With la­bel, Royal Stu­dios comes full cir­cle

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC -

South Mem­phis’ Royal Stu­dios — the his­toric home of Hi Records, the Hi Rhythm house band and late pro­ducer/pa­tri­arch Wil­lie Mitchell — has an­nounced a new ven­ture. Royal Records will be the la­bel off­shoot of the stillthriv­ing stu­dio, and the ven­ture will be run by sib­lings Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and Oona Mitchell

“Back in the ‘50s, Royal, like Sun, started out as the arm of a record com­pany,” says Boo Mitchell, Wil­lie Mitchell’s grand­son, who con­tin­ues to op­er­ate Royal. “When Hi Records was sold in 1977, Royal had to start op­er­at­ing as a com­mer­cial stu­dio.” In the years af­ter the sale, Wil­lie Mitchell did op­er­ate var­i­ous la­bels, part­ner­ing with Bearsville Records for a time, then launch­ing his own South­ern soul im­print, Waylo.

In more re­cent years, the younger Mitchells have pon­dered the prospect of set­ting up their own record com­pany. “We’ve thought about do­ing a la­bel and had kind of avoided it be­cause the tim­ing wasn’t right,” says Mitchell, who earned a Grammy ear­lier this year for his en­gi­neer­ing work on the Mick Ron­son/bruno Mars smash “Up­town Funk.” “But right now it’s the per­fect at­mos­phere. Com­ing off the Grammy win, and see­ing the amount of talent we have around the stu­dio, as well as the dif­fer­ent dis­tri­bu­tion models there are out there now that we can take ad­van­tage of, it feels like the nat­u­ral and log­i­cal evo­lu­tion for Royal to do a la­bel. It’s time for us to come full cir­cle.”

Mitchell stresses that Royal Records will be an artist-friendly en­tity. “We want to have more of a part­ner­ship with our artists,” he says. “We won’t have the tra­di­tional record com­pany/artist re­la­tion­ship or busi­ness model. We’re go­ing to give them bet­ter rates, let them keep own­er­ship of their masters. We treat ev­ery­body here like fam­ily, and we want the la­bel to be the same, and want our artists to feel that way.”

The la­bel will be a fam­ily af­fair in more ways than one. Royal Records’ flag­ship artist is Lil Riah & Key Money, the hip-hop duo fea­tur­ing Boo Mitchell’s son Uriah Mitchell and cousin Keemon Turner. This week they’re drop­ping their first sin­gle, “I Do What it Take” (the track will be fol­lowed by a full-length LP in late Septem­ber).

To cel­e­brate the re­lease and christen the la­bel, Royal Records is throw­ing a free block party con­cert from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday out­side the stu­dio (1320 Wil­lie Mitchell Blvd.). The show will be head­lined by Lil Riah and Kee Money, the Royal 4 will serve as house band, and oth­ers — in­clud­ing Al Kapone, Frayser Boy, Tori Who­dat, Prod­uct and Ash­ton Riker — will also per­form.

“We want to an­nounce to the city that we’re start­ing the la­bel,” says Oona Mitchell. “We’re go­ing to be fea­tur­ing artists that are on the la­bel, and artists we’re look­ing at for the la­bel.”

The block party will be broad­cast live via Ra­diomem­phis.com for those who can’t make it. For those who can, there will be food trucks and other ven­dors on site. “We want peo­ple to sup­port us and we want to sup­port the com­mu­nity,” Oona says.

As to the fu­ture of the la­bel and other up­com­ing sign­ings and re­leases, Oona Mitchell says the com­pany will be ju­di­cious. “In gen­eral, we want to take our time and re­ally cultivate the right artists,” she says.

“It’s go­ing to be qual­ity over quan­tity,” says Boo Mitchell. “We’re not look­ing to sign a hun­dred acts; we’d rather have 10 great acts. It’s kind of what like (Wil­lie Mitchell) did with Hi. He didn’t have the big num­ber of artists that Mo­town and other la­bels had, but what he had was a hand­ful of bad-ass artists. That’s the tra­di­tion we want to fol­low.”

Live At Ar­dent

As it con­tin­ues to cel­e­brate its 50th an­niver­sary this year, Mid­town’s Ar­dent Stu­dios is ex­pand­ing its pub­lic pro­file. In re­cent months, the stu­dio has hosted a cou­ple of pop-up “house con­certs.” The se­ries will con­tinue with per­for­mances by Tommy Stin­son of The Re­place­ments and Bri­tish psych-folk le­gend Robyn Hitch­cock, among oth­ers.

First on the cal­en­dar at Ar­dent this Fri­day, July 29, is an event called Dream Dates — a “national pop-up din­ner and house con­cert tour” fea­tur­ing per­for­mances by Nashville-based singer Emma Swift and Ari­zona mu­si­cian Holly, plus food from Un­der­ground Fine Din­ing founder Dustin Brandt. The din­ner-and-a-show event also fea­tures a ro­tat­ing cast of guests in each city — in Mem­phis that will be Hitch­cock, founder and front­man of leg­endary post-punk out­fit The Soft Boys. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Tick­ets are $25 (with other pack­ages go­ing up to $100) at Eventbrite.com.

Next Tues­day, a former Ar­dent habitué, Re­place­ments co-founder and long­time Guns N’ Roses mem­ber Tommy Stin­son will be back play­ing as part of his in­ti­mate “Cow­boys in the Camp­fire Tour.” The acous­tic af­fair will fea­ture Stin­son and gui­tarist/multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Chip Roberts. Stin­son will be play­ing favorites from his var­i­ous band and solo cat­a­logs, as well as ma­te­rial from his up­com­ing LP, slated for a 2017 re­lease on Mis­sis­sippi la­bel Fat Pos­sum. Tick­ets will be $15 at the door. Show­time is 7 p.m.

Ar­dent is lo­cated at 2000 Madi­son. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to ar­dentstu­dios.com. Sib­lings Oona and Boo Mitchell are launch­ing Royal stu­dios af­fil­i­ated la­bel Royal Records.

Lil Riah and Key Money will be Royal Records flag­ship act.

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