Jason Aldean producer merges country and arena rock at old-school Nashville studio

A few miles and a couple of light years from downtown Nashville, past the old Tennessee State Fairgrounds and the venerable Mrs. Grissom's Salads factory, on a side street of residential homes giving way to small businesses, sits a nondescript gray-vinyl house that is home to Treasure Isle.

Considered by many to be the best live-tracking room in Music City, and co-founded in 1980 by former Beach Boys manager Fred Vail, Treasure Isle is now the studio home of uber-hot country producer Michael Knox, who has worked on all five of Jason Aldean's platinum albums at the studio, including seven chart-topping singles and Aldean's 2012 release, "Night Train."

In Aldean, Knox found his "rock star" for country music. "I'm country music, I love small-town America," the Georgia native says. "But if you like Journey, Foreigner, Bad Company, if you like those sounds, you like me."

Treasure Isle has been around a while, and so has the gear. "The old shit sounds better than the new shit," offers engineer Peter Coleman, himself a veteran whose credits include such classics as Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield" and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City." When Knox was seeking a place to cook up the arena-rock country sound in his head, both Coleman and Treasure Isle--where reverb and delay functions emanate from the studio's sand-filled walls and its sky-high ceilings-fit the bill. When many of country music's producers were going full-on digital, Knox wanted something that didn't sound like a "frying pan," he says.

Knox achieves his analog sound by tracking on an Otari RADAR, dumping it onto 2-inch tape for "softening," then bringing it back through a Trident board. "Once you bring it back, it takes a little of that sizzle off the top," Knox explains. "The reason we don't record off 2-inch is you can't find tape any more. Tape is like $300 a pop, and we use them over and over. We did eight records last year and went through three rolls of tape."

Treasure Isle and its "old shit" help Knox bridge what he sees as a generation gap in contemporary recording. "Our new generation is like, even if something is bad they think they can fix it later," he says. "You kind of can, but it's like doctoring a photo. Back in the day, they did the photo right the first time, then it was just, 'Black and white or color?'

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