NewsNews Features

For Love Of The Sound


Photo Credit: Kelli Guinn

Sloan Simpson

At this point, I can’t remember the exact details of the first time I met Sloan Simpson. It’s been a while. I’m sure I was filming a show and of course saw the guy lugging all the audio equipment around and nervously wandered up to him to beg for a copy of his recording. I imagined he’d blow me off because he’d likely have tons of people always bugging him for show copies, and I had little to offer in terms of “good trading material.” But he didn’t, and there are now tons of great live recordings scattered around my house – many of the best shows I’ve seen. And I’m certainly not the only person who’s benefited from his efforts.

“Sloan is an amazing person. He is invaluable to the music scene simply for his interest alone,” says Brown Frown’s Andrew Prater. “It seems like every time I go to a show, Sloan is there to tape it. That goes for bands great and small alike. The fact that he takes the time to go see and tape local bands translates into a great feeling of support and interest. It makes everyone feel a warm fuzzy in their tummy.”

So what, aside from warm fuzzies, makes someone drive up from Atlanta, where he works and lives, night after night, to record bands that sometimes have audiences of fewer than 20 people? And then work diligently afterwards to get the shows posted on the Internet, often within 24 hours?

“A lot of it came from seeing bands I didn’t know about opening for people like Drive-By Truckers, Barbara Cue and Vic Chesnutt, acts that were already on my radar here in Atlanta,” says Simpson. “I’d record some of [the opening acts], become a fan of their music, and eventually find out which members were involved in other bands. Since so many musicians are in multiple bands in Athens, it soon turned into something like the ‘Kevin Bacon Game,’ each show by an Athens band I hadn’t seen before led me to discover yet another band.”

So eventually Simpson found himself making the trip several nights a week. “It gets a little hectic when two or three or four of my favorite bands all play Athens in the same week,” he says. “So I just have to put up with being a zombie at work once in a while.” Being a zombie apparently has its benefits, though. “The biggest motivation is that I just really spend lots of time listening to music, and I constantly need to hear more to feed that habit,” he admits. “I buy lots of commercial CDs, so between those and the recordings I make… I usually have something laying around that I haven’t listened to yet.”

“The next reason is for the musicians. A lot of them really like to have the recordings for ‘game-film review,’ or just as keepsakes,” he says. “I always make CDs for the bands that let me record and want to hear them. And there are some folks that don’t mind me recording as long as they personally never hear them.”

“Sloan’s enthusiasm and expertise make gigs a joy,” says Barbara Cue’s William Tonks. “Sometimes the recordings serve as a source of inspiration, sometimes consternation, but always information.”

Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood agrees: “[His] recordings are of such high quality that they have helped me in the past in telling what is coming across, or not, in the live show and with arrangements,” he says.

“Giving bands a chance to hear an honest recording of themselves playing is crucial for working out new material,” says Prater.

Lastly, Simpson says he simply enjoys being able to spread the music. “It’s nice to be able to share [recordings] with other fans, or curious listeners who might turn into new fans,” he adds. Figure up that hundreds of people can sometimes be downloading and trading his tapes per week, and this aspect of his “hobby” becomes pretty astounding. “I can’t lie though. It really is all about having great music to listen to myself.”

Simpson readily admits that taping has plenty of downsides. “It can be demanding to have to stand watch near a mic stand through a whole night at a bar sometimes,” he says. “Mainly I just need to be able to keep people from tripping over stuff. Most of the time it takes me being the first to arrive at a show, and one of the last to leave.”

Thinking for a second, though, he follows that thought up by saying, “All that is made up for by having a collection of music that there’s no other way of hearing. Some of these bands don’t even have albums out, and almost all of them have too much material to ever release all of it.” He even notes that he once recorded local country act The Chasers playing in a cemetery – as you can imagine, something not likely to happen very often.

As for the musicians themselves, Simpson says, “I hope I don’t jinx my good luck, but so far no Athens musicians have told me I couldn’t record. They’ve always been really cool people, and a few of ’em have turned into genuine friends. They’re accessible, they’re hanging out at the same bar you’re at, and they’re all rabid music fans themselves. With all the time-killing involved in recording, I’ve had some really great conversations with some of these people that I won’t forget. And people like William Tonks, or Kevin Lane, or Craig Lieske will turn me on to even more music that I didn’t know about yet.”

“Getting cool audience recordings done on good mics with easy navigation from an enthusiastic, smart guy,” Tonks says. “Well, that makes a grand slam.”

Prater is equally laudatory, summing it up best: “He is one of the most genuinely nice people that I’ve met… and everyone that plays music in this town would tell you the same thing.”

If anyone wants a copy of his recordings, Simpson usually directs them to the Internet, where he uploads many of the shows onto BitTorrent sites such as, often by the day following a performance. He’s also started Southern Shelter (, a blog where he posts MP3s and higher-quality FLAC files of shows.

The only strictly enforced rule of the taping game is that no money is involved. “If a band freely lets me record their music, I don’t have a right to make money off of it,” explains Simpson. “Occasionally a band will ask me not to circulate a particular show for various reasons.  Both of these are important to me, when I run into musicians that have been gracious to me, I know that I’ve done my best to do what’s right and not betray their trust.”

“Sloan is also very above-board in respecting our wishes, as far as never selling recordings and not trading the ones we want kept private,” says Hood. “For example, we don’t want a lot of the new songs out circulating before the record comes out, and we have allowed him to record shows that would have been otherwise off-limits”

As for the future, Simpson says he has no plans to relocate, due mostly to having good, steady, comfortable work in Atlanta. However, he plans to continue taping as frequently as he ever has, for the time being. “I know I won’t keep this pace forever,” he says, “so that’s part of the reason I do so much now.”