Music News

Jessica Carson of Clandestine Amigo and Octave Records on High-Resolution Audio

Jessica Carson fronts the band Clandestine Amigo and is Octave Records' executive producer and director.
Jessica Carson fronts the band Clandestine Amigo and is Octave Records' executive producer and director. Emma Knight
click to enlarge Jessica Carson fronts the band Clandestine Amigo and is Octave Records' executive producer and director. - EMMA KNIGHT
Jessica Carson fronts the band Clandestine Amigo and is Octave Records' executive producer and director.
Emma Knight
When local pop/rock act Clandestine Amigo was recruited by Boulder-based Octave Records to make an album in 2019, singer, pianist and songwriter Jessica Carson didn’t know much about pure, high-resolution Direct Stream Digital (DSD) recording.

Before recording the band’s debut, Temporary Circumstances, Octave mixing engineer Gus Skinas asked Carson to come to the label’s studio and hear the difference that recording in DSD can make. When she heard the first guitar strum come out of the speakers, Carson looked behind her, thinking there was someone in the room playing guitar.

On the way home, she called the band’s guitarist, Kyle Donovan, and said, “I just had a religious experience. I don't even know how to describe it.” A few weeks later, Donovan had a similar experience, one that brought tears to his eyes.

“It's just so mind-blowing,” Carson says. “It's so different. The emotion and the feeling that you want from music is all there.”


During the recording of Temporary Circumstances over late 2019 and early 2020, she learned a lot more about DSD technology; it even changed the way she sang.

“When you can hear every little thing that your voice does, you learn how to manipulate it in a new way,” she says.

After Octave released Temporary Circumstances last year, Carson was hired as the label’s executive producer and director. She’s also one of three staffers who recruit bands for the label. Foxfeather, Augustus, Gasoline Lollipops, Megan Burtt and Carmen Sandim are just some of the local artists who have recorded for the label or have albums coming out in the future.

As part of its support for musicians, Octave covers 100 percent of all studio, mixing, mastering, production, distribution and marketing expenses.

“They're very much aware of sustainability,” Carson notes. “Knowing that an artist can come in here and make an album, and have it funded and not have to do a Kickstarter or have the production costs cut into their profits — that's such a huge thing, and unheard of these days.

“So that's exactly what we do — we fund the project," she continues. "We pay for the studio time and the session players and all that. And they start making a profit from dollar one. It's a very respectful model, I feel, as an artist.”

Before acts record in pure DSD for the label, Carson invites them to Octave’s reference room so they can hear the difference in sound quality and have an idea of what they’re actually working on.

“And then we have them bring in music that they've made so they can hear the difference in what they know and what their experience has been and what they're now expected to do," she says. "I really can't emphasize enough how different it is.”

One thing that sets an Octave release apart from standard CD releases is the spread, or width, of the stereo image. Carson notes that Paul McGowan — who founded the Boulder high-end audio manufacturing company PS Audio nearly five decades ago and launched Octave last year — approves all the mixes, “because he has the golden ears.”

“It really is different from the way we track it to the way we mix," she explains. "We really try to make it feel like that musician is in the room with you, playing behind the speaker rather than right in it.”

Like PS Audio’s high-end audio products, Octave’s releases are geared toward audiophiles.

“They’re really designed and recorded with our audiophile audience in mind,” Carson says. “That's really who we're trying to reach. And it's an interesting crowd. They'll listen to music that is kind of mediocre if it's recorded really well. And on the flip side, they won’t listen to music that’s good if it's not recorded well. We're really trying to hit that sweet spot of really good music that’s recorded really well. We're trying to get the best of both worlds for them.”

Carson adds that the label tends to focus on genres with more natural-sounding instruments — like classical and jazz with woodwinds and strings — because they're particularly conducive to recording in DSD. “Classical guitar or strings or really intimate vocals are the things that are going to shine in this medium,” she says. But the label has also worked with rock acts.

Clandestine Amigo, which also includes singer Giselle Collazo and drummer Michael Wooten, recently recorded a new album, titled Things Worth Remembering. Octave released it last month as a limited-edition run of 1,000 hybrid SACD discs with the master DSD layer and a CD layer.

Carson invited some of the artists who've recorded for the label over the past year to work on the album in order to give it a wider dynamic range. Guest musicians included trumpeter Gabriel Mervine, bassist Bradley Morse, organist and flutist Tom Amend, vibraphonist Jonathan Sadler and others. Singer Katie Mintle contributed vocals on a few songs, adding a sultry element to the music.

Having the core group and guest musicians record together as much as possible was key, says Carson, because of the way DSD "captures emotion and that live energy."

Clandestine Amigo's Things Worth Remembering is available at psaudio.com.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon