Producer Crosstalk: Jim VanCleve

One night when he was five, Jim VanCleve was with his parents at a local steakhouse. He was tapped to play a train whistle alongside old-school Tennessee fiddler Ralph Blizard and a life devoted to music thereby drew its first breath. He now plays fiddle with Nashville-based outfit Appalachian Road Show and produced the band’s 2022 record Jubilation

As a protégé of country producer Mark Bright, the lessons he learned about the emotions a band is trying to convey and the best ways to deliver them have never left him. Artists with which he’s recorded include Carrie Underwood and the Louvin Brothers, among many others. He was also a member of bluegrass/country/blues audio collective Mountain Heart, which was signed to Ricky Skaggs’ label Family Records.

VanCleve’s biggest obstacle during the production of Jubilation was facing the ever-present danger of exhaustion. “I was trying to make this record a work of art rather than just a few songs on tape,” he recalls. “Burnout from the wear and tear of the road and never having a day off was a challenge. As far as capturing the performance, there were some logistical issues. But I had access to several pieces of the world’s finest gear and our tracking engineer [Grammy winner] Shani Gandhi is one of the best in Nashville.”

Much of Jubilation was crafted at VanCleve’s home studio, which he built with his father. “We lucked into a nice property that was perfect for mixes,” he says of the founding of his space. “We spent a good amount of time, effort and energy holding mirrors against walls to make sure we got all our points of reflection taken care of. A lot of math was done to kill all of the junk. Shani let me borrow some gear and I brought home a [Neumann] U 47, a 67 and a few other pieces. I had all of the tools and toys and was pleased with the results. It does our genre and band justice and that was a goal.”

The track “Tonight I’ll See you in My Dreams” was penned following a 10-hour marathon rehearsal. Conventional wisdom among artists is that when a person approaches exhaustion, self-doubt is blunted and ideas can spring forth unopposed. “I often get creative when I drive late at night,” VanCleve explains. “You get into your flow state of thinking and the inner critic shuts up. That’s what happened that night. We were relaxing and I said ‘I wish we had something like a 1953 [Lester] Flatt and [Earl] Scruggs song. Let’s write one.’ In 45 minutes we had a finished piece. Typically, that’s not how I’d do it. But it was supposed to happen that night and it almost wrote itself.”

The musician and producer has spent much of his career in and around studios, not the least of which is his own. He’s stockpiled countless anecdotes over the years but among his favorites is of the time when a guitarist wandered a little too far afield from a song’s intended direction. “We were cutting a record with Mark Bright,” VanCleve recollects. “I brought in an instrumental and it was a handful. I hadn’t written it for guitar and our guitarist was doing his best. I’d stepped out of the studio, he tore into it and played off the cuff. It was nowhere near the melody and a bandmate said ‘Hey, that’s real good. What is it?’ He’d departed so far from [the original idea] that he hadn’t played the song, although what he did was great.”

Contact – theappalachianroadshow.com,

Instagram @appalachianroadshow, @jimvancleve