Mark Nevers is a man behind the scenes...literally. As the 11th member of the twelve (or sometimes more)-musicianed Lambchop you'll likely know him as "fifth head from the left" way back in the shadows where he elegantly butters his space guitar riffs over the expansive popping corn of plucked and blown notes. As a producer of their records he's one- third troop leader, one-third mirror and one-third alchemist... sculpting the chaos, emphasizing strengths, turning clarinetists into back-up singers, doing whatever it takes to make a soft spoken poet into a Curtis Mayfield, or a trash talking potty mouth into an angelic heart throb. It's all in a very long days work. As a 15-year veteran in "country Music City USA," he's spent endless hours as the second-engineer bridesmaid to Nashville's ultra- successful music-row star-maker machine. It's where he learned his craft and later learned how to walk away from it. But that's a story for later. Last summer when he agreed to help me record several songs at Beech Street, the at-home studio, where he lives with his wife Joy and their two girls Iris and Lilly, I had the opportunity to step behind the curtain into the shadows myself.
How did you first get interested in music?
Oh, I don't know. I guess I first got infatuated with tape machines before I did anything. This was probably when I was about 6. My dad was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. That was back before cell phones and so we would make reel-to-reel tapes and say, "Hi daddy" and all that stuff. It was cool but when I heard my voice back and it didn't sound like me so I was like, "Who the fuck is that?" and from that point on I was real infatuated with tape machines and recordings. It was quite some time after that that I ever picked up an instrument. I was into recording before I was interested in being a musician.
So how did you start recording?
I started recording on a jam box that had a cassette player and a TV. I saw this thing in a store and I bussed tables all summer and finally got it and at that time period I had begun playing guitar. So I always said that that was my first studio... my "Mobile TV" studio.
And what came out of those sessions?
Oh, just more fascination with trying to figure out how to make better sounds. I was also making my own tapes of records and I was amazed that they sounded better than the tapes that you could buy at the store. So one of the first things I learned was that mass recorded music wasn't very good... at least on tape.
So what was the first stuff you started recording.
That would be me, noises around the house, dogs. I recorded The Monkees straight off the TV. I loved the Monkees... "Day Dream Believer" ...that used to break my heart.
Then what happened?
I got into being in punk rock bands and I was still recording on my TV Mobile Unit. Then I got a hold of an X15, one of the first [Fostex] 4-track cassettes, and I got introduced to the idea of multi-tracking through that shitty cassette recorder which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. After that I decided that I wanted to go to Full Sail recording school. Not a very good name but pretty good school. It's funny because a bunch of my friends talked me into going to school with them to become an engineer and none of them are doing it now. Most of them interned and hated it. The reason that they went was to be involved in the rock and roll studios but once you get involved it's all tedious bullshit for the first few years so none of them lasted. It was a 9-month program of 12-16 hour days. I guess I learned some shit but I still didn't know how to align a tape machine when I got my first internship. I had to fake my way through it.
Where was your first internship?
At the Castle Recording in Franklin, TN. It was a nice recording studio. I got my first gig because an intern before me snapped a tape and broke the master in half so I got a foot in the door. It was with the 3M digital recorders. The first ones that came out had a really weird mechanism. It was like film the way you loaded the tape. It weaved in and out of all these different heads. So this intern had finally gotten on a session. It was his first session and he put it in there wrong and he snapped the tape right in the middle of the song. So he just left a note saying, "Well I guess I'm fired."...and he never returned. So when I showed up they were real paranoid about me. I faked my way through the first couple of years. So that got me my first internship and I just stayed until they started paying me.
What kind of work did you do at The Castle?
When I first started it was doing god-awful cataloging. I was taking reel to reels and cataloging them on DATs. I did that to thousands of shitty songs that no one was ever going to...