SxSW 2015: Converse Rubber Tracks

Rubber TracksBrand. Branding. Brand awareness.

Forget all of that. SxSW has been a bastion of branding experiments. From giant Doritos to McDonald’s trying to be cool, we are inundated by branding and usually, it has been quite unsuccessful. Twitter campaigns hijacked in the name of comedy, new product as a punch line for your snarly friend’s quips. #flatizza

But one brand has been kind of quietly been doing something very cool for musicians. Converse set up Rubber Tracks four years ago giving Texas bands, mostly Austin locals, the chance to get some studio time on the brand’s dime. I was invited to take a tour of the studio compound taken over during SxSW and turned into Converse Rubber Tracks home base, Big Orange and Shine Studio.

A few thoughts, pics of Tele Novella and Hard Proof Afrobeat, and a little Q&A action with the bands after the jump…

The studios are on a shared property, Shine Studios by the entrance with Big Orange at the back of the property. Each space is different, Big Orange has lower ceilings in a wide space and a few small rooms to record vocals or horns while Shine has a cool little room with high ceilings (good for drum tracks according to Jon Bonham) and a similar size room with keys and space to amp separation. Justin Douglas runs Shine, while the Converse Rubber Tracks engineer, Aaron Bastinelli, worked the controls at Big Orange.

Tele Novella used the time to work on a song they had been tinkering with for a while. They asked for a French pop sound and while in studio, they took their time to pick from a selection of instruments in the studio if they suited the sound they wanted. To keep things crisp, the bass amp and guitar amps were sitting in the smaller room, each band member piped in the mix from the board through headphones. I didn’t see a MacBook is what I am getting at. #protoolsisthedevil #maybenot

Hard Proof spent the time I was there setting up the yard sale of instruments. We chatted about random things, overlap bands, mutual friends, sneakers. Converse was nice enough to provide shoes for the bands. I have a little Q&A from Hard Proof’s Stephen Birdwell…

ATH: What did you choose to record and why now?
HP: A few months back we recorded some songs with Austin producer Frenchie Smith, and they were all brand new at the time. One in particular (War Gin) didn’t quite click with everyone, so we wanted to take a pass at that and see if we could get a better version to tape. We also have many covers we’ve been playing live for years, and wanted to have a go at them, if only for posterity.

ATH: Recording in a studio isn’t cheap. Did you have a feeling of freedom or do you work better with a hard deadline while on the clock?
HP: Yes and no. While this was free, it’s really hard just to schedule the 10 of us to be anywhere at the same time, and we really wanted to make the most of the opportunity. While we had specific goals, at the same time you always have to be fluid in the studio; you could get sounds up and be ready to track in an hour and get a whole record knocked out in a day, or you could spend 4 hours trying to fix a buzz or tracking down a bad cable. Either way, being very much a DIY band, we really try to wring the most out of every dollar in the recording process, we’ve had great luck in Austin with engineers working with our budget.

ATH: SxSW is all about brands these days, mostly in a negative connotation. I am seeing Converse as mostly positive, though quiet. How about a little feedback on finding a way to record during SxSW courtesy Rubber Tracks and what that means to you and the perception of “brands at SxSW”?
HP: I’d say if I could point to one brand doing exactly the right thing during SxSW, which is at its a heart about discovering new music, Converse is right on point. They’re helping newer bands, giving them a chance to record and providing the right kind of exposure, and really showing that they get the original point of this festival. Doing a pop-up store or giving away a truckload of free shoes wouldn’t have nearly the same positive effect.

ATH: How was the rest of your SxSW? Any news or cool stories?
HP: This is my 11th SxSW I think, and every year when I think I’m not going to witness some kind of magic, it just happens. Case in point, I was waiting around for Diarrhea Planet at Empire Garage Saturday afternoon at the Do512 party and kind of kicking myself for having gotten there so early. Then I walked inside and four guys from Mali started playing. I had never heard of Songhhoy Blues, but they just ripped …on the same bill as Diarrhea Planet and Gang of Four no less. Later that night I wandered into the Trinidad & Tobago party and saw the current King of Soca, Machel Montano. If T&T ever throws a sxsw party again, just go, Trinis party hard and it was like Carnaval in there. I made no plans that morning when I got out of bed, these things kind of happen if you just get on your bike and go.

*We hope to get the Q&A back from Tele Novella, too. I’ll update and tweet and stuff.

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