Sounds from the Swamps of Kitty Hawk
TR3’s new national release album was home-grown in a remote corner of the Outer Banks.
Just past the Do Not Enter sign, the road turns to dirt. Flanked by tall, scrubby pines and riddled with potholes, the way is wet with springtime puddles. Past fences, horses, geese, hens and yard dogs, past “Walk, Trot, Jog” and “No Trespassing” signs, past piles of debris, trailers and trash, the road forks and there is nothing but the earth, forest, low-lying water and sky of old Kitty Hawk.
Here, surrounded by marsh and trees, is Casa del Coyote. The tin-roofed gable of the modest, two-story structure is emblazoned with a running red coyote. Double glass doors mark the entrance to Swampworks Recording Studio.
Inside are shelves full of books, a grand piano and gold sparkling vintage Pearl drums, set up and ready to go. Microphones, music stands, headphones, cords and random chairs are scattered about. Smooth, groovin’ tones can be heard floating through the open door of the soundproof control room that’s separated by a long window of glass.
Behind the glass, recording engineer Ed Tupper is staring intently at a large computer screen that depicts a visual display of the music he is working on. Gathered around him are guitarist Tim Reynolds, drummer Dan Martier and bassist Mick Vaughn, the three musicians of TR3.
An internationally renowned guitar wizard, Reynolds is best known as the longtime Dave Matthews collaborator and the current Dave Matthews Band lead guitarist. He’s a prolific musician with a large of number of his own acoustic and electric CDs, and he frequently collaborates with other musicians. Reynolds, Martier and Vaughn formed TR3 after Reynolds relocated to the Outer Banks from New Mexico in 2007. In seven years they have toured all of the United States, Canada, Brazil and are planning an Italian tour in the fall of 2014.
TR3 is known for its edgy, electric fusion of funk, rock and jazz. Their first studio CD, “Radiance,” was nominated for the Home Grown Music Network’s Album of the Year, and their first double live CD, “From Space and Beyond,” was released in June 2011.
The trio chose to record, produce and release its newest album, “Like Some Kind of Alien Invasion,” at Swampworks in Kitty Hawk. Today in Kitty Hawk they are listening back on recorded tracks before they send them on to David Glasser, “the master” masterer, according to Reynolds. Glasser, founder of Airshow, one of the largest mastering facilities in the country, is a two-time Grammy award winner who has mastered thousands of records including recordings by The Grateful Dead, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Hot Tuna.
The music is complicated and layered, with changing time signatures and driving bass lines that cascade onto the canvas Reynolds paints with his guitar solos. The sounds are multi-faceted, wailing, calling and birdlike at times, then stacatto, bright, crisp and fast the next. There are gorgeous passages – which Reynolds says are informed by dreams – where chords are knitted together perfectly and punctuated by Martier’s controlled, rhythmic attack on the drums. Listening to the recorded tracks, Reynolds rocks back and forth to the music as if he was actually playing his guitar.
Reynolds has the ability to coax an uncommon, beautiful sound out of any instrument, even one of Tupper’s 12-string guitars with rusty strings. As they listen to a track on which Reynolds played that guitar, Tupper jokes, “You might have to get a tetanus shot after that!”
There is an easy rapport and casual approach between the band members and Tupper. Everyone easily agrees as Tupper makes efficient, deft adjustments on the soundboard.
The band decided to use Swampworks and Tupper for this album because they wanted to keep the project local. Reynolds keeps up an almost constant touring schedule, yet enjoys a low-key life at home in Kill Devil Hills. Picking a studio in the band’s back yard was what Reynolds calls an “easy fit.”
“All the bells and whistles are not necessary,” he says. “The studio has about what every other studio has.”
“It’s certainly not Abbey Road or Ocean Way,” says Swampworks proprietor Chuck “Coyote” Larson, “but it’s enough to get the job done.”
TR3 accessed Swampworks with no plan and at their leisure for almost two years, allowing them the under-the-radar space so necessary for the creative process
“It’s sort of the bat cave for the musician protection program,” says Larson.
Clandestine recording on the coast is what Swampworks is about. By invitation only, a cross-section of the region’s most creative musicians have recorded at Swampworks since it quietly opened in 1993.
“We are interested in promoting the arts, people who are doing their own creating,” says Claudia Larson, Chuck’s wife. The two live in the space above the studio. “It is a place where musicians come to create, sometimes at all hours of the night. To see it happening, to hear it as it’s being developed, to see the process, is like having a window into the future.”
The studio’s location is ideal for TR3, but it offered more than that. “The studio space is like an instrument itself,” says Reynolds.
Larson attributes the successful sounds coming from Swampworks to Tupper, who brings, “fresh ears and ideas” to every project.
“Any successful recording has three elements,” says Larson, a retired Merchant Marine and musician. “Great material, great players and accurate recording. Take one out and you don’t have what it takes, it’s not going to run.”
Tupper is a 33-year-old musician, production engineer and jack of all trades who grew up on the Outer Banks. When not playing bass in the Hounddogs Family Band or working on a studio recording project, Tupper can be found shaping his custom surfboards at Gale Force Glass, working as an electrician, freelancing in various local bands and fishing.
Even Reynolds, who has worked with some of the best in the business, is impressed.
“It’s been really great working with Ed Tupper in the studio,” says Reynolds. “He is superbly skilled, patient and very easy to work with. It has been a beautiful experience working on this project with him. He is the studio angel.”
TR3 releases “Like Some Kind of Alien Invasion” through ATO Records later this summer followed by a national tour. This music, homegrown on the Outer Banks, is being sent forth to the far reaches of the globe from one of the most remote corners of earth — the swamps of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
story by LAURA MARTIER
photographs by GAYLE TILLER