As Arc in Round try out their new name, frontman Jeff Zeigler is making his own.
Back in January the long-running Philadelphia dream-pop/ambient/shoegaze band Relay changed their name to Arc in Round, a switch necessitated by the fact that there are approximately 287 bands around the globe called Relay. As the quartet tries to get its new name out there via local shows this spring, frontman Jeff Zeigler is simultaneously making a name for himself as one of Philly’s go-to indie-rock engineers/producers, having already helmed albums by Kurt Vile, Clockcleaner, the War on Drugs and others at his North Philadelphia studio, Uniform Recording.
“It’s kind of a crazy no-man’s-land here,” the friendly Zeigler laughs of Uniform’s 13th and Spring Garden location while taking a dinner break from recording with Busses, a new experimental-punk trio fronted by former South Congress singer-guitarist Dave Brett. “There’s a hip-hop studio a few doors down but that’s pretty much it. There’s just us, two apartments and a middle school. I like it here. Nobody bothers us.”
A native of Hackettstown, N.J., Zeigler spent his formative years in Boston, where he attended college, worked temp jobs and taught himself various engineering techniques—inspired by Martin Hannett of Factory Records (who produced Joy Division, Buzzcocks, the Psychedelic Furs and others), My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and a plethora of Motown-era producers—to apply to his own nascent songwriting and four-track recording. “When you’re doing it all yourself, hearing things laid out track by track, it’s a lot easier to connect to the whole thing and really get inside of it,” he explains.
Zeigler also began doing production work with Boston shoegazers Swirlies, which provided the funds to begin amassing recording gear. In search of a less expensive city with a more tightly knit music community in which to pursue his production career in earnest and take a stab at life as a recording and touring artist with Relay/Arc—which after some lineup changes now includes singer-keyboardist Mikele Edwards, bassist Ian Fraser, and drummer Matt Ricchini (proprietor of the Marvelous! record store in University City)—Zeigler moved to Philly in 2001.
“It’s a lot less cutthroat here,” he says. “Everybody’s just trying to do their thing. I think part of that’s the cost of living being kinda low, and there’s more art here in general. But it’s really nice to be somewhere where there are a lot of people down to help each other out. There are people I can call any day of the week and be like, ‘Hey, is it possible for me to borrow this?’ And they know they can come to me if they need to borrow something or whatever.”
“A lot of the bands I tend to work with are interested in having a little atmosphere on their record, maybe,” Zeigler acknowledges. “It’s cool because I end up working with a lot of people who are pretty like-minded in terms of sonics and pushing things a little further and trying a few unorthodox things.”
In recent years, Zeigler’s expanded his repertoire by working with the likes of Kurt Vile—the excellent and suddenly hot-shit Philly singer/multi-instrumentalist currently being courted by numerous high-profile national record labels—and the infamous, soon-to-be-defunct Clockcleaner.
Says Zeigler of recording with Vile: “He comes in with a pretty solid idea of what he wants most of the time, so there’s a foundation, and then we’ll just go for it and try a bunch of different things. If something doesn’t work in like three or four takes we just move on, which is awesome. It’s kind of unique. He goes with the flow. It’s just really rewarding to work with him.”
And of Clockcleaner, whose 2007 album Babylon Rules was produced by Zeigler (he also helmed another Clockcleaner full-length late last year that probably won’t come out until this summer, well after the group disbands): “They’re totally mellow and great to work with. I love those guys. They’re hysterical and they have really great ideas, and I liked the whole ‘Fuck you’ of it all. There’s something confrontational, but also pretty smart about what they’re doing. It’s too bad they’re breaking up.”
Still, he plans to continue recording with Clockcleaner frontman John Sharkey, who’s putting together a new band, and maintain his association with drummer Richie Charles and his label, Richie Records, which features several acts who track at Uniform Recording. Also in the works is another Kurt Vile album, as well as Arc in Round’s next, which Zeigler and company are currently putting the wraps on and hope to have out by fall.
“Things have been going pretty good, and I guess I’ve built up a fairly positive reputation in terms of recording,” Zeigler says. “I’m happy to be working with these bands, and everyone always feels comfortable. I’ve never really had a recording situation that hasn’t worked out.”
And he’s exceedingly happy Philadelphia is the place he’s establishing his name and renown. “There’s so few dicks in this city who think they’re on a separate plane, like holier-than-thou about stuff. For the most part I think everyone’s generally supportive—everybody knows what everybody else is trying to do, and that it’s not easy. They all know it’s such a fucking uphill battle at all times. But the things we’re all working on, I think it’s definitely worth it in the end.”