Profoundly cool guy, renowned record producer, musician, and Assistant Director of the Alan Lomax Archive, Don Fleming, has started recording a new album with singer Jenni Muldaur and has provided some insight into the project:
“The story is that we have started recording tracks and will continue to do so through the next couple of months. Jenni is singing a variety of songs based on the field recordings of Alan Lomax: Appalachian tunes, blues, gospel, British ballads. We’re recording at Bearsville Studio at Turtle Creek in Woodstock. We’re using Alan Lomax’s reel-to-reel Ampex 601 tape deck and the same type of RCA mics that he used for field recordings. The primary guitarist for the sessions is Nathan Salsburg from Louisville, Kentucky who now lives in NYC. Nathan played in the band The Halifax Pier. Also on the recordings we did last month was guitarist Scott Bondy who used to be in the band Verbena. Jenni’s dad, Geoff Muldaur will also do some playing on the album.”
Fleming’s path to the Alan Lomax Archives has been as winding as it is notable:
A singer/songwriter/guitarist and leader of noise-pop bands Velvet Monkeys, B.A.L.L. and Gumball, as well as a member of the BackBeat soundtrack band (with Greg Dulli, Dave Grohl, Mike Mills, Thurston Moore and Dave Pirner); Don Fleming is also one of the top American alterna-rock producers of the ‘90s, scoring successes with tuneful guitar workouts including Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, The Posies’ Frosting On the Beater, Screaming Trees’ Sweet Oblivion and Hole’s primal Pretty On the Inside.
Self-proclaimed “Air Force brat” Fleming was born September 25, 1957 in South Georgia, but spent his childhood hopping from Oklahoma to Florida to France: “Two years here, two years there – on the road already,” he sighs.
A “total record collecting freak” and desultory guitar player, the young Fleming chose the path less taken – eschewing the obvious Beatles and Stones fixations for Herman’s Hermits – before succumbing to the inexorable pull of the Fab Four in the time of Sgt. Pepper.
Through the Beatles’ Apple label connection, Fleming was drawn to Badfinger’s Straight Up, and the album’s producer Todd Rundgren. Fleming was attracted to the producer/musician stance of Rundgren’s Something/Anything? “and all of that great analog sound.”
In the mid-’70s Fleming threw himself into the punk revolution and recorded with the punkish Stroke Band out of Valdosta, GA for the local Abacus label in 1979. Even then Fleming displayed studio awareness, keeping a wary eye on the mixing process.
He next moved to Washington DC and fronted the Velvet Monkeys, a prolific if ragged singles band. Fleming recorded the Monkey’s records “out of economic necessity and interest,” and then began assisting friends’ bands with their recordings for similar reasons.
Fleming gained engineering experience working at a DC studio that specialized in transferring old acetate discs to tape for the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and other government agencies. There he learned to respect the sanctity of an original source – “You don’t clean it up, you don’t EQ it; maintain the integrity of the original.”
Fleming moved to New York in the late-’80s and joined B.A.L.L. with musician/producer Kramer. Fleming maintained his low budget production schedule as well; producing friends, and friends of friends for a six-pack and a smile.
Teenage Fanclub was his big breakthrough in 1991. He had produced the band’s God Knows it’s True EP in 1990, and then took the young Scots to Liverpool to record for their major label debut. The result is a holy fusion of Big Star pop rock sensibility, Rust Never Sleeps-period Neil Young guitar, and Dream Academy-creamy vocals on chunky, mid-tempo rockers like “The Concept,” “Pet Rock” and “Star Sign”; and on dreamy numbers like “Guiding Star.”
Fleming’s next major projects were with two atypical Seattle bands: Screaming Trees and the Posies. The Trees, led by beefy singer Mark Lanegan and the Connor brothers, Gary Lee and Van, packed the punch of the grunge bands but with much greater finesse and attention to songs. Sweet Oblivion features the insinuating radio hit “Nearly Lost You” with great wah-wah lead guitar from Gary Lee, the emotive acoustic number “Dollar Bill,” and groovy rocker “Butterfly.” Lanegan’s husky vocals and Gary Lee’s guitar shine throughout.
The Posies’ Frosting On the Beater carries pop rock to its heaviest conclusion; with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow’s ringing British Invasion harmonies chased by their own slashing guitars down a path both sweet and pungent on the sensational “Dream All Day,” and the Badfinger-esque “Solar Sister” and “Flavor of the Month.”
The latter two, as well as many other Fleming productions, were at least partially recorded at Fleming’s favorite studio, the “analog heaven” of New York’s Sear Sound. Sear and Fleming neatly coincide: the best of the musical past filtered through a modern mentality, delicately balancing power and grace.
Fleming’s best work as a musician is to be found on Gumball’s Revolution On Ice (co-produced by John Agnello); Fleming’s reedy vocal and guitar power the excellent title track and “Freegrazin.’” A nice organ intro from Malcolm Riviera provides variety on “With a Little Rain.” Fleming’s tunes are memorable and his production, built from the drums up, never gets in the way – an apt summation of his fine career.