also recognize that any claim I have to being good at my job is directly related to the skill and talent of the musicians that walk through these doors. Their support has made it possible for me to do what I love for over a decade, and I hope we can continue making music together for many years to come. ... I hope you find some new favorite music that you don't know how you've lived without, and seek out and support the artists you like." — Stephanie Smittle

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