Earlier this month, A&E’s hit reality series Storage Wars visited a hidden gem of the music community that not even a lot of locals know by name. That would be Klearlight Studio, the recording entity that is probably known mostly for the fact that The Cannabinoids have worked there, or that it was the place where Erykah Badu and Wayne Coyne first met, ahead of their big media debacle last year. St. Vincent and Ariel Pink have laid down tracks as well.
Klearlight is more than just those name drops, of course, and the studio has documented a variety of local acts as well, everything from hip hop to death metal to danceable synth music, but more on that last point in a second. It is situated just off of 635 and shares lot space with Groovenet Records, one of the most unique record stores in the Dallas area. Spend an afternoon in this business center and you’ll wonder if you even really know Dallas at all.
The studio was founded in 2008 and currently features the engineering talents of Jimi Bowman, Scott Cooksey, and Jay Jernigan. Klearlight was founded out of symbiotic needs. Bowman Cooksey had the space in Mesquite, and Jernigan was attempting to record bands out of his loft situated between Expo Park and Deep Ellum. Jernigan is a fierce collector with a special interest in vintage analog equipment. “They had a space with no gear. And I had gear with no space,” Jernigan said by phone.
To understand how seriously Jernigan takes his beloved gear, look no further than the clip from the February 5 episode of Storage Wars: Texas, entitled “Darth Victor.” In the clip, the studio is crowded with an overabundance of synthesizers and vintage equipment. Jernigan’s expertise, and, unfortunately, his distinct cadence are ruthlessly picked apart by Storage Wars star Mary Padian, who also runs a store called Mary’s Finds off of Market Center Boulevard. Co-star Morris “Moe” Prigoff is much kinder, though a little impatient. Prigoff runs River Regency Antiues & Modern, a specialty retailer in the Design District.
Originally taped last Fall, I asked Jernigan how this all came about. “They bought a unit and found a piece of synth gear that they don’t know anything about,” Jernigan said. “What happened is, I believe the nice lady, the producer of the show, somehow gets on the interweb, Googles, and the studio comes up, and more importantly, my name and the studio comes up.”
Jernigan originally tried to send Storage Wars three hours south, to the infamous gear-heads at Switched On, a vintage instrument-boutique in Austin that specializes in synthesizers. According to Jernigan, the piece in question, though it was from the nineties, was just a tad too new.
“I tried to pawn them off on Switched On, because even what they had was way too modern,” Jernigan said.
Though Mary Padian spends a lot of her screen-time mocking Jernigan’s voice and characteristics, I assured him that Switched On employees had largely been more robotic than he was made out to be, in my experience. There’s even a joke about it that popped up at South By Southwest one year:
“What does a Switched On employee say when the check comes on a dinner date?”
“I’m sorry, Becky. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Jernigan even considered sending the show out to the individual synth geeks of Dallas, of which there is no shortage. But even Jernigan understood the attraction of Klearlight. ”There are some synth experts in town, but they don’t operate a functioning recording studio,” Jernigan said. “They’re collectors. They saw the place, saw my massive vintage gear collection and of course, that’s going to make good eye candy for the shoot.”
Now that the show has aired, he seems mixed about the whole experience. Though he has performed in front of crowds, some even quite sizable, he is uncomfortable with the attention. “I don’t really like being in front of the camera. That’s why I am the studio guy. That’s why i don’t front a band. I’m not the front-man in a band. I’m the guy behind the scenes.” As a musician, Jernigan has performed with Berliner Eins, as well as the local but now-defunct supergroup, Day of the Double Agent. He even spent a summer opening for Peter Murphy by accompanying a singer-songwriter named Ali Eskandarian.
But he even goes further: “To tell you the truth, I’m embarrassed. It was fine. I agreed to do it; it was more to promote the studio.” I explained to Jay that my takeaway was that he came off as knowledgeable and the show’s star came off as mean-spirited and childish.
His friends and family had a mixed response as well. ”I could feel your pain,” said one friend, according to Jernigan. Others jumped on the dog-pile. “They kind of think it’s funny and give me sh*t about it. As soon as it aired, I was getting texts like, “Oh, it’s a robot!,” you know. I don’t even know if I have watched it all the way through,” Jernigan said.
Ultimately, he saw it as a fair trade for raising awareness about Klearlight, both near and far, which is essential for any studio. “”[The logo] is in the segment. That’s why I agreed to let them come and make me look like a d*ckhead on camera. Of course, how they shoot it and how they cut and edit in post, you never know. They have to have some angle to make the show watchable, where they’re being funny or goofy or whatever.”
Jernigan even saw a parallel between the show’s stars and perhaps particular members of his family. “It’s really difficult to explain to someone basic synthesizer 101 who has no clue of anything. It’s like me explaining to my parents why I collect vintage synths. It doesn’t work … I didn’t do it to see my ugly mug. I did it as a free cable TV advertisement for the studio.”
Finally, he suggests that perhaps the price was not exactly as accurate on-camera as he had originally quoted offscreen, something he felt was encouraged by those behind Storage Wars: Texas, who know the magic numbers behind a compelling show. “That’s where the goofing on me comes from,” he said. “It’s just me trying to explain to a couple of nitwits what a Waldorf synth does; it’s not good TV. They have to cheese it up or make it silly.”
Jernigan’s next project is to record Unconscious Collective at Klearlight in March. One of his last projects, the Vulgar Fashion self-titled record for Handmade Birds, is already garnering the studio positive attention. Here’s the Storage Wars clip: