When producer and multi-instrumentalist Robby Baxter moved back to Arlington last year after climbing the music industry hierarchy in New York City, he felt he was “rolling the dice,” he said. He had done production work for clients as titanic as Moby, Flight of the Conchords, and Irv Irving as an employee of Metrosonic Recording Studio, but when a sound-optimized studio space opened up in his Tarrant County hometown, fate seemed to beckon. “The studio was another great blessing from the rock gods,” he said.
He and his partner, Debbie Sassiver, packed up, moved here, and opened the newly christened Red Star Recording Studios. So far, so good, according to Baxter, who has been working with North Texas bands such as The Backsliders and Hanna Barbarians while launching his own musical project, Red Starlet, a experimental rock ’n’ roll project composed of Baxter, lead vocalist Sassiver, and bassist/co-lead vocalist Bryce Braden.
At first, Red Starlet replicated the pace and hard-headed feel of a typical East Coast band. “Before, we were straight punk, New York City in-your-face with some pretty stuff” on the edges, Braden said. “But now, we’re pushing to explore space. … The idea is to throw our talents in there together and see what happens.”
Writing and rehearsing in a professional-quality studio such as Red Star gives Red Starlet a distinct advantage –– the trio hopes to release its debut recording before the end of winter. “We’re surrounded by all these colors,” Braden said in reference to the organs, violins, and vintage guitars crowding the corners of the studio. Based on some song samples, Red Starlet goes in for long, swirling, but rocking instrumental passages. Think: My Bloody Valentine.
Baxter, both as a guitarist and producer, wants to get back to the analog, tonally rich sounds of the early 1970s –– the mixing board that he recently purchased was used on two Pantera albums. As a producer and performer, Baxter is more concerned with live energy than studio wizardry.
Most of the upcoming CD will be the result of free-form jam sessions. A jam may give you “a glimmer of what you want to achieve,” said Sassiver, a Manhattan native. The goal is to sift through the sonic accumulations and extract songs –– however loosely that term is applied. Sassiver likes things to be “a little less conventional.”
But even if Red Starlet bucks the verse-chorus-verse approach, much of the band’s material would still hinge on Sassiver’s emotive, compelling voice. She also is a guitarist and vocal coach. “When you are more confident in the expressive qualities of your instrument, you can let go more and allow your voice to find that different place you might not have allowed yourself to go,” she said. And always following Sassiver through the emotional highs and lows of her vocals are instrumentalists Baxter and Braden.
Baxter and Sassiver put a “butterfly net” over Braden six months ago, when he was recording with his classic-rock cover band at Red Star. Now he also works at the studio, has expanded beyond the bass into many other instruments, and joined Sassiver as co-lead singer of Red Starlet. “They’ve really given me room to grow,” Braden said of his bandmates.
Some of the vocal interplay takes the form of call and response. In any case, “audiences appreciate hearing more than one voice,” Sassiver said.
The band is currently on a performing hiatus. Red Starlet drummer Joshua Jones recently left to play in Michael Maftean’s rocking C&W outfit My Wooden Leg. Baxter may be the only member of Red Starlet not entirely disappointed with the break –– he feels most comfortable in the studio. Sassiver and Braden, however, are a little bummed. Both love performing. Braden even calls it “an addiction.”
Sassiver agreed. “I need live performances, or I don’t feel like I’m doing my art completely,” she said. “I try to bring that desperate communication into the studio. The audience will feel the authenticity.”
Making music –– live or in the studio –– is not just “an indulgence,” she said. “It’s a whole other way of communicating. It can be only a moment or two, but it’s so precious. You feel truly and deeply alive and right in yourself.”
For her, life in Texas has been eye-opening so far, but in a musical sense, the relocation has been a blessing. All three band members agree that the Fort Worth music scene is strong and full of youthful abandon, and they’re happy to be able to feed off it. Place doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Music lovers “are getting more expansive,” Sassiver said, meaning that they’re more willing to search for new music rather than be told which artists to listen to by Rolling Stone or SPIN. “They are thinking and connecting more.”