I'm sure if you'd asked either Bill Palmer or myself about the other a few years back, the response would have been something like, "Fuck that guy," but things have changed. For my own part, I've attempted to search out the good of late, and Palmer has just straight been killing it up at local studio Frogville as a producer and/or engineer for some of the most popular local bands around. Basically, I think it's safe to say the hatchet has been buried, but this column isn't really about that, so let's talk Frogville.
The important thing to know is that, as a label, Frogville is no more.
"We slap the frog [logo] on the back of records sometimes," Palmer tells me, "but we've been focused more on the studio aspects."
Palmer and founder John Treadwell are wise to have doubled down on the studio format—it's working. Not only have they served as the studio for bands like Broomdust Caravan, Santa Fe Revue, Drastic Andrew and countless others, they've slowly but surely built a space that absolutely needs to be in every local musician's knowledge bank. Frankly, it doesn't get much cooler.
I discover this on an overcast afternoon when I head up the hill to the studio's gorgeous location and take in its panoramic views. Palmer is welcoming and gives me the grand tour, whereupon I learn things have changed drastically over the past five years since I last paid them a visit. The control room is stocked to the rafters with vintage/analog and modern equipment, and an apartment has been built for working bands to live in during the recording process. There's an entire room dedicated to the finest examples of guitar amplification from 70 years of technology (including an early '80s Marshall JCM 800 that Palmer should probably just give to me), a vocal isolation booth and, probably my favorite part of all, a massive space for bands to—get this—record their albums live. Generally speaking, most of the bigger albums you own feature multitrack recording, which allows for multiple takes and/or each instrument to be recorded on its own isolated track. This method has the potential to take soul out of the process, and anyway, Palmer sees things differently from most engineers.
"I like to get everybody playing at once," he says. "You cannot fake a feeling, and I think people have the wrong idea about how hard it has to be to make a record…if we can capture that passion and interplay of all the musicians playing at once, why wouldn't we?"
The results have been pretty stellar. And to think, Palmer didn't even go to some stuck-up school to learn the ropes. It was more of a trial by fire after John Treadwell discovered and offered to pay to record Palmer's former band, Hundred Year Flood.
"It wasn't a great record, but people seemed to like it," he says. "I had this friend helping me record, but he came down with pneumonia, and I had to just figure out how to finish it without him."
From there, it has been years of hard work and no small amount of experimentation, but Palmer's musical ability certainly helped him out. He doesn't read or write music, but he knows what he likes and knows what sounds right. Besides, in his own words, he "can mic the fuck out of any band." It's important to know, because though Frogville has a reputation as an Americana/bluegrass factory, they can record anything. Like, literally anything. Be aware, musicians.
For his own part, Palmer recently released Under Endless Skies, his first solo effort in ages. We reviewed it in last week's music issue, but suffice it to say he gets pretty personal.
"As an artist, I'm always looking for inspiration, and I wrote it during a time when there was some personal shit going on, and I was hungry to be creative, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I wasn't out to impress anyone." He and his wife, Stephanie Hatfield, play the Bandstand on July 11 at 6 pm, by the way. SFR will probably remind you about it around then.