Wisconsin native Yoli Mara made her way to Nashville, received a Master’s degree in early childhood special education from Vanderbilt and continued her work in special education until 2010, when she decided to stay home with her kids and help run Welcome To 1979. The rest, as they say, is history. Welcome To 1979 is a multi-use, analog-centric (but digital capable) recording studio housed in The Nations. Yoli’s husband, Chris Mara, opened the studio in 2008. Yoli manages the logistics of the company, which is running four different branches of the business under one roof. Her efforts have also connected the studio with the community, namely through the annual Sylvan Park Social, a fundraiser for the Sylvan Park Elementary PTO that Yoli has hosted and chaired for a number of years. She is an enthusiastic member of her community and big advocate for both Sylvan Park (where the Mara family lives) and the Nations (where Welcome To 1979 lives). We are thrilled to welcome Yoli Mara
to 1979 as today’s FACE of Nashville!
Will you share the story of Welcome To 1979?
Welcome To 1979 is built on trading, sweaty equity and elbow grease. Chris worked as a freelance engineer since moving to Nashville in the late ’90s. Around 2008, he had accumulated enough of his own equipment and decided to look for a space of his own. He saw a “For Rent” sign in front of an old warehouse in The Nations, and it turned out to be exactly what he was looking for. At the time, I was teaching, was pregnant with our second child (she was born two weeks after the grand opening party), and our oldest child was under 2. It was a little bit crazy — okay, a lot crazy. Needless to say, Chris and I saw very little of each other during those first years. We were making it work. When summer rolled around, we had the luxury of seeing Chris more.
We both credit ourselves with having the idea for me to quit my job and help with invoicing, errand running and whatever else I could get done while I was home with the kids. We cut expenses by selling one car and we saved a ton of money by pulling the kids out of daycare. As the kids got older and more independent, I gradually took on more responsibilities at the studio. Now that they are 9 and 11, I am typically at the studio during school hours. I love having the flexibility to be home when they get home each day.
Over the years, we’ve grown from a recording studio to operating a tape machine restoration business (Mara Machines), lacquer cutting/mastering for vinyl and, most recently, electroplating for vinyl (producing stampers that are used as molds in record presses).
When did Mara Machines become part of the picture?
Mara Machines grew organically. Chris was getting calls asking who worked on his tape machine. The answer was that he worked on them himself. People started asking him to work on their machines, or to buy restored machines from him. We started restoring and selling about a half a dozen machines each year. Now, we ship around 40 machines each year. It has grown from something that kept our assistant recording engineers busy when the studio wasn’t booked, to its own department with a full-time tech at the helm. We ship machines all over the country (you’d be surprised to learn there are more Mara Machines in LA or New York than in Nashville) and the world (Vietnam, England, Italy and Hong Kong, just to name a few). Some really cool artists have bought them as well — Arcade Fire, Ray LaMontagne, Donald Glover … Pete Townshend owns four of them!
I handle acquiring machines to restore, billing, general customer service, coordinating delivery of machines — pretty much all things non-technical for this business. It’s fun to deal with people from all walks of life (from celebrities to studio owners to hobbyists with studios in their basement) and from all over the world!
What motivated the decision to make the studio analog centric?
The equipment that Chris already owned. He already had a tape machine and lots of gear, so keeping it analog kept our startup expenses down (and it was/is his preferred method of recording). We have since become fully equipped for digital recording, but remain primarily focused on analog.
What type of artists does this approach attract?
We have always had a lot of rock bands record here, and Americana artists seem to be drawn to us as well. I’m not sure why …
You’ve had some pretty noteworthy clients come through the studio. What are the most memorable recordings you and Chris have done?
Well, I’m much more the behind-the-scenes person in this endeavor, especially when it comes to the creative side of things (not a musical or technical bone in my body). I’m mostly involved in dealing with a high-profile client’s people and making sure that everything is set for their arrival. I will say, the most fun thing we’ve done, was having Jason Isbell perform and record live during our Annual Recording Summit kick-off party last November. We’ve hosted the Recording Summit annually for nine years. It is a weekend-long event with 60 attendees and 30 to 40 panelists. We always start the Summit with a kick-off party on Friday night, and it always has been a bit of a stunt. Last year, to celebrate the opening of our electroplating facility, we kicked the stunt factor up a notch by recording directly to our vinyl cutting lathe (this means that there can be no stopping and starting, the band has to play/record an entire side consecutively). The lacquers were then taken upstairs and plated (made into stampers) overnight, flown to a pressing plant in Kentucky, and we had copies of the record by mid-afternoon on Saturday. We had secured Jason Isbell as the artist but decided to keep it a complete surprise. His performance was awesome and everyone was so surprised; it was fun to watch the reactions around the room. The icing on the cake was that Jason and his team loved the recording from the event so much that they decided to scrap what he had planned for a Record Store Day release and pressed and released an additional 5,000 copies of this recording instead. His team asked our permission to print our address and phone number on the album artwork. Ha! It just turned out to be one of those things that could not have possibly come together more perfectly. It was cool.
You are a big supporter of Sylvan Park and The Nations. What makes these neighborhoods easy to stand behind?
We’ve owned our house in Sylvan Park for 15 years. We got in on the cusp of the neighborhood exploding and becoming the vibrant neighborhood it is today. We did not have kids when we bought here, but I had a vision of what it could become — kids playing baseball on the fields in front of our house, walking the two blocks to our neighborhood elementary school — and the neighborhood has exceeded all of my expectations. Between the greenway, community center, the awesome organization that is McCabe Park Little League, new restaurants and loads of other families with kids that have since moved into the neighborhood, I cannot imagine a better place to live.
As for The Nations, when we moved into the studio more than nine years ago, The Nations was not a place where people went. Now it is such a cool neighborhood, with tons of cool people who took a chance on a transitioning neighborhood and are willing to do the work to constantly improve this up-and-coming area. I think there are currently seven or eight restaurants within walking distance of the studio — and even a few years ago, there were none.
We are incredibly lucky to live and work in two great neighborhoods. Their proximity to one another doesn’t hurt either!
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
When I first left my teaching job and entered the music industry, it was very intimidating. I knew very little about recording or the technical side of things (this is still pretty true). I had a hard time getting comfortable around other industry professionals. The recording engineers and other industry professionals were primarily men (still are), so that was another level that made it hard to relate. For a while, I didn’t think I’d ever find my place here, and I often longed to just fade into the background, but seven years later, I can tell you that I definitely have found my people and my niche within our organization (many of whom I’ll see at our Ninth Annual Recording Summit this weekend). All that to say, I’ve chosen a book quote, from one of my favorite fictional characters, that sums up the experience I’ve had as I’ve found my way in the world of recording:
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Kid-free vacations, books and yoga pants.
Thank you to Yoli Mara for answering all of our questions. A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos of Yoli!
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