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This conversation originally aired in the June 4, 2023 episode of Inside Appalachia.
Drop of Sun Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, is in the midst of an indie rock hot streak.
Singer-songwriter Indigo De Souza released “All of This Will End” to critical acclaim in May, just one month after Wednesday’s “Rat Saw God” was named “Best New Music” at Pitchfork. Both of these albums, along with recent records by Angel Olsen, Archers of Loaf and Snail Mail were recorded and produced at Drop of Sun Studios.
Inside Appalachia host Mason Adams contacted Drop of Sun co-founder Alex Farrar to find out how he got into making music, and what’s the secret behind making buzzworthy music albums.
The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Adams: How did you get started and get into this work?
Farrar: My dad had this little 4-track. He would use it to demo out songs and jam around by himself. He picked up on my interest and showed me how to use it. We’d record covers of songs together, and stuff like that. It just kept growing and growing, and I eventually moved to Asheville in 2010 to attend the University of North Carolina at Asheville’s music technology program. I was recording friends’ bands and it just snowballed and snowballed until eventually it became the only thing that I do.
Adams: You mentioned the UNCA connection. What brought you to the mountains and, more importantly, what’s kept you there?
Farrar: Asheville is a special place. It’s one of the smallest cities that I’ve lived in, but it’s just incredibly fertile. There’s so many creative people here. The community is definitely what’s kept me here. I love the people that live here. It just seems like it’s always growing and getting more exciting, and it’s also a beautiful place to live.
Adams: How would you describe the scene in Asheville right now and some of the music coming out of the city?
Farrar: Yeah, there’s always been a very heavy experimental music scene here, which I love. There’s always something going on in that world. There’s a great heavy music scene here, and punk and metal and stuff, and I love that sort of shade of Asheville.
There’s also Moog and Make Noise synthesizers, who are huge synth companies that are based in town. That attracts a lot of creative minded musicians. There’s a lot of really amazing indie rock bands that are killing it like Wednesday, Indigo [De Souza] and MJ [Lenderman].
Adams: Drop of Sun Studios has been attached to a lot of these really prominent records coming out of Asheville lately. How did that get started?
Farrar: Drop of Sun was founded by my studio partner, Adam McDaniel, in 2014. It started in his basement, and it was this tiny room with low ceilings. It’s a space that shouldn’t have worked, but we made a lot of really great music in that tiny room, and it continued to grow. As time went on, we kept working on more and more projects. In 2021, we opened up our new location on Haywood Road. The Asheville music scene continues to evolve, and we’ve sort of grown with it. We’re super thankful to be part of the music community here.
Adams: Y’all are associated with some really cool recordings from 2021. Do you want to start with Angel Olsen?
Farrar: Yeah, sure. Angel’s EP was great. That was actually one of the very last things that happened at the initial Drop of Sun location, which is kind of cool. Adam got together with Angel with the idea of doing some covers of ‘80s songs. This is such a rad, fun interpretation of all those songs. I could just watch them picking apart those songs that you might hear while you’re grocery shopping, but then reinterpreting through the lens of whacked-out synths. Like, how do you make these songs feel kind of fresh and fun?
Adams: Then also that year, “Twin Plagues” came out from Wednesday, which is the album that put that band on my radar. Tell me about some of your memories working on that record.
Farrar: That record was so much fun to work on. They’re the most fun people to be in the room with, which is kind of the best thing. You spend a lot of long hours in a studio with a band. It’s a huge plus if they’re all funny and kind.
Adams: When I listen to that record, tell me some of what I’m hearing so far as the Alex Farrar part.
Farrar: Jake Lenderman, one of the guitar players — there were so many songs where we would have a wall of guitar amps, and we’d be trying to like this riff for this part and this riff for that. We had so much fun figuring out the sounds to fit the songs, and he’s so down for that.
Adams: Do you feel something different when a band like that is working with you?
Farrar: Yeah, Wednesday is a great example of a band that I immediately connect with their influences and the sonics of what they’re interested in, musically. Like Karly’s a huge Unwound fan. Jake’s a huge Pavement guy. We’d go back and forth on these bands that we loved, and the sounds that we’re chasing together. It was an immediate connection.
Adams: Jake Lenderman is also MJ Lenderman the solo artist. How is it going from working with a band to working with a more individual project like the album “Boat Songs” from 2022?
Farrar: He is remarkably driven. He comes in with a plan. The book is open and we throw stuff at the wall, we find stuff. He came in, and we were just like, “Throw down like a scratch guitar.” And then like, throw some drums and kind of piecemeal together this song. It ends up being this very full band that’s coming through your speakers. But it’s great to work on each individual element with somebody, and put all these puzzle pieces on the table, and then figure out how to put them into what ends up being like this huge sounding song.
Adams: So when Jake Lenderman and Wednesday came back to do “Rat Saw God,” the new album, did it just feel like a continuation? Or does it feel different with each new recording that you work on with these groups?
Farrar: I think a little bit of both. But the more exciting part of it is, I think I could just totally see that. They just continue to get better. There’s growth in these artists. They’re just like always chasing. They’re not settling. Obviously, we had a record that was already established, which is rad, but it didn’t feel like the same record. It felt like we’re forging our own path here, and we’re kind of trying to grow as a band and make something new.
Adams: I would love to talk about Indigo De Souza a little bit.
Farrar: Indigo is a really incredible songwriter based in Asheville. She’s been making music, seems like all her life. I met her through the process of making “Any Shape You Take.” Adam McDaniel, along with producer Brad Cook, who is an incredible producer based in Durham, North Carolina — the three of us worked on that record together, and the sort of thing that tied it all together was she was just so driven. She’s one of those musicians who just doesn’t settle for anything. Like, this isn’t done until it’s like the best thing it can be. I love working with someone who has that drive and vision.
Adams: Who else do we want to talk about? What are some other records that you’ve worked on recently?
Farrar: Yeah, there’s a couple of bands I would love to shout out that are from North Carolina as well. They have releases that aren’t announced yet. Fust is a project primarily headed by this singer, Aaron Dowdy, who is from Abington and is an absolutely incredible lyricist and songwriter.
Secret Shame is an Asheville band, and I’ve worked on a record with them that came out earlier this year. They’re another great example of how wildly fertile and cool Asheville musicians are.
And then Truth Club is … I don’t know exactly how to describe them. Their guitar player described them as a slow core band that plays too fast. They’re this like whacked-out math rock, grungy indie madness, and they’re just so incredible.