Tucked away near the small riverside community of Cannon Falls in Southern Minnesota lies the famed Pachyderm Studio, a recording space brimming with music history.
Since its construction in 1988, the studio has hosted bands like Nirvana (for 1993's In Utero), Babes In Toyland, PJ Harvey, Live, and Soul Asylum. Recently, the studio faced foreclosure after years of neglect, and squatters were living in the building. Then the late John Kuker returned the studio to an idyllic space.
Previously, Kuker worked at Seedy Underbelly studios in downtown Minneapolis, recording local and national acts before relocating to Los Angeles in the early 2000s. He bought Pachyderm in 2011 and renovated it alongside former Sound Gallery co-owner Nick Tveitbakk. Kuker passed away in February of 2015, but his vision for the studio lived on.
Now, in its completed state, press were invited to an open house this past weekend for a glimpse into the studio's future. A comfortable and distinctly '60s vibe -- down to the old-school couches, wood paneling, and multi-colored shag adorning the walls -- evokes a fresh update to the classic feel.
It's a beautiful space, but what drives artists and producers from around the country to Cannon Falls to work in the space? We broke down some of Pachyderm Studio's best qualities for recording artists.
Distractions are slim with only about 4,000 people in the nearby city. Artists can comfortably stay on the property, as the main house has multiple bedrooms, a swimming pool and sauna, and numerous plush couches. Being holed up and surrounded by the woodland is definitely romantic, but the isolation has proven especially key. Producer/musician Steve Albini worked there with PJ Harvey and Nirvana while they were in the midst of personal turmoil.
"Part of the initial conversations with Nirvana," said Albini in Spin Magazine's oral history for Rid Of Me, "was, when you have a junkie in the band, having a studio out in the woods rather than in the middle of a city is probably a good thing if you’re trying to make it less likely that there’s a relapse."
Extensive collection of equipment
Kuker and Tveitbakk amassed a sizable collection of vintage equipment. Coupled with some newer state-of-the-art gear, the space allows for a lot of options for engineers, producers, and artists to hone their sound. Between the 48-channel API Discrete console, the wide array of microphones, and trio of reel-to-reel tape machines, bands looking to capture a classic sound can do so with warmth and clarity in their recording.
During the open house, jazz drummer J.T. Bates played live with his trio as Nick Tveitbakk engineered the recording from the control room. The sound was impeccably like being in the same room as the performance. Many artists find the "live room" to be perfectly calibrated to capture the players as they truly sound
"We wanted the actual performance to be captured," said Haley Bonar of recording latest, Impossible Dream, there. "That's why we chose Pachyderm, because you don't really need to do a lot to make that room sound great. … We captured the essence of the live performance." All rooms in the studio are wired for sound, so there's also a lot of room for experimenting with room dynamics to get unconventional mixes, and some bands have even recorded in the house next door to get some unique noises.
The space itself generates ideas
Over the years, the Polyphonic Spree, Mudvayne, Hippo Campus, Mason Jennings, Gay Witch Abortion and Trampled by Turtles have all transformed Pachyderm into a recording base. It brought out Jeffrey Foucault's small-town country blues on last year's Salt as Wolves, as well as the sprawling tension of instrumental experimenters Explosion In the Sky's All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone. The rural remove can bring out serenity or anxiety, depending on what the project needs.
Rumors of it being haunted come up frequently. Metalcore outfit Norma Jean toyed with the studio's dark potential in a video during recording for their most-recent record, Polar Similar. "It has a really old, kinda creepy The Shining vibe to it," said lead singer Cory Brandan of the band's experience recording in the dead of winter.
There's a certain knowing glee bands can partake in by adding "recorded in the birthplace of In Utero" to their press releases. Pachyderm's past is certainly a draw in and of itself. But since the renovations, Pachyderm is sure to create a new chapter to its legacy, and the list of classic records born of the space now can grow again.