“It was serendipity,” says Bill Nobes on how he came to make an album capturing the sound of Trenton’s underground music scene.
Titled Analog Trenton, the recording released late in 2019 on CD and vinyl features 40 capital city music performers and bands.
At the time it was a sonic snap-shot of Trenton’s vibrant music scene — one now changed by COVID-19 and closed Trenton venues.
Nobes, 54, owns and operates Dirty Old Robot Studio on a 200-year-old farm roughly 20 miles from Trenton in Jacobstown, Burlington County.
He says it is a 100 percent analog recording studio specializing in lo-fi and experimental music production.
It is also something connected to his background of working in the New York City region’s music and theater venues in the 1990s.
That was before he became a father and decided to leave New York City to raise a family on an affordable farm near Fort Dix.
“I thought my creative career was gone when I was a single dad and running a chicken farm,” says Nobes, who has lived in the area for nearly two decades.
As his son got older, Nobes traded full-time farming for full-time IT work and began providing services for health organizations from his home.
Three years ago he launched his “collaborative multi-media production space that would facilitate authentic creation without over-production.”
“As long as I have the day job, I am using the studio to explore and create,” he says of his non-commercial venture.
And while he says it seemed “like a ridiculous idea at the time, it has since gone insane.”
That translates as several regional artists actively using the studio to develop new works and approaches — that is until the lockdown put the music on pause.
It also means experimenting with online presentations and pursuing creative opportunities, like Analog Trenton.
Nobes says his entry into the project and Trenton’s music scene started when he accepted Wrightstown tattoo artist Josh Adair’s invitation to take him on a city tour.
In addition to illustrating the skin of many Trenton-based musicians, Adair is a guitarist who travels in the city’s musical circles.
Their first stop at Trenton Coffeehouse Roaster and Records on Cass Street opened more than one door.
Recently changing hands and reopening as One Up One Down Roaster and cafe, Abdul-Quadir Wiswal’s cafe was a center for music and experimental presentations.
It was also a regular daily stop for artists and musicians.
Backing up his earlier claim regarding serendipity, Nobes says he soon found himself talking to two live wires in the Trenton music scene.
One was Griffin Sullivan, co-founder of the area-based Pork Chop Express Booking, which also books independent groups at the Mill Hill Basement.
The other was Nikki Nalbone, a musician, manager of Championship Bar and its independent music scene, and the daughter of the owners of the legendary Trenton music venue City Gardens.
A participant in the artistic renaissances in both Hoboken and New York City’s meat packing district, Nobes sensed something in the air.
As he says in an online statement, he soon found a music scene that was “the most unique and interesting in the country. It has a diverse combination of influences including punk, hardcore, hip hop, folk, rock, electronic, and experimental. These genres cross-over not only in the same venues but often with the same artists.”
Nobes says he soon joined the scene and experimented with events at the Trenton Coffeehouse Roaster — creating an installation with several 16-millimeter film projects and a small theater presentation.
Then he brought up Analog Trenton, a project that “had a life of its own” and reflected a “let’s do it attitude.”
“It was all about supporting each other in Trenton — far more than anywhere I had been,” he says. “And I wanted to capture that. I wanted to make a document and capture it the best way I could.”
He also wanted to create a production focusing on an actual performance with the audience also experiencing a recording session. The sessions were also videotaped.
With Championship Bar and Trenton Coffeehouse Roaster selected as the venues, Nobes moved his Jacobstown studio to Trenton for the scheduled dates, including one as part of the annual Art All Day event.
Inspired by the musicians, he also expanded his initial goal to record 20 bands to 40, resulting in a tonal testament of styles, themes, moods, and attitudes generated by committed regional performers such as the Molly Rhythm, Black Collar Biz, Nikki Nailbomb (aka Nalbone), Doris Spears, Ray Strife, Bentrice Jusu, and others.
However, the increase in musical tracks also inflated the original budget of $12,000 to $18,000.
“Most of it came out of my pocket,” says Nobes. “Having a day job helps me do that.”
The rest came from an Indiegogo campaign that raised several thousand dollars, contributions from Nobes’ colleagues, and industry supporters, including the Bordentown-based Independent Record Pressing Company.
Trenton visual artists also embraced the project and artists Jon Connors (aka Lank), Lori Johanson, Kate Graves, and others provided artwork for promotional materials and CD and vinyl packaging.
The project also engaged respected professional studio engineer and founder of SRG Studio in Hamilton, Sean Glonek. He made himself available to record tracks at both venues and provide a homogenous sound.
“Everyone was there to make art,” says Nobes. “When we were at the Champs recording session, just the energy and love was an experience, a milestone. Whatever happens in my life that will be one of the best memories.”
It will be one of many for the Belmar native whose frame shop-owning parents did not support his interest in the arts.
Initially the Asbury Park High School graduate worked as a graphic designer providing sales presentation support for the New York Times’ magazine division.
However, Nobes says, he found himself drawn to the theater—or back to it.
“I started my first theater company when I was 10 in my garage,” he says of his lifelong interest. “I decided to become a stage manager and learned how to do it. I did it for free and then started getting paid. I was then working at the Ridiculous Theater Company founded by Charles Ludlam (the adventurous American stage director and writer of ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep.’ After its funding was cut, I moved to Mother,” an independent theater center on 11th Street in New York City.”
There he “did everything”: technical direction, stage management, lighting design and installation, set construction, and anything else that was needed to create a production. “I was there seven days a week. It was a very busy venue.”
He also had his aesthetic sensibilities sharpened and learned the importance of creating “emotional connections that are powerful and significant.”
That’s something that shapes his approach to recording and his choice of using analog over digital recording.
“Tape is an interesting medium. It just doesn’t record. It is an instrument in itself,” he says, “You have to record what you have. The effect is on the sound and capturing the vibrancy of the music.”
The emotional and human connections are also something that shaped the making of Analog Trenton.
“Within that experience, with that witnessed creative effort, we show what a community can achieve solely with its passion, desire, and will,” he says in a statement.
But voice to voice, he adds, “It never ceases to astound me that when you are able to open up and allow yourself to be guided that all opportunities arise.”
For the opportunity to connect with Analog Trenton, there are several options: Double CD ($14), Standard vinyl LP with 13 Tracks ($23); Limited Edition LP with Colored Vinyl ($28); Box Set with Double CD, Standard LP, and Poster ($33); Collector’s Set with Double CD, Limited Edition LP, Poster, and Stickers ($42); Digital Download of all 40 Tracks ($7); and free videos. All can be found online here.