John Wheeler

Music Maker, Wine Drinker, Hellraiser. Ecce Homo.

Recording Studios

Recording Studios Past and Present

Ever wondered about the recording studios I’ve used to record myself, Hayseed Dixie, and others? Most people haven’t! However, for any special individuals who are interested in such things . . .

My first professional studio was in Nashville, Tennessee. It began in 1996 as a place to record publishing demos for Nashville songwriters. I was playing fiddle and guitar for whatever touring acts (mostly country ones) would hire me and doing demo recording for songwriters whenever I was home. It was an excellent learning process, and by around 1999, I had assembled a pretty good collection of equipment. I named the joint Renaissance Recording, just out of need for some name or other. This studio was the large front room of an old house in East Nashville, having knocked through the previous center wall. This was back before this neighborhood had been “gentrified.” I lived in the back couple of rooms and made all the noise God would allow (and then some) in the front. All of the Hayseed Dixie albums from “A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC” (recorded in the summer of 2000) up through “Grasswhooping Vol. 1 and 2” were recorded and mixed in this room, as well as a whole lot of other music. With the center wall removed, it was a large space, measuring 38’x16′ (roughly 12 x 5 meters) with solid oak floors and high ceilings and old-school plaster walls. It was finally completely disassembled in 2022. That room had a sound! And it looked like this:

In 2016, not long before the recording of the Hayseed Dixie “Free You Mind and Your Grass Will Follow” album, I set up a smaller studio for myself in a purpose-built building behind my house in Cambridge, England, where I had gradually been living more to most of my off-tour time since around 2009. This studio was mainly intended for rehearsing and demo-recording, but the majority of the tracks for the Hayseed Dixie albums “Free Your Mind” and “Blast From the Grassed” were recorded there and then later mixed at the Nashville studio. The Cambridge “Chimera Chapel” looked liked this:

After moving myself, family, and everything therewith associated to Heidelberg, Germany in 2019 . . . I started setting up a new, proper recording studio in the large annex room of the new house. This happened in stages, but the Hayseed Dixie “Shattered Grass” album was mostly recorded and mixed there during the pandemic, with the other band members mainly recording their own parts separately in Tim’s Nashville studio or in Joe’s case, in a studio in London. I also made a bunch of solo records here during the Covid lockdown times, including the Debussy and Satie upright piano album and the piano / vocal album of baroque-meets-rock AC/DC songs. It’s where I am now, and the new studio room, affectionately named “Jägerhaus Tonstudio,” looks like this:

My newest solo album, titled “Studio Tune-Up Studies”:

Most recently, I’ve recorded several Hayseed Dixie EPs all together with the guys here for upcoming 2024 and 2025 releases, as well as a solo album called “Studio Tune-Up Studies” released in April 2024. These “studies” were a series of recordings done to learn and practice various instrument techniques, and also to dial in the sounds and equipment in the new studio room, as it was quite a different sounding place from the previous Nashville studio space.

Let me explain this album to anyone interested:

In 2023, I finally dismantled my Nashville studio and moved everything I owned to Heidelberg, Germany. I kept the gear and instruments I loved and paid a fortune to ship them, sold everything else, bought some new stuff too. This meant I had to set up my Heidelberg studio as my main and only studio. In order to tune up and tweak out the new room and gear, and get to know it all properly, I picked out a few songs to record . . . mainly to have fodder to get sounds I liked on the drums, bass, piano, guitars, vocals, etcetera and to set up all the gear. This process included working out placements of instruments in the room, where to put the microphones, microphone preamp and compressor settings, and loads of technical stuff no normal people should ever even need to think about when listening to a recording. This can be rather complicated stuff actually, and if you endlessly geek out on it like me and my soundman, Dave, do, then getting all the various pieces of equipment to work together harmoniously is part and science but mostly trial and error. I picked out several songs to record, all by myself, playing all the instruments, that each had something about them – a drum part, a guitar lead, a bass line, something musically interesting to me – that I wanted to learn or work on for my own playing technique, and also that I thought would be fun for me to learn and mess with. They were also all recordings that, in their own right, were technically good to great recordings. I could then compare my work to them as reference points.

I never intended to commercially release these “studies” as they were just that: studies. Just for me and maybe a couple of friends to critique, and by “critique, I mean mainly the sounds, tones, and mixes. And then I really got into it. And things got seriously out of hand.

What was supposed to be a “studies” project to dial in my room and gear over the course of a few weeks became a long journey into my own playing and thinking about arranging music, my own ideals about timing and groove and how notes stack up to make chords and flow into one another. The process (I hope) has ultimately made me a much better musician and recording engineer, but it also took the better part of 2 years to complete to my satisfaction.

So now, basically, I’ve spent so much time on these recordings, going seriously immersive down each song’s respective rabbit hole, that I’ve become arrogant enough about them to think that anybody else who wants to hear them should have that opportunity. That may well be nobody. I mean . . . the world isn’t exactly begging me (or anyone else) for a better-than-karaoke version of “Sultans of Swing” or a crunch-guitar bash through “Steppin’ Out.” But if you’re so inclined, here you go: Me tuning up my new Heidelberg studio with a bunch of old songs I like, or at least songs that I used to like before I learned them inside and out on every instrument. Enjoy them with a crate of beer or a bottle of whatever you like. Cheers!