The rising star among music livestreaming platforms Volume.com has been releasing watch parties over the last few months from their 6 part series, An Empty Room. It explores the connective tissue between 6 influential artists from the Atlanta music scene and the guests include Michelle Malone, Three5Human, Eliot Bronson, Tyrone Jackson, Shawn Mullins, and Grant Green Jr.
This series features quality documentary-style storytelling interspersed with musical performances where the up close viewer perspective serves as the sole audience member. It was developed and produced by the Atlanta-based Kearns Family, Producer /Audio Engineer Martin “Marty” Kearns, Production Manager Juli Maria McKenna Kearns, and Director of Photography/ Editor Aaron Kearns.
We got the chance to speak with Marty about An Empty Room and his inspiration for its creation:
Talk about your long and involved history with the Atlanta music scene.
I moved to Atlanta in 1978 and immediately went on the road for the next 4 years. During this time I was involved in an attempt to reform the legendary Fans with Dan Baird and AlfredoVillar. It wasn’t to be, but through this I ended up playing with Kevin Dunn, the original Fans guitarist and produced several records with him for DB/Press records. This led to becoming the keyboardist of choice for many of the Atlanta and Athens post punk groups like Love Tractor, The Swimming Pool Qs, The Roys, Face of Concern, David Gamble, etc. even producing Ru Paul’s first EP for FunTone.
In ’82 I took a break from the touring life and split my time between playing sessions with bands and composing and recording commercial music. A serious accident in 1986 took me out of the studio world and I reassessed where I wanted my career to go. When I was able to resume performing I started concentrating more on working with bands that I loved, R&B, blues and more stripped down acoustic music that was coming out of venues like Eddie’s Attic and the Little 5 Points Pub (I performed at Eddie’s the 2nd night it was open and the most recent show I played at Eddie’s Red Clay theater. Still honored to be able to perform on Eddie Owens’ stage). This led me to work with many great artists in the new folk genre like Shawn Mullins, Kristen Hall, Michelle Malone and Billy Pilgrim. After our son, Aaron was born I made the decision to shift from being a touring musician to more producing and studio engineering.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with great musicians as a producer, player and engineer in every genre I can think of.
Explain what motivated you to create An Empty Room and add how you got family involved.
The concept for An Empty Room came about when the first Covid quarantine hit and musicians started to live stream. It was better than nothing, but the quality was terrible. One of my studio regulars and I had started doing hybrid live/multi track multi camera events for special devices for a network of churches across the country with my son, Aaron, heading the video part of the shoots. Aaron and I started talking about how to produce a show that wasn’t just a live concert with tacked on interviews. Something more intimate that looked like a movie and sounded like a
CD. We also wanted to create a feeling of the artists playing in their living room, not a “performance.” Juli is an accomplished artist and photographer so it was natural to want her involved in the look of each show. She pretty much holds the shoots together handling much of the artist liaison when not working as 2nd camera op. Roles overlap and intertwine. Each of us brings our own special skill set to the production.
Why did you choose these 6 artists to participate?
The artists were chosen because of the inter-connection between them. We had planned 12 episodesforthefirstseasonbutshutdownproductionduetoaspikeinthepandemic.Whenwe pick back up production next year we’re going to finish out the planned 1st season artists and work on the 2nd season conceptalso.
What was the process of making the series and did you learn anything specialor surprising about any of theartists?
The first step in producing the series was to map out the connections between different communities of artists in Atlanta and write out our dream list of guests. I then contacted them and laid out the premise and much to our amazement every one we approached wanted to be part of the series.
The big surprise to me was when shooting the Three5Human episode Tomi Martin was talking about first moving to Atlanta and where he lived. We realized we lived down the hall from each other in Inman Park for around 4 years and never met. He and I are both huge Mother’s Finest fansandMikeKeck,theirkeyboardist,livedinthesamebuildingandheandIwerefriends,but Tomi never met himeither.
What makes the ATL music scene special and talk about its attributes and its history?
The Atlanta music scene is different from any other city I’ve ever been to. Musicians in Atlanta support each other in a very real way. Only super fans would know how many careers the Indigo Girls have helped launch by taking local acts out to open for them nationally. I’ve been on many tours opening for them with 3 different bands over the years. It’s the same with studios around town. Many of my good friends are producers/engineers who own their own studios. Instead of a sense of competition we try to work together on projects as often as possible and will send a project to another person that is better suited to do a good job. The other unusual aspect is the way artists of different genres work together and support each other. There’s an openness to collaboration that is exciting for the artists and I think audiences appreciate it.
The idea of having to stay in your own lane is not an Atlanta concept. A great example of this is a few years ago I produced a CD for an Americana artist out of Charlottesville, VA. It was true Appalachian based music. The band consisted of Janelle Monae’s percussionist on drums, the guitarist from Sugarland, a bassist who plays mostly Jazz and with the Atlanta Ballet and a mandolin player from Charlottesville. About as diverse as you can get!
It’s also wildly diverse and there are no genre boundaries in play. I met Khari Simmons – my longtime production partner – when we played for an English pop style artist. The band didn’t ever take off, sometimes it’s just that way. Khari left to play with India.Arie, and the drummer to
Outcast, and I started with Shawn Mullins.
The history of the Atlanta music scene is so deep. Starting in the 60s you’ve got the blues and R&B scene that was so strong running parallel to the emerging pop artists. Coming from the Bill Lowrie and Buddy Buie camp we had Joe South, Billy Joe Royal, The Classics 4 which spearheaded the Southern Rock genre as Atlanta Rhythm Section. Mother’s Finest broke out withitsblendofrockandfunkinthe70ssimultaneouslywithR&BactslikeBohannonandBrick. Post punk bands like The Brains, Swimming Pool Q’s and The Fans paved the way for Athens’ B 52s and REM. Atlanta Producer Bruce Baxter produced the B52’s first single and Hib-Tone Record from Atlanta put out the first REM EP. Ichiban Records broke Arrested Development and Kriss Kross. Jermaine Dupree and Babyface defined the Atlanta R&B sound. The Dungeon Family came out of nowhere to establish Atlanta as a HipHop Mecca. The Ying Yang Twins developed Dirty South and Outcast turned rap conventions sideways producing several groundbreaking CDs. All the while the New folk scene blossomed out of Eddie’s Attic and the Little 5 Points Pub producing acts like The Indigo Girls, Kristen Hall and Kristian Bush (founding members of Sugarland), John Mayer, and Shawn Mullins. The Star Bar gave us Drive By Truckers (Jason Isbel) and Buffalo Nickel, which turned into Blackberry Smoke, a stage to build from.
This is probably way too much but it’s only scratching the surface and I’ve only gotten to the early 2000s.
What will viewers / listeners of the podcast get by watching or listening?
The people who have watched episodes of An Empty Room have had similar reactions. They say that they feel like they got to know the artists on a deeper level and that the performances are very immediate and personal. More like the artists dropped by their house and are playing some songs just for them, not like a concert. When planning and producing the shows this is what we were hoping for, to give the viewers an experience of musicians sharing what they love and what inspires them. We wanted it to be like making a new friend who just happens to be brilliantly talented and decided to play some of their favorite songs for you. As a bonus, over the course of the series, the viewers get a little bit of an Atlanta music history lesson.
All 6 Episodes of An Empty Room are Available to binge now
Join the next two upcoming watch parties, Shawn Mullins on November 20th and Grant Green Jr. on December 4th. Get ticketshereto interact with Shawn and Grant Green Jr.
Or watch here:
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