Creating the "Son Royale"

It’s always an interesting weave of lives and events that bring people together for a common purpose. In March of 2014 a chance meeting brought Hank face to face with soon to be brother-in-music and lifelong friend, Brandon Hackler.  Hank was in the midst of a move from Atlanta, GA back to coastal NC and the home of his roots, when at a songwriters showcase one evening in Wilmington, he announced from the stage his plans to begin a new album project.  After the show, a local studio guru promptly invited him to come by and tour a spot that was an underground favorite, also known for turning out quality productions and support for the indie artist.  It was on this tour that Barbee and Hackler met face to face, shook hands, and immediately connected on a musical and personal level. By the next week, the duo were laying down scratch demos of what would eventually become Son Royale.

With Hank’s musical connections being tied primarily to his network of peers in Georgia, it was imperative that he find a backup rhythm section geographically closer to Wilmington.  Brandon had just the guys.  Enter Jordan Powers and Jack Foster.  Jordan and Brandon already worked together as a production team known as Dynamic Soundworks.  Jack was a long time cohort of the duo, and a veteran credited on several albums on the Dynamic Soundworks resume. After connecting via email and chatting about the album’s vision, demos were exchanged and a “play date” was set up for Barbee, Powers, and Foster to meet.  One Sunday evening after some weekend road shows, Hank pulled off the freeway and into a small rehearsal studio in Greensboro, NC.  “I remember” he said, “I was plugging in my guitar amp and Jordan asked me what we needed to accomplish tonight.”  I said, “I guess we are just here to audition each other and see if we wanna try to make a record together…”  Without missing a beat, Jack Foster replied “Well, we’ve heard all the demos, bro, and if we weren’t already on board to make a record with you, then we wouldn’t even be here right now.” Laughter ensued, the mood lightened, and some great songs and friendships commenced.

Quickly it was arranged that Jordan would play bass and sit in the producer seat, alongside Barbee, to help map out the logistics of this endeavor.  Jack Foster would drum and bring his vast creative input.  Brandon Hackler would oversee the engineering, recording, and mixing of the project from start to finish. After a short series of pre-production rehearsals, the quartet eventually sought a weekend refuge in Wilmington’s North Star Post & Sound.  Drum tracks, bass lines, and some rhythm guitars were recorded in two days.  A week later, the team set off to Dark Pines Studio outside of Graham, NC.  A short run there added acoustic guitars, upright bass, piano, some electric guitars, and moody fun with a real-life plate reverb. Things were coming together nicely.

The collective worked in short spurts over the next 18 months, uniting when schedules would align for several days here and there.  Soon after, they found themselves at the cusp of a beautiful work of art.  Hank lobbied for the team to go record takes from some of his favorite Atlanta musicians; namely vocalists Tedra Chriss and April Merritt, and organ/key player Jeff Greenbaum.  That was the finishing touch. Upon completion of a few days at ZAC Recording in Atlanta, the soul singers and Hammond B-3 organ had added just the right amount of old Georgia mojo back into the mix. It was ready for the final steps.

Brandon Hackler set about mixing the album, followed by a solid mastering job by Tom Waltz.  Steps were taken to secure a painting by the world acclaimed NC artist Laura Gammons that Barbee felt had perfectly captured the essence of the album’s opening track “Let It Breathe” as well as the album’s vision and title.  French for ‘the royal sound’, the name Son Royale was given to the project, also inspired mainly by the depth and layer of sound on the album’s leading song.  Gammons is credited with painting the front and back cover of the album, while Brandon Hackler is credited with designing the iconic Hank Barbee & The Dust Parade logo seen there.  Together, the two created a distinctive look for this distinctive sound.  What you behold now as Son Royale is a true art-album.  Greensboro musician and graphic designer Alex McKinney pulled all these pieces together, designing the packaging and posters for final replication.


- Tracey Stones