Lightning in a bottle: Greensky Bluegrass captures inspiration at Echo Mountain
Bordering the bustling Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, you wouldn’t know where Echo Mountain Recording is unless you were told.
An old church turned into a state-of-the-art production studio, the property is purposely minimal, this sort of physical doorway into a melodic universe of potential and possibility.
Once inside, you’re floating along an endless stream of passion and creativity, one which flows from the church and out of the speakers of music freaks and aficionados across the country and around the world.
Since 2003, Echo Mountain has remained this beacon of light for legendary musicians and bands, ranging from The Avett Brothers to Zac Brown Band, The Smashing Pumpkins to Widespread Panic.
And last year, acoustic juggernaut Greensky Bluegrass returned to Echo Mountain to record its latest release “All for Money” (Big Blue Zoo Records).
“We love working there. The space is really cool and the people are awesome,” said Paul Hoffman, singer/mandolinist for Greensky Bluegrass “[Echo Mountain has] a lot of the gear we like to use and a [vintage] Neve  console. We had a great experience there last time, so we did the whole thing there this time.”
“Last time” being the group’s acclaimed 2016 album, “Shouted, Written Down & Quoted,” which propelled Greensky Bluegrass further and farther into the upper echelon of marquee string acts.
In recent years, the band — which formed in Michigan in 2000 — has sold out seemingly every venue it plays on its never-ending touring schedule, with a capacity crowd on multiple occasions at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado being the cherry on top.
But, like the changing seasons that come and go each year, so is the urge to finally get off the road and into the studio, to release all those words and notes of inspiration and capture it in a recording. And for Greensky Bluegrass, Echo Mountain is just the place to hatch these ideas.
“The mixing room has that [Neve] console, and that’s really important. It’s the same type of console the guy we’ve worked with forever has used in his studio in Lansing, [Michigan],” Hoffman said. “We were relocating [to Asheville], but were still able to keep some of the same core elements of how we record and what it sounds like.”
Coming into the “All for Money” sessions, Greensky Bluegrass had a little more of a casual approach. Yes, there were ideas and forms of songs, but they wanted to take those sparks and see what kind of fire they could stir up once in Echo Mountain.
“When we get there, we go song-by-song, trying some different tempos and textures, working out the arrangements, where the solos go, how the starts and endings are. And then we just go for it,” Hoffman said. “There were a couple tunes where one day we did one song from beginning to end. At the beginning of the day, it was this shell of a thing that didn’t look anything like where it landed at the end of the day. Other times, we work on things and bounce around — it varies.”
Alongside a fully-furnished basement/game room and kitchen to provide a place for rest, relaxation and refueling, the main room and private side spaces of the old church are where the magic gets conjured.
“The church upstairs — the main room — we can spread out in there and we get to use the sound of the room. There’s still the original stained glass from the church, and we put mics up on that,” Hoffman said. “And we do some stuff alone in the rooms so you can hear the whole sound of the church. It also has a lot of rooms to spread out in, to get that isolation — we feel at home there, we feel comfortable.”
Hoffman noted how much he as a songwriter has evolved in the studio. It’s a sentiment playing at the heart of not only honing his craft, but also the continued success of Greensky Bluegrass itself, which is about collaboration at its core.
“Speaking for myself as a writer, I think when we were younger, I had a better idea of where I wanted to be, and I was less open to suggestions,” Hoffman said. “But, now, we try everything, where someone is like, ‘Let’s do this backwards,’ and we’ll see what that’s like, giving ourselves time to stretch and be creative that way.”
With antique wood lining the spacious rooms, and also modern technology behind the glass of the engineering booth, Hoffman likes the balance between old and new found at Echo Mountain.
“Sometimes studios are kind of deadened, so they aren’t reverberant. And sometimes it’s the exact opposite,” Hoffman said. “This place has all of that, depending on what we need — it’s conducive to being creative.”
Want to go?
Greensky Bluegrass will perform on Sunday, July 21, at the Salvage Station in Asheville. The show will kick off at 7 p.m. with acclaimed indie/singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter.
Tickets are $27.50 per person. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, visit www.salvagestation.com.