Red Tree: A Modern-Day Motown Quietly Emerges In The Woodlands

Categories: Only In Houston

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Photos by Jef With One F
In the Pines: Red Tree Studios from the street
Having been a recording artist, Rocks Off can tell you that we would rather peel potatoes than go into a recording studio. What you see as the acme of artistic self-expression is often painstakingly and painfully taken apart bit by bit, criticized, critiqued and sometimes cut altogether.

Hopefully, the end result is a masterpiece in musical form, but sometimes it's not. Regardless, the recording process is a gauntlet.

But our opinion has changed and softened a great deal since we went to visit Jeffery Armstreet at Red Tree in The Woodlands. We were in no good mood by the time we arrived, having driven through the heat with a lackluster air-conditioning system, broken CD player and Mapquest instructions that made us wish we'd hired a Sherpa rather than trusted the Internet.

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The Red Tree control booth
As almost all Houston studios seem to be, Red Tree is nestled in a nondescript little building, and we made our way inside to a set-up that had all the quiet resonance and order of a small church. The walls were soft earth colors, and the low lighting was punctuated by the warm glow of power indicators.

Rocks Off had actually been to the studio several years ago, after Armstreet was touched by our review of his band Evangeline's album We're Alright Down Here and invited us down. The studio's other two owners are Harold Rubens and Kyle Hutton.

Rubens is one of the finest sound engineers in the country, and is currently out on tour with Robby Seay Band. Hutton is the founder of Real Life Real Music, one of the coolest things going on in Texas music at the moment.

Since we met, Armstreet has sent a steady stream of stellar albums to us. Two artists who recorded at Red Tree in 2009, James Caronna and Tim Qualls, are nominated for nine Houston Press Music Awards between them.

Making our way through the halls, we finally found Armstreet in the main control booth surrounded by members of Castle Lights. Formerly Light Parade, Castle Lights was one of the few Houston bands sensible enough to change their name to avoid cease-and-desist letters prior to a release.

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The atmosphere was charged with a kind of easygoing confidence as Jeremiah Wood (right) laid down a stellar guitar line while the others looked on approvingly. No one seemed to mind our presence, and we sat cross-legged on the floor remembering how wonderful it was to be part of the creative process - at least when it was going well.

The music was a fantastic departure from the excellent, but slightly repetitious, singer-songwriter albums that seem to be Red Tree's specialty. This was much more along the lines of Arcade Fire, or maybe Muse. It was also very, very good.

"What did you think?" asked Armstreet.

"Who's the singer?" we asked. Armstreet pointed over to Tyler Susuras, who was sitting barefoot on the couch behind us.

"I'm thinking seriously of killing you and eating you in order to possess your voice," we told Susuras seriously. He looked disturbed, but pleased.

The band took a break, and Armstreet asked if we'd take a ride with him. He had something he wanted to show us.

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