Return to the Road: Third Man, a First Person Account
August 4, the final day of my sprawling ballpark road trip through the South, was spent in Nashville. My primary objective in the Music City was to check out First Tennessee Park, the new home of the Nashville Sounds. Stadium visits are always the primary objective.
But the secondary objective, as always, was to explore the city to the extent my limited time frame allowed. In this regard, I received a major assist from Tyler Glaser. Tyler, who works at Grimey’s Records as well as the historic Belcourt Theatre, had volunteered to be my designated eater at that evening’s Sounds game. Utilizing some local connections, he also set up a tour of Third Man Records. Third Man is the music shop/record label/house of curiosities/recording studio/performance space established by Jack White. The company began in Detroit; the Nashville branch opened in 2009.
Third Man is located on 7th Avenue South, in a rather unassuming location.
Got a tour of Third Man Records this morning. Here’s a quick look at some of the front room machinery. https://t.co/4y0okiVGzB
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2015
This is the Scopitone, which plays music videos on 16mm sound film. Third Man co-founder Ben Blackwell, who gave Tyler and me a tour, said that this is the only Scopitone in operation and that they had to “Frankenstein it together.” He went on to say that maintaining it is a “nightmare.”
16mm films at the base of the Scopitone:
This is the “Voice-o-Graph.” One can step inside and record anything they want direct to vinyl. Blackwell said that customers do “marriage proposals, jokes, whatever.” More ambitiously, Neil Young recorded his 2014 LP A Letter Home on the Voice-O-Graph. And let’s not forget that Weird Al and his band stopped by and recorded this.
Records, all released by the Third Man label, are available as well. (I, forever and always, am a fan of Mudhoney.)
Blackwell described the whole Third Man operation as “Simple DIY on a large scale.” Our tour continued throughout the entire facility, but unfortunately cameras were no longer allowed. The “Hipster Willy Wonka” vibe (as I heard one person refer to it as) continued throughout. We passed thorough a graphic design station (staffed by four full-time designers) and a recording studio featuring live direct-to-acetate recordings. If my notes are to be believed, the studio uses a Rupert Neve 5008 console and the signal is sent to a 1955 Scully Lathe.
The musicians who record at Third Man set up in a literal “Blue Room”, augmented by soft lighting, carpets and taxidermy.
Ben’s Biz solo record, coming soon:
— The operation is bigger than it looks from the outside. Third Man Nashville has grown from two to 27 employees since it opened in 2009, and has expanded to include the building next door (which had been an auto body shop).
— All Third Man Record order fulfillment is done in house; when Jack White’s Lazaretto LP came out they shipped 25,000 in a single week.
— A “super-top secret” master tape storage room is located on the premises, climate-controlled and fire-proof. In the (increasingly likely) advent of the apocalypse, it’s possible that Third Man recordings will survive and perhaps even thrive in a post-human reality.
Anyhow, thanks to Tyler for setting up the tour and Ben for showing us around.