Jeremy Thompson has been with the Old Bear crew since the beginning. He is known as the Old Bear sound maker, taking the creative and artistic vision and making it into the sounds that end up on Old Bear recordings. What goes on inside the recording studio environment is often a mystery to the many music lovers out there. It’s the proverbial sausage-making people would rather not bother with. It’s one thing to know the taste of a good meal and yet quite another thing to know what goes on in the kitchen.
From wooden spoon to Fender Strat
It takes years to hone a craft. Jeremy started thinking about his musical life as early as he can remember. As a young child, the four-year-old version of Jeremy would bring a wooden spoon to church to mimic playing guitar on it. The church worship leader was quite an inspiration, enough for mom to lose one of her cooking utensils. Mom would not have to worry too long about her spoon. At five, Jeremy remembers walking through Rite-aid and seeing a red guitar. This toy captured him, and instead of bringing his wooden spoon to church to play guitar, he now had a “real” guitar and a makeshift case, borrowed from his Lego set.
As if replacing Legos with a guitar was serious enough, Jeremy at this age was playing his parent’s Jesus People music on vinyl LPs. The moment that seemed to seal it for him was when in 1989 he saw a video of Stryper. From there, Jeremy had big hair, learned Jimi Hendrix, and rocked out with Aerosmith. But, church music would continue to be a center to his life. At youth camp, the 14-year-old Jeremy found his faith in Christ and then went on to play in worship teams and bands for many years. Jeremy has also been a member of the Brothers McClurg.
Making order out of the ideas of others
Music seems to find us. This is how most musicians get that bug or hear that call. From wooden spoon to Fender Strats, the Old Bear sound benefits from the experience and passion Jeremy has for music. He says it is all about interpreting what others see. “Chris is the visionary. He will come in and with different inspirations from different angles—even a painter as inspiration. I am the ‘I want it to feel good’ guy. We come from different ends of the spectrum. Chris wants a home for every sound. I want something that is very familiar—feels good.” The team of Chris Hoisington and Jeremy Thompson is dynamic.
Jeremy, for his part, attempts to make what Chris sees in theory into something that happens musically. The balance is getting something that Chris sees, and that still feels right to Jeremy. Jeremy says that it is like Chris is the one who lets animals loose in the room to see what happens while he is the one who tries to make order out of it–finding that musical place where these ideas can sit within musical frameworks. Jeremy quotes Anthony Hoisington as saying, “People that you butt heads with the most are more like you than the people you get along with.” Jeremy explains, “Chris and I are a lot alike. We like to do things our own way. It makes an album come together like it needs to.” This is where Jeremy says he may fight for what he thinks it should be, but he has learned to trust the process. Yes, Old Bear seems to have a distinct process.
To get a clearer picture of what this unique sound exploration might look like, Jeremy described what it was like one day coming into the studio. The Old Bear Studio is housed on an upper floor in an old industrial building where to get to the top you take a very old and slow elevator. Jeremy noticed something strange when walking into the third-floor hall toward the studio. There were audio cabled running towards the men’s bathroom where his curiosity led him to see Chris banging on the sink with a drumstick while running the water. Yes, there is always a process whether it’s a guitar sound, or sampling record pops to replace snare sounds.
Trusting the process of Old Bear
The non-musician may at times think musicians just make things up. It is often true. However, creating good music is usually done with a process. I don’t think a process is a formula that is blindly followed. A creative process is a framework of how creative work takes the musical ideas and vision into something that ships out to the public. Old Bear has one–at the moment. You see process changes where formulas are static. I am sure if I were to go five years into the future, the process of Old Bear would have changed by then.
From Jeremy’s perspective, he will be ready to show up for a week of recording. I imagine this means he brings a couple of guitars and some new strings, but we didn’t get that detailed. By the time Jeremy is there at Old Bear Studios, Chris has already conveyed the desired instrumentation for a project and a vision of its direction with notes like it being “not too electrified,” for instance. He might also give Jeremy a reference LP or recording that may be an inspiration or a baseline.
After the first steps of showing up and getting the direction, the roots of the track are laid down. This usually is a rough vocal scratch, acoustic guitar scratch with the drums and bass tracks. The next part is to “color it as little or as much as possible”–developing further the tracks with other instrumentation. Each song is different. Some have more or less added to them as the vision and direction dictate. The vocals are added later in the week. Usually, there is a clear consensus about when the track is finished before being sent off to Paul Mitro to be mixed.
Staying true to the Old Bear sound
Jeremy shared his own thoughts about what the “upstream” sound of Old Bear is: “The idea for that is that you are always moving forward where you haven’t gone before. Pushing your limits and finding new territory. Not thinking about where everyone else is going or what’s hot.” He says that It’s a flow that feels right to you and to each artist as there is a unique jumping off point which is that thing that makes one who they are. “It’s the box of crayons that has all the weird colors in it,” he concludes. I always loved that box of Crayola crayons, by the way.
Old Bear Records did not come from a business plan in the way people might think. It is more than a sound. It is a community. “I didn’t see it coming,” says Jeremy. Having been a part of the crew since he was a teen, he says, “we butt heads like family.” Jeremy continues, “A bird has to fly, and fish has to swim. We are musicians. We rented out a little room to make an album. People heard about it and wanted to make records there.” Jeremy credits the label to Anthony Hoisington, the father of the label who helped bring it to life.
Jeremy undoubtedly plays a significant role in what makes Old Bear’s sound and community unique. From his musical experience and upbringing to the colorful collaboration in the studio, this session musician is helping many now bring their unique crayon color to life. Old Bear is about taking what is uniquely present right before them and making music from there–not following trends or charts. This ever-changing sound is still on the move thanks to Jeremy Thompson.