One of our neighbors in the new spot just so happen to be all-star silkscreen printing company called Grand Palace. We couldn't wait to gently knock on their new glass doors and talk to them about their incredible studio, and learn the ins-and-outs of silkscreening.
Check out our interview with founder Bingham Barnes and partner Drew Binkley on what they do, how they got started, and where they're headed. Don't miss out on the Grand Palace adventure! Follow them here and here to keep up with all of their amazing work.
So how did you get started?
Bingham: I started in my living room–and in the basement–me and the singer of my band, we just wanted to make t-shirts of our band, and the guy that was making the t-shirts for my old band was like, “Man I’m not really doing that anymore but I’ll show you how to do it.” So we made a little design, and he made me a screen and sent me home with a screen and a squeegee and a little thing of ink. We set up my living room and made shirts for the band.
That’s when I was like, “It’ll be a lot cooler to do this for a living than to wait tables for a living.” If I wanted to go play music or anything, I’d have to get shifts picked up, or if anything was ever really going to happen then it’s, like, probably end up losing your job. Nothing ever ended up happening anyway, but I learned how to start a screen-printing company.
How long ago was that?
Bingham: That started in 1998. We’d always been toying around with the name and doing stuff. I met a friend who worked with Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp, her name is Monique, and my bud Chuck. I started taking on printing jobs and Chuck had the computer, it was a Mac 9600–the beige one, and a printer, so I didn’t have to go to Kinko’s to print out my film. I started going over to Chuck’s house and then Chuck started helping me out with it and I started getting some jobs.
The first job I got that kicked it into gear for me was Pedro the Lion 'cause we had the same manager. That was the first real money I ever made. I remember when I bought my first pressure washer. We were doing it all just with homemade stuff in my house. From that, I was able to get Chuck to help me out a little bit more, and then we taught the screen printing class at Southern Girls Rock & Roll and became good friends with Monique. We were all making posters for the local rock shows in addition to t-shirts.
Back then, we would make them and we would make two or three-color prints and try to keep making them prettier. We’d just put ‘em up on phone poles, weren't trying to sell them or anything. It was kinda like, “Look at this cool thing we can do and promote our friend’s band's show.” Monique was doing it up here in Nashville and we were down in Murfreesboro at the time, and we were like, "Hey, you wanna start doing it with us?” and she said, “Yeah.” She was calling her stuff Grand Palace and that’s how it started.
At that time we were growing out of the basement, and Chuck’s living room, too, until we got our first real, real shop. It was an old pre-Civil War church on the downtown square in Murfreesboro. The name was really appropriate because it was like 4,000 square feet. Our buddy Alex had the lease on the place and he had a recording studio that was all analog. We started doing shows out of there and he was recording stuff and we’d do t-shirts for a lot of the bands that we would meet, and it just kept perpetually going from there. That was 2006-2011. Things went really, really good, but I guess we had just gotten older and our scene had sort-of moved. The new kids on the block, they were doing their own thing.
Drew moved up here. At that time Chuck and I had parted ways, he had moved to Chattanooga. I mean, I could’ve stayed down there but I really wanted to get out, I wanted to move on, so I came up here, too.
So does the recording studio still exist?
Drew: Not as Grand Palace. The guy that ran it, Alex, he ended up moving to Chattanooga, which is why we moved to Nashville. One day he just came in and was like, “Well, I signed a lease. Moving out in a month,” and we’re we like, “Well, guess we’re moving to Nashville.”
How did you get into screen printing?
Drew: I got into screen printing because I used to do stenciling, which is the exact same process just with an Exacto [knife] and I was doing pretty complicated–like eight or nine colored stencils. That’s when I met Bingham and Chuck doing screen printing, and was like, “I could do the exact same thing but hell of a lot quicker!”
What’s your role here? Are you guys partners?
Drew: Yeah. I joined just to help out, learn the process back in the day. I kind of had my own design stuff I was doing. Kind of was like, I’ll work for free if I can print my stuff–like the shop monkey. Did all the stuff they didn’t want to do. After a year or two of doing that, I jumped on part-time and then it turned into full-time. Basically, by the time we moved to Nashville, he asked me to come on and be partners with him.
And y’all moved to Fort Houston at that time?
Bingham: No, my buddy Rodrigo was renting a place in East Nashville on Douglas Ave and was like, “Hey dude, I got a big two-car garage in the backyard and could use help supplementing our rent if you want to move Grand Palace down here.”
