+ By Chris Kalman + Photos by John Bildahl
“The National, St. Vincent, Foals, Portugal the Man, Bob Mould, The Lone Bellow, Robyn Hitchcock, Alt J, Birds Of Tokyo, Dawes, . . .” The list goes on. Chances are, if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last five years, you’ve heard of at least a few of these bands. I have spent most of the last five years living under one rock or another, and even I find myself nodding along knowingly as I fondly remember clean guitar licks, crisp lyrics, and delectable melodies that I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Born and bred Annapolitans, along with those entrenched in the local music scene, will likely connect the dots here. The list of bands is a collection of just some of the talented artists that have made the trip to Annapolis to record with Noel White and Frank Marchand—the co-owners of Hudson Street Sound (HSS). To me, hearing about HSS brings back memories of learning about Jimi’s Chicken Shack’s humble origins back when “Do Right” was a hit single. In my mind, it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear how successful and widely sought out a recording studio from quaint old Annapolis can be. New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles—places like that. That’s where the top artists must all record, right?
Apparently not. There may be more than coincidence to big names like Jimi’s Chicken Shack and Good Charlotte coming out of the general vicinity and the impressive success of HSS. As Frank tells me, he believes Annapolis “is the healthiest of the music communities in the Mid-Atlantic region.” That says a lot, considering vibrant scenes like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. But which came first, the chicken (Shack) or the egg? Frank insists that when he and Noel opened HSS in the winter of 2013, big things were already underway in Naptown. Noel had a lot of projects going, and he was bringing them to the studio. Frank was working in Takoma Park, realizing that “working in a more corporate facility” was not ideal for him. They both had roots in Annapolis, and the work and potential were there. “I was slowly dissolving my relationship with my old employer,” explains Frank. “Noel [was between tours, and] started to get in contact with real estate folks.”
It was a near miss. If the timing had not been perfect, HSS might never have come to fruition. “I was tempted to make the move to Nashville a few years back, but that was right about the time Frank and I first started talking about building a room together,” Noel tells me. “I also always had this feeling we could make something happen with [W]RNR. I knew if I moved to Nashville, I’d never be able to pull something like that off, so we just went for it. We were probably a month from thinking we’d open when Bob [from WRNR] called and asked if we’d record Ra Ra Riot for them. We said, ‘What the hell!?’ and opened up. Next thing you know, every hot band from SXSW was coming through. I think the first six weeks we were open, we recorded Ra Ra Riot, Dawes, Alt J, and The Lone Bellow. It was crazy.”
The rest is history. Today, HSS is well-known throughout the industry, as are Frank and Noel. Noel works with world-class musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Sting, and Paul Simon (he’ll be touring with the latter two this year), while somehow also finding time to remain committed to local bands Jarflys and Van Meter. Frank, meanwhile, maintains a laundry list of projects that could fill an entire page, including “an amazing solo record with Michael Bakke from Grilled Lincolns that has some 25 musicians from the Annapolis area, including Mike McHenry, Julie from Sweet Leda, Higher Hands, Jordon Sokol, 86 the Effort, Jimi Haha, Viki Nova, Wax and Herbal T, Joey from Pasadena, and Skribe, just to name a few.” Together, Frank and Noel not only bring big names to Annapolis to record, but help up-and-coming musicians become big names.
In the end, the secret to their success is probably not to be found in good timing, quality equipment, or musical and technical expertise, though all those things are certainly to be found in HSS. Noel believes that what makes HSS so special is their commitment to finding the humanity and purpose in the music of every artist they record. “That’s what I feel Frank and I bring to our sessions. When we are recording, we are there to pull for you. We try and find the honesty and root of what you’re trying to express. The main reason we have great gear is to make it disappear in the equation. Eighty percent of recording is creating an environment of trust and honesty. The gear becomes irrelevant because the magic comes from the harmonic conversation between musicians, not what mic you’re using.” That said, if the mic you’re using is found at HSS, chances are you’re already ahead of the game.
When I asked Frank and Noel who to keep an eye out for locally, they mentioned up-and-comers Pressing Strings, Pasadena, Bumping Uglies, Van Meter, Pompeii Graffitti, and Telesma. █
To learn more about
Hudson Street Sound, visit