I walked into Sun Studio on October 14, 2018 with a couple guitars, six songs, and the shadow of an eight year old me, who knew every Johnny Cash and Elvis song by heart, following close behind. My first album, War Horse, was to be released that weekend, but I had been writing a lot since completing the album and wanted to get these songs out. Different from the work I just finished, I began writing entirely about human relationships- lovers, friends, forbidden affairs, parents and children…I dove headfirst into what happens when two people collide. I also had an idea of how I was going to record those six songs, which soon went out the window. In this place, you don’t dictate how it’s going down. The room does that. It’s alive. Everywhere, there’s pictures of the giants that stood there before you- Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Howlin Wolf. This is their house. You’re surrounded by their microphones, guitars, and piano. There’s intimidation in that for sure, but there’s also a freedom in knowing that nothing you do will ever compare. So you can just do you. It’s also a live room- no autotune, no click tracks, no racks of computers. The equipment and recording techniques remain largely unchanged from the 1950s, when Sam Phillips was recording the most influential music of the century. There’s tape machines (one designated for Sam’s signature slapback echo), ancient microphones and spares of each used for parts to keep the originals working, and the legendary, four-channel broadcast console that is the heart of it all and that famous “Sun Sound”.
I wanted to record an EP that was raw and a contrast to the work that was coming out that very week. It turned out more raw than I ever imagined. This place commands that. It’s about the performance, the feel, and capturing a moment. That’s what we did. Deep into the night, as a heavy fog lay over Memphis, we drank wine and ate BBQ as we endeavored to capture a feeling. I stared into Johnny Cash’s favorite microphone as I sang, while reels of tape turned and hissed on the other side of the glass window in the control room. Every song was done in a single take- raw and in the moment, the way Sam Phillips intended it to be. I sat over a X on the original tile floor, which was the spot where Elvis stood as he recorded. Across the room, the Million Dollar Quartet piano stood as a shrine to a moment that is immortalized in history and folklore. For the last song, I convinced the engineer to let me play the guitar that had been haunting me all night- Scotty Moore’s ES-295 that he played with Elvis. This gold guitar, bearing its owner’s signature, fired off with a sound that belongs to only one man. It’s tone is instantly recognizable. As the last chord rang out, it was well past midnight. We called it an evening and drove off into the fog, still not sure if I had anything worth releasing. We didn’t edit. We didn’t listen back. We didn’t over-think. We sent a sound directly to tape once it FELT right.
The next morning, I woke up to a bustling downtown Memphis street that was quite a shift from the quiet and eerie fog the night before. I shook my head and imagined I surely was dreaming. No way I actually recorded in the Garden of Eden for rock n’ roll. I was still a Johnny Cash-idolizing-eight-year-old who dreamed of one day standing in that room. I soon realized it wasn’t a dream, but the big question was “Did I record anything good?”. After months of transferring the tapes to digital, mixing by Ben Smith in Florida, and mastering by Georgetown Masters in Nashville…I can say yes. I was taken back at how raw it was and, more importantly, how the feeling came through. It’s honest. That’s all I can ever ask of my music.
Now I’m excited to share the evening and these songs with you for the first time on June 7th. I hope these six songs invite you in and allow you to share that wonderful night with me.