In 1990, Enharmonik Studios moved from a basement on 19th and F streets to our current location. The basement was really fun and we did a lot of great recordings there with local artists like John McCrea (pre Cake), and Robert Kuhlmann, and occasional out of town artists like Mojo Nixon. Along with Eric Bianchi, I recorded the first Groovie Ghoulies album in less than two days in that basement. Kepi drove up from LA in a hearse. I started a string of records with Kevin Seconds and 7 Seconds in that basement. But, having a busy studio in the basement of the house I was living in with my wife, Maria, got old. So, at some point in 1990 we moved into what was once the old Vortex (One of Jerry Perry’s early clubs, but that’s another story).
The first recording I remember doing there was the first recording of Cake, live with an audience. It was never released. The first actual record I remember doing there was the last Vomit Launch album, Dogeared.
At some point, Enharmonik evolved into The Hangar but the space remained essentially the same and for 23 years bands from all over the world recorded albums in the space.
In March of 2013, we will record the last band in the space and move out, ending an over two-decade run of making records in the building.
Here are some lists, everybody likes lists:
- Things I am proud of:
- -Being able to keep our rates low and affordable so unsigned musicians could afford to make good records.
- -Getting to know so many great people through the space and the studio.
- -Having people travel from all over the world to record at The Hangar. We’ve had a lot of bands travel from LA and NYC, but also a few bands from the UK and one artist flew in from Tokyo!
- -Working with some great Sacto Bands like Deftones, Far, Willhaven, Tiger Trap, Knapsack, Mother Hips, !!!, Tera Melos, and Chelsea Wolfe and seeing them go on to garner worldwide attention.
- -Seeing Chris Woodhouse go from a punk rock kid recording at the studio 20 years ago to having three records recorded at The Hangar in the CMJ top 10 and Rolling Stone college charts in a 12 month period: Wild Flag, Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall.
Things I am bummed out about:
- -Losing the space in the broader sense. There are three large recording rooms on the west coast of the USA, Skywalker Ranch, Capitol Studios and The Hangar. Capitol and Skywalker are both amazing studios but not very affordable. See point 1 above.
- -Leaving Sacto. I wish there was more musical infrastructure (aka a “scene”) here the way there used to be in the Cattle Club era for instance, and that having a large studio in Sacramento was more feasible rather than a struggle.
- -Having Thin White Rope book time with me to do an album (yes!) and cancel because they broke up and never recorded another record.
Some of my favorite records recorded/mixed at the studio (heavily biased towards things I’ve worked on or folks who became friends):
- Two Sheds Strange Ammunition
- Sea of Bees Songs for the Ravens
- Vetiver Thing of the Past
- Devendra Banhart Cripple Crow
- Au Revoir Simone Still Night, Still Light
- Little Wings LAST
- !!! Louden Up Now
- Jason Lytle Yours Truly the Commander
- Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit
- Sister Crayon Bellow
- The Mumlers – Thickets and Stitches
- Bright Black Morning Light
- Alela Diane To Be Still
- Barbarossa Bloodlines
- Jackpot F+
- The Revolution Smile We are in this Together
- 7 Seconds Ourselves (Punk Rock Teeth!)
- The Mother Hips Back to the Grotto
- Vomit Launch Dogeared
Some of my favorite records I’ve worked on (Heavily biased towards liking and respecting the people I made them with)
- Sea of Bees Songs for the Ravens
- Little Wings LAST
- Jackpot Moonbreath
- Tim Bluhm and Greg Loicano – Ballpoint Birds
- The Mattson 2 with Ray Barbee
- John Tchicai Love is Touching
- Nedelle Republic of Two
- Simon Feck 49
- Julianna Zachariou Tell, Tell, Tell
- Team Sleep
- Freight Train Riders of America
- Brion Burkett and Tim Tinker
- Christian Kiefer Dogs and Donkeys
- Vomit Launch Mr. Spench
- Anton Barbeau – Can’t remember, there were too many
- Helen Keller Plaid Din
- Texas Midgets Man With The X Ray Eyes.
- Fool Killers Out of State Plates.
