Andrija Tokic just relocated his studio, The Bomb Shelter, to a nondescript block in East Nashville. "This is the only job I've ever had," says the 28-year-old engineer, looking around the new facility. The cedar-planked walls of Tokic's new location are lined with guitars, while a Roland Space Echo unit sits on top of a vintage MCI console with a few tape machines on either side.
Tokic moved to Nashville in 2004 from Washington, D.C., where he started recording in a neighbor's studio at the age of 13.
Recently, a number of notable projects were recorded in The Bomb Shelter's first location, among them Alabama Shakes' debut LP Boys and Girls, Hurray for the Riff Raff's Look out Mama and a New Orleans country record by Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds.
On this particular day, the studio's assistant, a former Belmont student named Ben Trimble, is back home in Michigan. A mangy Rottweiler called Lady paces the floor. "The dog can symbolize Ben's presence — or absence," says Tokic. Lady showed up on Tokic's doorstep a few months ago and seems to have become part of the studio's soul. Much like Trimble, as it turns out. Tokic wasn't exactly looking for an apprentice when he came across Trimble in the spring of 2011 — especially an apprentice who didn't have much training on professional equipment. Trimble had been recording synth-pop tracks on his laptop and playing local shows under the name Fly Golden Eagle. But Tokic was impressed by Trimble's positive energy, inviting him to hang out in the studio, where Tokic would eventually mix the band's third album, Swagger — a set of then-mostly instrumental tracks.
"I started clicking all over his computer and all this stuff started coming out," recalls Tokic. They recorded most of the album's vocals in one marathon late-night session.
The result was a blend of '60s-influenced garage-psych and modern electronic music, and one of Nashville's best underground records of 2011. It recalls early MGMT and Portland's Unknown Mortal Orchestra, with lyrics that mesh the spiritual with the sensual. Trimble, citing his affinity for lyrics with "multiple layers," says that a word like "monolith" will pique his interest, sending him to research its meaning and history before using it in a song.
Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes — whose recent meteoric rise to the national spotlight saw the band going from playing their first out-of-town gig to opening Jack White's two-night stand at the Ryman in roughly a year — met Fly Golden Eagle in Nashville and later invited them to open a pair of shows in Alabama. "[Fly Golden Eagle] reminds me of a rock 'n' roll skating rink in a rundown town somewhere in Middle America," says Howard.
"[Trimble and I] had connected a lot around ideas and ways of living and what was important about music," says current Fly Golden Eagle drummer Richard Harper. Trimble first ran into Harper back in 2007, when the latter was a young philosophy student. Harper proved to be instrumental in getting the music of Fly Golden Eagle out into the world. Along with Riccardo Alessio and Robbie Moore, Harper and Trimble formed Blacktooth Records. The label has released 100-copy cassette runs of Nashvillian rock duo Chrome Pony's Illegal Smiles and Fly Golden Eagle's Swagger, as well as Harper's book of poetry, Palimpsest. They also frequently give away MP3s, spreading the word about their art with emails to friends and music blogs.
"Blacktooth is more of an idea than it is a record label," says Harper. He assigns a loose definition to the Blacktooth umbrella: "We've all felt music's transformative power."
Since 2007, Fly Golden Eagle has grown from Trimble's solo guitar-and-boombox workouts to be a full band with keyboardist Mitch Jones (who Tokic calls "the best organ player in this entire town"), bassist Matt Shaw and guitarist/percussionist Graham Fitzpenn. The band also makes up Fitzpenn's psych-rock project, Majestico. In April, FGE won the third installment in BMI's Road to Bonnaroo series, landing a slot on Sunday at the Manchester-based festival — where Alabama Shakes' Howard cameoed on a Fly Golden Eagle song.
"It's been a remarkably action-packed year," reflects Tokic. He built the new studio, recorded a Josephine Foster record in Colorado, mixed live sound for the Tuareg guitarist Bombino at the VFW Hall and hooked Fly Golden Eagle up with D.C. area public-television personality and outsider musician TV John Langworthy, with whom they recorded a five-song EP called The Dream Man.
Over the next few months, Trimble says he hopes to release new Majestico and Chrome Pony albums (both recorded at the Bomb Shelter) and finish a sprawling new Fly Golden Eagle record with Tokic, his likeminded sonic conquistador.
"It's like having another person who's always willing and able to jump into a good idea full-throttle," says Tokic of Trimble. "Blindly jump into something and run."