SANFORD, NC—There are sometimes pivotal events in life that define our destiny, even if it takes decades to get to our destination. Such is the case for John Davenport, a producer, engineer and the owner of Deep River Sound Studio in Sanford, North Carolina. You see, Davenport was visiting New York City in the 1980s and a series of unlikely events brought him to eventually work as an assistant at The Hit Factory. There he was, a somewhat innocent kid from the South, working on what can only be called legendary records from the likes of John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Blondie.
Davenport caught the recording bug, learned the craft and developed a passion for creation: the process of writing, collaborating, capturing performances and pursuing greatness. It makes perfect sense, really; how could one spend two years working for Bruce Springsteen on his Born In the USA sessions—and inadvertently be the catalyst for a song when Davenport mentioned that “we were just dancing in the dark”—and not get a permanent affection for the classic model of big talent/big studio/big songs-style music creation?
Then, Davenport explains, “Life happened.” He was quickly married with children and needed to settle down. Which he did, working again for his family’s farm and food distributor business whilst enjoying the good life in North Carolina. But then life happened again, and Davenport found himself a single, empty-nester still harboring a dream to own a studio, run a label and produce music with a passion.
Armed with a nearly two decades-old hexagonal/honeycomb-based studio design from longtime friend and studio designer Wes Lachot as well as funding from the sale of his family’s food business, Davenport set about building Deep River Sound. And a fine job he did, evidenced by a studio room that overlooks the Deep River, a tributary of the great Cape Fear River, with 20 feet of tall windows convertible to absorptive panels or RPG quadratic diffusers, all positioned within an intricate sliding system. The main room is adjoined by a large iso booth—one large enough for drums—and a smaller vocal booth, too. Below this studio, snugly nestled right into the hillside, is a sound chamber, suitable for roaring 4×12 guitar cabinets or as an echo chamber at mix time.
The control room employs Helmholtz resonators, overhead bass trapping, tuned membrane resonators and ample diffusion. It may house a Studer A80 24-track analog tape machine—used mostly for archival work, he admits—but it is clearly centered on an API Legacy Plus console, seemingly an extension of Davenport’s console-centric workflow: “I don’t even use the automation in Pro Tools (12 HD), or its plug-ins much, really. I love the Vision’s automation and prefer to do manual fader rides, which are so easy to do on the API.”
Davenport’s Legacy Plus is loaded with API 550 parametric EQs and 560 graphic EQs on his “drum channels,” as he prefers to “keep inputs patched and ready so we can record the moment inspiration strikes.” He also relies on the Legacy Plus’s 200 Series slots where he has chosen gates and comps for all the right channels and leans hard on the console’s main 2500 Stereo Compressor.
Davenport has been getting mix work, aided by his ATC SCM 200 ASL main monitors, ATC SCM 450 nearfields and an ample collection of Pultec EQs, LA-2As and classic outboard. However, it’s clear that his heart is in it for the producing— not even just producing, but establishing a creative relationship with today’s generation so he could discover, nurture and market young talent. Currently talented singer-songwriter-pianists Hannah Chapman and Tyler Austin are under his wing. “I get to see and work with these bright young faces every day and it keeps me young,” he said.
The long journey from seminal rock sessions in recording’s heyday to nurturing young artists has not been without surprises. After pulling Lachot’s studio design out of hibernation and loading it with his dream console, what should pop up just eight miles away (as the crow flies) from pastoral Deep River? None other than Manifold Recording— another Lachot design in another hexagonal arrangement with another gorgeous API console. “Luckily, we do very different kinds of work,” he said, “so there’s no issues there. In fact, it’s nice to have another great room to record in nearby.”
To be sure, Davenport is used to the unexpected by now and is well prepared to deal with life’s future surprises. “I feel like this is a really comfortable studio, the kind of place that encourages creativity and gives me a chance to help artists grow and make great sounding music for years to come,” he noted, but Davenport still keeps an eye on new horizons, with a facility completely wired for video and a number of film and TV projects completed and/or pending.
Based on the scenery of large hay bale wheels poised above the arcing green pastures, lined up as if to roll away down to the Deep River basin; the beautiful sounds coming out of the studio; and Davenport’s relaxed easy smile, one might say he has found his destiny, even if it was at home all along.
Deep River Sound Studio