At some point in 2007, Drug Mountain bassist Britt Robisheaux picked up the phone and dialed a number. On the other end (eventually) was Steve Albini, the legendary musician, writer, and producer who’s worked with some of the most popular bands in the history of underground music, including Nirvana, The Stooges, Pixies, PJ Harvey, and The Jesus Lizard.
“I said, ‘Hey, I want to make a record,’ ” Robisheaux recalled over coffee recently. “And he said, ‘C’mon, let’s do it.’ He answers the phone up there at [his studio] Electrical Audio. Just call.”
So Robisheaux and his bandmates made their way to Electrical in Chicago and pounded out their ragged, loud, unwieldy self-titled debut album in about half a day.
“It was a blast,” Robisheaux remembered, “but I feel like the record would have been better if we had been prepared and spent a few more days on it, which has also changed the way I work in the studio.”
Robisheaux has been a professional musician since middle school in the mid- to late-1990s, when he and his musically inclined friends created some mighty rackets in Deep Ellum. While he still plays (mostly in The Theater Fire but also in Most Efficient Women and occasionally Drug Mountain), his days now are mostly full of production work.
Robisheaux also has always been a producer. Growing up in Grapevine, he and his friends would record their punk fury on a four-track tape recorder that he talked his parents into buying him for Christmas one year. “It was a beautiful mess,” he said. “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But this is what made me love the process of making records: a bunch of friends hanging out all night, putting mics in any weird spot we could find, and if we were lucky we would make magic.”
A little later, not long after Robisheaux relocated to the Near Southside where he still lives, he recorded his various bands and others in his assorted living rooms. (Robisheaux said he’s lived in nine different Southside residences over the past eight years.)
But things have settled down a bit. In a way. Robisheaux has spent the past year working out of Eagle Audio Recording on South Main Street, and he’s thriving, quickly becoming one of the most creative, meticulous (but not meddling), and prolific producers in North Texas.
“I’m doing more production work now than ever,” said Robisheaux, who also co-owns Spiral Diner on West Magnolia Avenue with his wife, Lindsey Akey. “I’m happy where I am. … It’s a great studio with great people, and it’s working, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Eagle co-owner Jerry Hudson is also pleased to have Robisheaux around. “It is going quite well,” Hudson said via e-mail. “I actually consider it his studio as well now. He has a key and sets his own rates. I would love to have a half-dozen more guys like him.”
Over the years, Robisheaux said, he has worked with more than 50 artists. In the past year alone, he’s helmed records by some of North Texas’ biggest underground acts, including Bludded Head, The Longshots, War Party, Year of the Bear, Eat Avery’s Bones, Spacebeach, Doom Ghost, Fou, Sealion, Errors of Metabolism, Mountain of Smoke, and Lazy Summer.
Nashville is the farthest anyone has come from to record with him. That would be the Kopecky Family Band, whose cellist, Markus Midkiff, is from Fort Worth. And one musician came from Oklahoma.
“I chose to work with [Robisheaux] due to his kind responses to the samples I sent, his reasonable pricing, and his excitement about working on my project,” said Durant, Okla., singer-songwriter Rachel Toews, who heard about Robisheaux via The Artist Collective in Dallas. “I wasn’t at all disappointed. He is such a nice down-to-earth guy who wants you to be happy with the finished product and is willing to do what it takes for that to happen.”
Though Robisheaux’s gritty discography may indicate otherwise, he avows that he is open to all kinds of music: hip-hop, Celtic, gospel, orchestral, you name it. “Even if it’s music that I don’t necessarily love, I really love getting a cool sound out of whatever it is … . That, and some of the music that I don’t love, the band members are the coolest people, so it’s a fun time.”
Robisheaux also believes that many bands are poorly represented on record. “If I can help any band sound a little more like they do live or sound like they want to sound, then I feel great about it,” he said.
He is always recruiting, going to shows and seeking out new, interesting bands to work with. One aspect of recruitment, though, still needles him a little. “I don’t like self-promotion,” he said. “I still feel like an asshole handing out a business card. … I always feel like they’re thinking, ‘Oh, this guy’s just trying to drum up business.’ ‘No, I think I can make your record sound like you want it to sound. I listen to the same music you do.’
“Everyone’s time is worth something,” he continued. “That makes a record worth something. … As long as I keep putting out records that I’m proud of, people will hear them and contact me.”
Robisheaux said he’s never said no to anyone and doesn’t plan on it. He’ll always answer his phone. Just call.