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Pop is not dead: Local studio finds support from within

by Ryan Snyder

Photo by Allen Martin of MartiniVision ‘ ryan@yesweekly.com

Once in a while, local landmarks need saving before they ever completely attain that status. In just two short years, On Pop of the World Studios has provided a creative enclave to an array of Greensboro musicians: It brought life to Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s best album yet, Jack Carter & the Armory recorded their blistering rock debut anthropomorphic transfiguration there and, most recently, a burgeoning independent label has put down roots. Plans are in place to expand its repertoire even further, provided, however, that it’s still around come Jan. 1.

Results of a recent fire inspection of the studio have turned up problematic for the space. Occupying an older spot on Grove Street, On Pop of the World was deemed to need a variety of structural fixes in order to bring itself up to code. Most pressingly, however, is the sound-dampening fabric that owner and operator Randy Seals has hanging from the walls. Due to tightened codes nationwide following the Station Nightclub disaster of 2003, incorporation of such combustible materials is prohibited in commercial spaces absent the proper fire-suppression measures.

Therein lies the rub: The material is not only a functional necessity for the studio, but it’s the source of its aesthetic personality as well. The fabric is part of $40,000 worth of vintage poppy print written off as damaged because of a color run and then contributed by the employer of Stephanie Murray, wife of Holy Ghost Tent Revival singer Stephen Murray.

“I can’t get rid of it. It’s meant to be there,” said Seals. “It’s poppies, we’re On Pop of the World Studios.”

A sprinkler system in the old building would provide a sweeping solution, but isn’t presently an option for an independent studio that’s self-sufficient but tight on cash flow. Seals’ best bet is to repurpose it so that the aesthetic is maintained while coming up to code, but that still leaves the matter of material costs and labor for the other repairs.

Fortuitously, those who’ve made a home of On Pop of the World have lent their support. An online fundraiser at indiegogo.com/ onpop is currently underway to meet the $3,000 estimate provided by a local contractor to make the needed repairs, and like most any other crowdfunding drive, it’s rich with incentives for donors. All of them are provided by Seals and the studio’s resident artists and range from downloads of their music at the lowest level to a private house show by either Jack Carter & the Armory, Julian Sizemore or Seals’ own power pop band, Tommy Flake. With four days left in the fundraiser as of press time, On Pop of the World is slightly less than $600 away from meeting its goal. Songwriter Matty Sheets, who has recorded there as a member of Come Hell Or Highwater, Tommy Flake and Matty Sheets & the Blockheads, is among its most passionate artistic supporters.

“It’s a great place to record for many reasons, my favorite being the relaxed and flexible environment that Randy creates for you. It helps you get into a good headspace to make music,” Sheets said. “That, plus all of the instruments and options to record straight to tape make it a real gem.”

Seals says the outward benefits of its survival will become more prevalent in the studio’s third year. Jacob Darden, founder of the now-defunct alt-country collective Israel Darling, is launching a new label out of it within the next few months. Called Backlot Records, its roster already includes Sizemore, Jack Carter & the Armory, hip-hop artist Daily Planet, a side project of his label partner Harrison Barrow and his new band Ameriglow, in which the Armory serve as his backing band. Additionally, Seals has plans for summer showcases and online recording series in the vein of Daytrotter or the Peel Sessions. With the fundraiser almost under wraps, getting there, however, will be the easy part.

On Pop of the World can be supported via indiegogo.com/onpop.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

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