- Vomit Launch Dogeared
- (note: it’s hard to like records you’ve worked on because you know them too well)
Some of my favorite People who’ve worked here and I might not have mentioned on any of these other silly lists or stories:
- Robert “Flossy” Cheek
- Thom Monahan
- John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees
- Kris Anaya
- Shaun Lopez
- Eric Stenman
- Andy Cabic
- Goh Nakamura
- Jason Quever
- Jon Erickson
- Bart Davenport
- John Tchicai
- Neal Casal
- James Neil
- Jay Shaner
Pivotal People who worked here without whom I might have given up:
- Rich Hardesty
- Eric Broyhill
- Sonny Mayugba
- Mike Tamony
- Larry Crane
- AJ Wilhelm
- Brandon Oreno
- Robert Cheek
- Scott McChane
- Bryce Gonzales
- Dave Middleton
- Amber Padgett
- Lance Jackman
- Kurt Kurasaki
Some pretty funny ‘celeb’ type moments at the Hangar:
-The time Chris Robinson came by to see the studio the morning after a gig at Harlows while Wild Flag was recording with Woodhouse. Everyone bumped into each other on the front porch and since I’m not very socially graceful at introductions, it was awkward. So, the singer from the Black Crowes, the female lead of Portlandia and the drummer from Sleater-Kinney meet on the porch and kind of say hi to each other and I say, “oh hey Chris, this is Carrie and Janet.” Later Janet says, “I thought that hippie guy looked familiar.”
-The time Ian MacKaye and his then girlfriend, now wife, Amy Farina, from Fugazi and The Evens spent the night at the studio after a gig at a Thai restaurant that Kevin Seconds put on. I got to the studio the next morning and Ian and Bruce Bolin, who runs Puddingstone studios out of our building and is just an all around nice guy, but not that into punk rock, are having an obviously pleasant conversation together over a cup of coffee. “So,” Bruce asks Ian, “You’re in a band huh? What kind of music do you play?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” he replied smiling, and looking at me, “What kind of music do we play John?”
I think Ian really enjoyed not being recognized as the icon he was cast as at the time.
-The time Kanye West was in the studio for two days. There are lots of stories here actually, but I’ll limit it to one. It was pretty funny seeing all the folks from Absolut Vodka fly into town for a meeting with Kanye and sit around in our ratty lobby and really crappy couches and chairs and have a meeting and plan out a TV commercial. They left behind some documents on the budget, which made me realize I was in the wrong business. Kanye sat around in this really funky Lazy Boy lounger chair, which we always referred to after that as the “Kanye Chair”. When I found out I had to move, I gave the chair away on Craigslist for free and told the Vietnamese family who picked it up that Kanye West sat in it. They had no idea who I was talking about. I also met Nick Miller during the Kanye sessions, who’s become a good friend since, when I had to chase him out of the building for trying to shoot photos of Kanye for SNR.
-We had Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion in the studio with Thom Monahan and Andy Cabic from Vetiver mixing the album, Bright Examples, they had recorded together in upstate NY. I was pretty stoked to have Woody Guthrie’s frigging granddaughter in the studio! They were super nice folks. Johnny and I would take breaks and hit the skatepark on Power Inn Road and one evening we all had dinner at the house together and I cooked Cioppino. At one point Sarah Lee and Bryce and I were hanging out in the lobby and Bryce asked Sarah Lee what she thought of Sacramento. “It’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be,” she replied. Uggh, this was always rough.
At one point, I was talking with Rogue Wave, The Mars Volta and Stephen Malkmus all for possible bookings the same month of March one year. None of them ended up booking time, as someone in the band, or the producer, didn’t want to come to Sacramento. Bryce moved on to LA. On another note, bands from NY always seem to like Sacto. Au Revior Simone said it reminded them of Brooklyn before it was over run.
Pivotal Moments in my ‘career’ as an engineer/producer/studio owner/manager:
- -The first time I recorded a really good drummer (Mike Urbano)
- -The first time I went back to 16-track 2-inch analog tape.
- -The first time I heard a truly great tube mic on a great vocalist (Neumann U 67/Nedelle)
- -Recording Little Charlie playing guitar
- -Meeting Brotha Lynch Hung and doing a long run of early hip-hop and gangsta rap albums.
