Ed Ackerson on Flowers Studio: We let stuff come to us
|Photo by Dave Hoenack|
There might be as many recording studios as there are venues in the Twin Cities -- from the world famous to basement operations. In our new series, Behind the Boards, Gimme Noise will introduce you to some of the extraordinary talent that helps create the sounds that make our Cities famous.
Flowers Studio founder Ed Ackerson has a tough schedule to crack. His own band, BNLX, has been supporting their long-overdue debut LP and Ackerson recently produced a Replacements reunion EP, a benefit for Slim Dunlap. Past clients include Motion City Soundtrack, Soul Asylum, the Old 97's Rhett Miller, Clay Aiken, the Wallflowers, Pete Yorn, Juliana Hatfield, Free Energy, Brian Setzer, Joseph Arthur, and the Jayhawks.
Gimme Noise was lucky to catch Ackerson and his legendary Boston Terrier, Wiggy, sitting still for a few minutes between projects inside the anonymous south Minneapolis building where his studio is hidden.
Gimme Noise: What's keeping you busy right now?
Ed Ackerson: I'm mixing two records and in the middle of this big composition project. We have a band coming from Connecticut all next week. Every minute this month has been booked. I don't usually talk about a project until its done and in the can, unless the band is specifically publicizing it. I let them do the PR.
We maintain a low profile here. We don't advertise. We don't do a lot of social media and we don't go out and find bands. We let stuff come to us.
GN: So how do people find you?
We've done a lot of records. People see the credits and people know my reputation -- I have been making records for a long time. It's a word of mouth, osmosis process and I really like that.
GN: Brandon Allday [Big Quarters] says his business card is his latest CD.
Yeah, ultimately the proof is in the pudding. We worked on stuff that gets on the radio, stuff that people talk about and write about. So we stay pretty busy. There's a big network of people in and out of town and labels who like to bring stuff our way.
We work on different types of music so there's a wide range of connections. I try to cultivate that vibe because I like the challenge of figuring out how to translate different kinds of music.
Maybe there's something very folky and naturalistic, and the next week something very technological that uses Pro Tools and synth and drum machines. It keeps you alive to put yourself into the thinking of all these different approaches.
Ultimately production is translation. Somebody comes in with a melody or an idea, and the job of the producer is to represent that on a recording that captures the intended spirit of the artist. You have to talk to them to get into their head space and figure out what they're trying to do and how we can use the technical tools to turn that into something that can be put on a CD so people can get it.
GN: How long is that process?
I try to listen to as much as possible, demos and previous releases. I try to see bands live, a bunch of times if possible. Artists will often talk about what they want to do but sometimes you have to take into consideration what they're actually doing.
I try to do a lot of research and add a certain amount of psychology, to see what they're trying to get out. There's a lot of talking, a lot of back and forth. Sometimes the goals are very modest: Represent what we do. And if you do that it's pretty straightforward as far as the conceptual process, and your challenge is to figure out to get sounds onto tape. Other times you'll have something that's very conceptually open-ended and you'll have people who are trying to pull something out of the sky, especially things that are more psychedelic-oriented or abstract. Translating those sort of ideas into something that can be listened to in the two channels on your stereo is a really fun game.
GN: One project you recently finished was a second recording of the Replacements. Do you often get to work with artists whose music you've especially enjoyed?
That kind of thing happens all the time. I don't ever take a project if I don't believe in it. I try to play a very clean game that way. Any genre any style, if I believe in the people it's always exciting to help them get their idea onto a recording.
The Replacements stuff is great. I saw them a lot as a kid and they helped formed my idea of what rock and roll is about. They were making records at that time on a really high level, not just some local band but as a great band. It was cool to record them on sessions here because that spirit is still there and I can hear the energy. Those guys are still capable of delivering on that level. The stuff we did on the Slim [Dunlap] benefit turned out great, people are going to flip when they hear it.
You know my wife Ashley and I never went on a date, we just wound up dating somehow. That's how most of my relationships with artists are. There's no formal process of invitation, it just works out. 'We should be working together.' It's one of those more osmotic processes.