A Haven and a Vehicle for Austin Musicians
Words By Jess Hagemann Photos By Eric Morales
Like James’s early music career, EAR Studio began in a garage. Today its soundproofed walls and soaring ceilings, state-of-the-art equipment and lofted control room would be wholly unrecognizable, save for the occasional motor oil stain on the original concrete floor.
James Stevens built a recording studio in his East Austin backyard because music goes everywhere that he does. Having grown up in a tiny Mississippi town where “the only things to do were skateboard and play in a band.” James formed his first garage rock group at age twelve, before eventually following his indie dreams to Austin. These days, the now forty-two-year-old singer-songwriter and rhythm guitarist fronts local foursome Moonlight Towers (est. 2001), named of course for the self-same structures that have graced Austin’s streets since 1894. It is at James’s East Austin Recording (EAR) Studio that Moonlight Towers, in between EAR Studio’s other clients, cuts each of its new records.
EAR Studio is actually James’s second attempt at the venture: his first studio opened in South Austin over a decade ago. Along with business partner and veteran Austin musician Stephen Doster, James chose East Austin for round two after driving around and noting the neighborhood’s quirky, artist-centric vibe, as well as the more relaxed zoning restrictions that made building an on-site studio possible. Like James’s early music career, EAR Studio began in a garage. Today its soundproofed walls and soaring ceilings, state-of-the-art equipment and lofted control room would be wholly unrecognizable, save for the occasional motor oil stain on the original concrete floor.
From its secluded perch on 11th Street, EAR Studio is easily spotted by its trademark turquoise exterior and bright orange door. Inside, comfortable couches, vintage guitars, and plenty of natural sunlight (James says it helps offset his “studio tan”) make the space ultra-inviting, and its proprietor is no different. Quick to smile and laugh, James recalls EAR Studio’s first paying client in 2007: it was, as he says, a true “trial by fire.” Waiting impatiently by the red Southwestern Bell telephone for someone—anyone—to call, James couldn’t believe it when the phone finally rang and the WOXY radio station of Cincinnati fame was on the other end of the line. WOXY booked EAR Studio for the whole week of SXSW, using James’s baby as a live broadcasting studio for up to five different bands a day. “I learned my studio very well that week,” cracks James. More than just a lucky break, he knew they could handle pretty much anything after that; and indeed, EAR Studio currently works with acts from as far away as Scotland.
While he won’t admit to recording a “favorite” act, James just wrapped up a memorable session with Austin’s own Lower Class Brats. A hardcore punk group with a “Street Noize” sound, James’s 10-year-old daughter Scarlet especially liked the guys’ “spiky hair and leather.” (Scarlet, by the way, “dabbles” with the bass but hasn’t taken up her dad’s obsession—yet). EAR Studio records and/or mixes everything from bluegrass to jazz, and James loves it all. What really does it for him is an astonishing vocal performance, of which he’s heard many (and humbly) over the years. James and Stephen host 20+ acts annually. To schedule a tour or book a session with EAR Studio, check out their website.
East 11th Street