- -Recording 2 albums with Chico band Vomit Launch and meeting my lifelong friend and business partner (in Tape Op Magazine) Larry Crane.
- -Meeting my good friend Julie Baenziger and producing Sea of Bees Songs for the Ravens which brought me out of ‘retirement’ and also got me started in artist management.
- -Meeting Brian Eno during a Tape Op interview Larry and I did and having him not only live up to my hopes of being a genuinely nice (and of course brilliant) person, but also vindicate everything I’d come to believe about how good records are made.
So that’s it really after 20 something years here. A big pile of recordings coming out of Sacto. that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people have heard. But for me personally, it will always be more about the people and the small things we shared making these records. Running a studio and being a recording engineer/producer is for the most part a lot of drudgery and hard work at very low wages, and a skill that requires nearly the time and monetary investment of getting a law degree or becoming a doctor. When younger folks call me and want advice on a ‘career’ in the studio I do my best to talk them out of it until I’m sure that they, like me and all the other dorks who’ve worked here, have no other real ‘career’ option. This is it.
We recording folks, we complain a lot. But the truth is that when you are in the room with an amazing artist that you’ve become good friends with and that magic starts to happen and you’re capturing a great song as it is coming into being and is immortalized into a recording that many people will hear, there is no better gig in the world.
One of the last records I will make in this space is the latest Little Wings record, which Kyle, through some kind of prescience, titled LAST. I will always distinctly remember the last night we worked on that record together even though at the time, I wasn’t sure if we were done with the record, or that it was the last night we would work together on the record. It was a record that took the better part of a year but in small, concentrated, 2-3 day spurts every other month or so and then Kyle would head out on another tour or do another art show somewhere in Europe. It was a record that had seen more emotional highs and lows than I was accustomed to. It had been both a really easy and really hard record to make, and I’ll leave it at that. As we worked together, Kyle and I developed the habit of cooking dinner at the studio as the evening wound down and polishing off a bottle, maybe two, of red wine and talking into the early hours of the next morning. I’m pretty sure this was essential to how the record turned out and eventually got done. On that last night we worked together in the early summer of 2012, I had a good feeling we had finally nailed it and the record was finished. I can’t remember what I had cooked us for dinner, nor can I remember what wine we were drinking, but I do remember at some point, looking out into the big dimly lit space that was The Hangar, and thinking “wow, I think we just finished making a really cool record.” It was one of those moments when you’re able to look at the now as if it was the past and be grateful that now is now and you are in the now, and how cool right fucking now is, and how amazing this space is and was and how many people had traveled here and made music here, and wasn’t I super lucky to be in this room right now and right here with Kyle and…
And then a few months later, Kyle told me he decided to name the album LAST.
So, it is with great sadness that I leave this space and all the memories here. But, it’s provided me and my friends with a great launching pad for what’s next.
Chris Woodhouse and I are building a new studio a few blocks away in the historic General Produce Building. It’s gonna be bad ass! Chris has some great ideas on a streamlined, analog-centric room where he and the rest of us can get rock bands up and rolling super quickly and get a great record done fast, which also means cheap. The building is really cool, it reminds me of what the meatpacking district in NYC must have been like before it got super gentrified and trendy. I’ve been joking with friends that we’re moving to the “fruitpacking district.” It somehow feels really neat to be the only non fruit related business in the building, and all these fruit packing folks are so damn nice and friendly! So as downtown continues to gentrify and old buildings are turned into condos, we and all our musician friends are moving out just a little bit further North of downtown.
And, along with my biz partner Larry Crane and another more recent friend, and surfing buddy, Bobby Lurie from NYC, we are launching the Single Fin Studio Group a small, loose partnership of studios in NYC, Portland, Marin County and Sacto, with the tongue in cheek mission statement of “Handcrafted, Artisanal Recording Studios for Musicians.” The Hangar as we know it now, is moving into a house at the base of Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Pt. Reyes and turning into a residential studio. But, unlike most residential, destination studios, it will be affordable as my main goal in pursuing this ‘career’ is to keep meeting interesting people and providing a great space for musicians to make a great record affordably. Here’s hoping the next 20 years are as interesting and amazing as the last 20. I think they will be.
PS, Au Revoir Simone did a really nice goodbye to the Hangar the night they finished recording: