"I just gotta get stuff in the right place," says Matt Pleasant jauntily, throwing his eyes around the room. With the cooler on the floor over here, the movie poster on the wall over there, you get the sense that you're in a perfectly viable Animal House, and that at any moment a squadron of fraternity jocks will swarm you. But you are, in fact, at a recording studio—The Laboratory—and the only animal around is Ringo the dog, who will lick your foot as soon as you walk in.
Matt Pleasant (of Still Stanley) and Chris Michaels (of Living Better Electrically) are now partners of the joint. But their alliance goes back a ways. "I grew up with Chris, we knew the same people, both played in bands together, started crossing paths," Pleasant recalls.
But what brought the two together for a joint business venture was Michaels' possession of an array of studio gear and Pleasant's access to a little white house behind a law firm. Located on North State Street between Fortification and High Streets, the Lab was originally a house that belonged to Jones and Funderburg, an adjacent law practice. But when John Jones (father of King Elementary's Morgan Jones) decided to rent out the place to Matt Pleasant, it soon became more than just a home.
After traveling to L.A. and New York City, Pleasant settled back in Jackson with a fresh appreciation for local musical talent and the opportunity to work with them. In time, he and Michaels started to record demos for various bands, charging a minimal fee, realizing the long-term value of the business. Now, the pair of producers shares an apartment elsewhere, but the Lab remains the place to be.
"I wanted to give the Jackson scene an outlet to record," he says. With an impressive stock of music gear, the Lab ultimately aims to capture talent—not quash it—and that's demonstrated by Pleasant's perception of himself and Michaels as producers. "Chris and I are both band guys, so the last thing we want to do is turn away the good bands with no money," he says.
As it continues to grow, the list of bands that record at the studio is impressive. Local acts—Living Better Electrically, King Elementary, Still Stanley, The Grocers of Despair, Champagne Heights—and even out-of-state indie heavyweights The American Analog Set call the Lab their second home.
"Right now we're focused on projects that will get our name out there," explains Michaels.
At the end of its first year in existence, The Lab already has two major releases from record labels to its credit, most notably, The American Analog Set. Michaels hopes to attract more bands from out of town by providing bunks at the studio, which seems to be part of the Lab's philosophy: provide affordability and livability to talented indie bands.
The road to recording success hasn't been paved with gold. Just last Christmas Eve, Pleasant returned to a studio that had been raided and robbed of all the guitars. Still, the Lab's victories far outnumber its defeats. "We're very lucky to have good financial partners," says Michaels.
Because of a few understanding lawyers next door, the studio manages not to be a heavy financial burden, allowing for more focus on the recording itself, and the ability to work on several projects. Additionally, Pleasant and Michaels split the responsibilities of producing, though Michaels professes his role as the "gear geek" of the duo.
"I always have my nose in the recording magazines and catalogs," he says, hoping to abandon his day job for a full-time career in music.
But they share goals: obtaining more and better equipment, attracting more bands from within and outside of Jackson, reducing rates and continuing to live up to its name. Aptly taken from a Brian Eno quote, Pleasant describes the name (and the flourishing recording house): "It's all about experimenting and creativity, not trying to replicate."