The answer is The Castle in Franklin, just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Built in 1929, this beautifully unique piece of architecture served as a hideout for Al Capone and his companions on trips from Chicago to New Orleans. There are still gambling symbols carved into the entryway, and rumours of secret passages and unmarked graves on the grounds…
The property was later converted into a high-end restaurant frequented by famous artists, but after falling into private hands, it looked like The Castle’s star studded days would be over.
Jozef in front of the Castle Recording Studios
In 1981, Jozef Nuyens, a Belgian music student studying in Nashville, saw the property advertised in a magazine, and with a lot of ambition and energy, though he admits without much experience, bought the property with a dream of turning it into a studio.
“I was taken advantage of quite a few times in those early days. I learnt a lot very fast. You do when you are young!”
Jozef grew up in a very musical family, and from a young age toured with his family band. “We became much more successful than we ever imagined. So when I studied music at university, I was just learning the theory of everything that I had already been doing.”
Jozef’s lack of experience didn’t stand in the way, and within several years, the studio was attracting some of the biggest names in the region. Hundreds of Gold and Platinum Records have been produced at the Castle – “Often, the records produced here were the artist’s first ever Gold or Platinum Record… there’s just something about this place…”
And we felt that “something” too – from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dogg, Lionel Richie to Miley Cyrus and Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen, the legendary list of artists that have filled this place with their spellbinding melodies hangs beautifully and magically in the air.
Jozef attributes a lot of his success to his “left-brain, right-brain” balance. At undergraduate level he studied Maths and Latin, and manages to strike what seems to be the perfect balance between creativity and logic, between visionary dreams and meticulously planned strategies.
“I often acted almost as a ‘translator’ between artists and record labels. The labels want one thing and sometimes the artists want something different, so I helped them to understand how each other was thinking. And then find the right compromise.
“I didn’t get artists signed necessarily because I was a genius producer. I just understand both parties.”
Jozef with his studio manager Beau
Jozef has since invested in a wide portfolio of different businesses; technology and finance and creative endeavours. He had stopped producing musicians, leaving the day-to-day production to his talented team. But one day, at his son’s annual recital, he heard an astounding young talent and knew he had to give him a chance.
As we sat, listening to the record they had just mastered, it was clear that Jozef still has his keen eye for what makes music that is just really good. Bright, catchy hooks; deep, simmering arrangements; intriguing, clever lyrics; and a voice that has maturity and depth beyond its years… What an honour for young artists like us to soak up this creative wisdom.
Jozef and Louise listening to “Sail On” in Studio B
So as we sat, enjoying a proper Southern “meat and three” meal, we asked Jozef for his advice to two creative adventurers, and his advice was so pure and simple, but so fundamentally core that it will stay with us for many years:
“Keep doing what you love.”