The night before, members of the whiskered hard rock band the Gray had rehearsed new material for an anticipated album.
On this Thursday evening, new vocals were being laid on previously recorded tracks by Fayetteville rockers Bones Fork and The Fifth.
Jason Fisher sat at the helm of the in-house recording equipment, while Rob Dufresne of BoneS Fork and Roy Cathey of The Fifth were miked for singing after first loosening up with a beer or two.
Those who travel up and down Hay Street might never know that a record label and recording studio operate from the first floor of one of the storied Greek revival/Victorian homes that hug the road and help make Haymount such a unique part of this old Southern military city.
Yet, this particular place — with the original structure having been built in 1843 and listed on the National Historic Register — is home to the fledgling Exitus Stratagem Records. The house lies between a medical doctor’s office and a plumbing and engineering business.
Most of the recording takes place after-hours, Fisher said, once those places have closed.
“We’re not going to be the next RCA. We’re not going to be the next Capitol,” said Fisher, a retired Green Beret. “We’re a little, tiny record label. All these guys have other jobs. We’re just an active rock record label. That’s what we do.”
But Fisher and Dufresne, the owners of the business, are confident there’s a place for an independent label willing to showcase the talent from the Fayetteville music scene.
“There’s some amazingly talented people out there. The challenge is finding guys with the right work ethic,” Fisher said. “And that’s part of the challenge for the record label. We’re not going to hand people anything. We’re too small to do that. We don’t have millions of dollars to throw at anybody. We’re going to help people produce the best music that they can and get it out there to the world. And it has taken us a long time to be able to do that. Because, honestly, we didn’t know what we were getting into when we started.”
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A short, narrow driveway takes visitors around the backyard and to a small gravel-and-concrete parking area before they enter the lofty two-story house through a black metal gate. Here, in one of the home’s 13-foot-high-ceiling rooms — in this case, what used to be the salon — brawny hard rock riffing in odd-time signatures and bursts of heavy metal thunder are rehearsed and bottled in a permanent file through the recording gear.
Fisher owns the reconverted five-bedroom house, refit for the studio, and lives in an upstairs corner.
“I just moved here in the last year,” said Fisher, who is 47 and originally from Arvada, Colorado. “The record label … needed a new home. I was looking at a lot of places and came upon this place, which had been empty for a little while.”
He’s quick to say that the studio inside the 3,600-square-foot house has not completely “settled.”
Together, Fisher and Dufresne run the label, which was originally established in 2014 by five active-duty and veteran Army soldiers. They are the last of the founders.
“We’re on the cusp of being able to move forward,” said Dufresne, another former Green Beret. He’s a 47-year-old native of Honolulu, who makes his home in the Cameron community.
Fisher said the idea of forming a record label was “mine, 100 percent. Before I joined the Army, I was a professional singer. I was doing that for a while before I just decided I wanted to actually eat something and not live in a two-bedroom apartment with six people. So I joined the Army. Twenty-six years later, I retired here in Fayetteville.”
At this time, music gives them purpose.
Fisher and Dufresne have lived in the area since 2006, when they were last stationed at Fort Bragg.
They’ve known each other since 2013.
For an interview, the budding music executives sat at a table in a closed-off meeting room from the rehearsal space across the entrance hall. That was where the Gray was about to crank it up again after a break. Joining the conversation was Tigris, the house cat named after the Tigris River that snakes through Iraq.
“She’s a music cat,” Fisher said with a little laugh.
Before the conversation gathers steam, Cary Becker poked his head into the room and asked, “Do we have to be quiet for awhile?”
“No, go ahead, man,” Fisher told the Gray’s bandleader and lead guitarist. “Do what you need to do.”
Almost instantly, Becker and his bandmates were back at it, fusing the out-front twin guitars and bass and bolstering the band’s heavy brand of rock with an underlying sense of Black Sabbath-like pervading doom.
“They’re commercially viable, which is why we went after them,” Fisher would say later.
The Gray may be local, but its heavy metal sound is on par with other national recording acts of their long-haired, tattooed ilk. The group looks to complete the album in progress, play bigger shows and tour beyond the local and regional gigs.
“There are a lot of fans following us,” 50-year-old Chris Herrick said. “We’re continuing to refine and work. We’ve got four songs, and we’ve got to do six more.”
Herrick, who sings and plays rhythm guitar for the Gray, is a former Green Beret. He spent 23 years in the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg.
“We were in a storage space before,” he said. “It’s easier to access here.”
Robbie Jenkins, who works at a Food Lion distribution warehouse in the area, returned to Fayetteville a couple of years ago and is back again playing drums for the band. A dark pair of gloves covered his hands and a black toboggan was yanked down, over his long, stringy strands of hair. Jenkins, too, complimented the acoustics of the rehearsal room between drags off a cigarette.
“Makes us sound better,” he said. “As far as this place goes, I like practicing here.”
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Of the original five founders, former Exitus Stratagem Records partners Chris McDonald and Matt Dawson are no longer involved in the business, Fisher said. Though John Terzian also has since relinquished his stake in the label — instead, focusing on his government contracting company in town — he continues to record in the studio.
He’s an integral member of BoneS Fork.
Terzian plays guitar in the four-piece rock band, whose membership includes Fisher on bass and backup vocals and Dufresne primarily on lead vocals, harmonica and alternative percussion. As Fisher put it, Bones Fork started conceptually around 2013 before playing its first show a year later. It may come as a surprise, as that date was at Peaden’s Seafood & Catering on McArthur Road.
“We’re really kind of a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll band,” he said. “We primarily play our music.”
BoneS Fork has recorded one album, “Goat Tree,” for Exitus Stratagem. The band is moving forward on its sophomore effort.
To date, the record label has released four albums and one single. Tentatively scheduled for November is a reissue of The Fifth’s 2008 recording, “Concessions of Man,” initially released on EMG/Universal Records. Fisher said he’s responsible for the remastering and remixing.
Based in Fayetteville, The Fifth is regarded as one of Fayetteville’s finest rock bands. Lead vocalist Roy Cathey said last month that the veteran band was working on its fourth record, and first since 2009.
The Fifth recently signed with Exitus Stratagem.
“It will be sometime later this year,” Cathey said of the new disc’s release. “We’re hard at work working on it. We’re really excited to be teaming up with them (the label) being from Fayetteville.”
Motor Junkie and Overlord S.R. are a couple more local bands signed to the label.
“In the beginning, in 2014,” Fisher said, “I made the statement to these guys (his BoneS Fork bandmates), ‘No major record label is going to sign BoneS Fork. Let’s start our own.’ It has taken us a long time to get where we’re at. Now we’re a lot more established and made it through those initial years. We’re all retirees at this point. We have that behind us. It’s never a question of are we going to have somewhere to live tomorrow? It’s are we going to have enough spare money floating around to produce the next album for the next guy?”
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