Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!


Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!


Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).


Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.


Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.


Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺


Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!


To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.


Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.


Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!


On the Road Again

What do Al Capone, Snoop Dogg and Dolly Parton have in common?

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.”