100 Dallas Creatives: No. 76 Music Activist Salim Nourallah
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email email@example.com with the whos and whys.
As you drive down the streets of Knox-Henderson's residential area, it's hard to imagine that behind one of the quaint, cottage-style homes is a state-of-the-art recording studio. But that's exactly where you'll find one of Dallas' most acclaimed musicians and producer, Salim Nourallah's Pleasantry Lane Studio. The unmarked studio is barely visible from the street and the only adornment to the inconspicuous garage is a large, red Hit Parade cigarette sign from the '50s.
But the moment you open the red door and cross the threshold, the idea that the space was ever a one-car garage is baffling. The spacious control room is unique in its '60s mod design. On one side of the room a row of guitars Nourallah has accumulated over the years from his first, a red Rickenbacker 330, to his old '63 Guild Mark 2 acoustic, which he plays at every show. In the tracking room is a 1967 Yamaha U3 his brother Faris, with whom he first opened the studio, wrote his first four records on.
After marveling at the decked-out control panel and peeking inside the tracking room with plastered with posters of bands such as The Beatles and The damned, I sat down with the singer-songwriter and producer who swept the 2006 Observer music awards for his album Beautiful Noise winning Best Album/Best Song and Best Producer. Nourallah went on to win seven consecutive Observer Awards for Best Producer, working with bands and artists such as the Old 97s, Rhett Miller, Deathray Davies & Carter Albrecht.
Nourallah does far more for the community than churn out great records. In spite of his busy schedule, he continues to participate in multiple charitable organizations, started Rock Camp, where kids ages 9-18 have the opportunity to better their craft and record in a real studio, and continues to stand up for local musicians and call for community change.
Was music and art a big part of your life growing up?
It was everything. I moved from Illinois to El Paso when I was three. I had a weird relationship with El Paso. As a kid, I was really into music I didn't feel like I could get a hold of in El Paso. It was very much classic rock, heavy metal--a lot of what I consider to be cheesy music. My love of the Beatles took me down other roads. I was really into the second British Invasion like The Clash, Elvis Costello and all of that and that was something people weren't listening to at all in El Paso. So I basically spent my youth plotting my escape and once I escaped, I haven't really looked back.
What was the inspiration behind starting Pleasantry Lane?
I played music all these years but then my brother and I purchased a property together in the late '90s--this property actually. Because we needed a home base--somewhere to make music. At the time, the only way to make records was if you got signed and someone gave you a lot of money. Right around '97, things were beginning to change, which I call a revolution, where computers were giving you the opportunity to make music and we bought this property with an awesome garage that we could convert into a music studio, bought an eight-track recorder, put it in the corner and made the CD "Nourallah Brothers." After that, we fell out with each other, he moved to Portland, I quit music and we actually sold this place.
I quit music for a few years but when I came back around 2001, I was feeling really frustrated rehearsing in Deep Ellum. There's a sense of desperation in rehearsal complexes to me--it's depressing. I was really missing this place my brother and I had. One day, I happened to be taking my wife down Vickery to show her the old place and there was a "For Sale" sign out front. It was pretty serendipitous. So we bought the place back and then I immediately converted the garage.
The next phase was when I was on tour with Rhett Miller in 2002 and we found out that we were going to have a kid. I was working at a record shop at the time and touring with Rhett and not really prepared financially to be a father and provide for my family. I had this realization that if I wanted to stay in music, I was going to have to figure out the next step. So I put a small amount of money on a credit card and added a control room to the garage so I could start recording bands. Deathray Davies was the first band of note and I will always be grateful to John Dufilho for believing in me. He could of gone anywhere in the city and recorded with a bunch of people with way more experience than me but we made "The Kick and the Snare" here in the brand new studio. The other two people who had been extremely supportive at the time were Rhett Miller as well Ken Bethea from the Old 97's.
It was really all born out of how am I going to have a family and stay in music.
What was the reason behind starting Rock Camp?
It started because my son, Gavin, just turned 11 and has been playing the drums and a little piano. It's hard. I don't want to force music on him. I want him to find what he loves. But I also do want to share. My dad was an accountant and I did not care and never wanted to know anything about it. I'm a muscian so I think I'm infinitely more interesting than my dad the accountant. That was my attempt to maybe pique his interest more in what I do.
You are involved in multiple charities such as playing in the annual CF Series as well as working with the Human Rights Initiative. What motivates you to get involved in all these different causes?
I think a lot of it stems from my love and appreciation of John Lennon and also Paul McCartney has been very proactive in that kind of stuff too and I wish I was as successful as them in respect to be able to do more. I think it's important that artists and musicians are part of that because it comes with the responsibility. I've been fortunate, too, that I have friends that are involved in those things and they come to me. I really appreciate all those people out there who are doing that and seeking me out.
How do you feel about Dallas' arts scene as it stands today? Are there ways in which we can improve?
I feel really positive about it. I think ultimately, KXT is super important. One thing that Austin or Portland or Seattle, any of these cities that we might look to as having great driving local music scenes have had is public radio--public radio that plays music from local artists.
I'd really love to see someone come into Deep Ellum and take that old Clearview building. I really miss the Gypsy Tea Room. I really wish we had some go-to venue in Deep Ellum. I love the fact that the All Good has hung on. Deep Ellum just feels like a shadow of its former self. I think that is something in the next couple years with some brave entrepreneurs, with someone really having some sort of vision--I really think there's still potential there.
Any city needs to be fiercely supportive and proactive of recognizing anyone in the arts. It is such a struggle to keep going. We need it from all press outlets. We need it from people booking shows, KXT, everyone. To keep growing and thriving we need dedication to going up. There are so many talented young song writers and bands and what type of opportunities are we giving them? What kind of support are we giving them?
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