When we moved up here, we got Rodrigo's garage for two years and that went really well and allowed us to establish ourselves in Nashville and then their lease ran out and everybody was like, “We got one month to get out.” I was friends with some of the guys at Fort Houston ,and it was basically my friend Zack that kept saying, “C’mon over here man.” They already had a press that was actually better than ours at the time, and it was in that tiny, little room. It was just supposed to be temporary but the way it worked out was everybody was, “Y’all just stay here, it’s fine, ya’ll just stay here.” So we made a good run with it for three years.
Was it mostly y’alls equipment that was there?
Bingham: Not at the beginning but at the end. At the beginning they had a nicer press that we used, but we bought a conveyor oven around that time and it was the first place we had that we were able to set it up.
One thing we did bring to the game at Fort Houston was the poster printing, but not a whole lot of people really wanted to come in and print posters. You can do that with a pair of hinges on your table at home. A t-shirt press, on the other hand, is little bit more expensive. So, we had a good run with the print program for a while We got up to like twelve members.
We just kept growing, and we did attribute a lot of that growth to being at Fort Houston and being able to be seen ‘cause of the Art Crawls. They were tremendous. We did meet a lot of people because of that. Actually, we met everybody that we ended up going in on this building with through that.
What’s the bulk of work you guys do?
Drew: Shirts and posters. You know, it varies. Some months we’ll print a lot more posters than we do shirts. Some months it’s the opposite. But definitely over the past year our average order is getting bigger and bigger. It used to be our average shirt size was like seventy-five to a hundred shirts, and now it’s like two to three hundred for the most part.
Did you guys just expand through "word of mouth?”
Drew: Totally. We’ve never done any advertising. The only advertising we did was an Exit/In showcase one time. It was like “Grand Palace Presents" kinda thing where we picked the bands and we did a poster for it, set up a table, and a $5 grab bag kinda thing.
Who are some of the clients you’re really proud of?
Bingham: We’ve been working for Grimey’s forever, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Edley’s BBQ–local business like that and bands that we’re fans of. Love doing stuff for Rayland Baxter and John Prine.
Where do you see Grand Palace going? Is this where you’ve envisioned yourself?
Bingham: Sort-of, but I don’t know. We’re about as big as Drew and I really care to get. It’s crazy that we have Tyler, Matt, Giovanni, and Olivia now. And Graeme comes in, so that’s like five people. Managing five people and keeping them busy is not easy either. And the reason we started doing this to begin with was because printing was fun and that takes us away from doing it.
We’ve been able to provide a decent job for a few cool people and I hope they stick with us. My ultimate goal for right now is this crew to stick with me. Not only continue to get jobs done but also help foster all of our different creative ideas.
So not get bigger but be able to do more creative projects?
Bingham: Exactly, we just bought an automatic. We need an automatic, but I don’t want two automatics. I don’t want to have shifts, ‘cause that’s just heartless work.
At the same time in Nashville, there’s plenty of other printing companies. Some a little bit smaller or bigger than Grand Palace, and over the years we’ve gotten to know who everybody is–The Life and Limb, Friendly Arctic, Kangaroo. The last thing we ever think about is being in competition with each other ‘cause there’s so much work that’s in demand in Nashville. So we’re just all here trying to get through it all, and we do things here and there that try to help each other out, like referrals.
It’s a fear, really, that I can’t handle what’s thrown at me and to fear that I’ll lose somebody because I can’t handle them. I want to just keep up with people that have been gracious enough to bring me in their business continually.
That’s probably what’ll make you grow.
I think we’re pretty content with our growth. At this point, since we just moved in this building and just bought an automatic and we have five people helping us out. Our main goal for the next foreseeable future is to be able to implement all those assets and get them to work together in an efficient way that makes everybody happy so that we’ll be able to pay everybody better, and I’ll be able to work a regular 9-5 instead of long days. [Having a newborn] I have to be at home on the weekends. It’s really changed my perspective on doing that. I mean, back in the day, 6:00 PM meant let’s go get some beers and work till 10:00 PM, but I can’t do that anymore.
Everybody’s grown’ up.
Bingham: Yep, have to start drinking that beer earlier.
Thank you to Bingham and Drew and everyone at Grand Palace for letting us crash the party for a day. All work is by Grand Palace. All photos by Original Fuzz.
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