BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Bristol is home to an almost century-long musical heritage. The sound engineers at The Earnest Tube try to take it back to the beginning.
The downtown recording studio specializes in direct-to-disc recording on lacquer.
It’s about as close as you can get to the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions in 2023.
“We call it the essence of the ’27 Sessions with modern insight,” said engineer Clint Holley.
Holley and his recording partner Dave Polster worked in music production, then in the vinyl reproduction industry.
Holley and his wife purchased the downtown Bristol building in 2016 with hopes of getting back into the recording business, but in the style of the Bristol Sessions.
“We thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to get back in the studio with artists and record in a way that people sometimes are unfamiliar with,”” Holley said.
Since then, The Earnest Tube has hosted over 75 recording sessions, including big names like Amythyst Kiah and 49 Winchester.
You won’t find any tape or digital recorders in Holley’s studio. Only the decades-old direct-to-disc method is allowed in this studio.
“We’re talking about a technology that’s over 100 years old right now,” Holley said. “That was the dominant form of recording until about 1950.”
It’s such a rare form of recording music that Holley said only one company in the world produces the type of lacquer disc he needs.
Folk-blues singer and songwriter K.T. Vandyke, hailing from Buchanan County, Virginia, is a regular in the studio.
Vandyke said the studio’s reverence for the old ways of recording music is what keeps him coming back.
“It’s a living connection, I feel like,” Vandyke said. “It makes you want to keep these songs around as long as possible.”
The direct-to-disc recording process is about as bare bones as recording music gets.
“It’s just a moment in time captured with nothing else added to it,” Holley said.
Typically, the process involves just one or two microphones.
That sends a signal to a mixer operated by Polster. The mixer puts out a single mono channel, which is a much different sound than the left/right, dual signal stereo mix heard nowadays.
“That goes through an amplifier, and much like a speaker, the amplifier drives what’s called a cutting head that has a cutting stylus on it,” Holley said. “Then somebody like KT gets in front of the microphone and sings, and we literally carve the music into the disc.”
While recording, Holley is busy brushing away the excess from the carved-out disc to prevent sound interference.
It produces a warm, old-school sound in tribute to the Bristol Sessions.
Vandyke said the studio plays an important in sustaining the local music scene by providing aspiring musicians like himself a place to perform.
“With Earnest Tube, there’s wonderful recording opportunities,” Vandyke said. “They’ve got a great vibe. They’re incredibly professional, and they know what they’re doing.”
The Earnest Tube books musicians by appointment only. You can find more information on their website.