Friday
Apr082005

« All Hogs Go To Heaven »

Be sure to look at the gallery with a pretty good record of the high points of Hog Heaven Studio.

It is with great regret I have to report the closing of my long-tenured studio Hog Heaven. I opened it up for my own use and the use of others on June 11, 1998 after a few months of converting an empty part of my grandmother's "storeroom" in the area that passed for a garage. Its finished inside dimensions were just less than 11x10 or so—the size of a bedroom but totally dedicated to my music needs, and secure. When I opened it up, I originally had to mainly contain the sound of my drums. I had no guitar or bass amps and I never played in band settings. Eventually all that was incorporated and by the end I had spent as much time playing insanely loud rock band configurations as much as I once recorded direct signals to hard disk. It did the job of containing sound admirably well, and in the nearly seven years I used the place, I never got a complaint of the unwelcome sort asking me to shut down or shut up.

Tom Griesgraber, the Chapman Stick player (now playing with or near Jerry Marotta, Pat Mastelotto and the California Guitar Trio), was the first person to play there with me on that first day in 1998. He actually played bass and guitar that day for me on my silly tune The End of the Road for Missy the Cow. I played drums. It was the first time I had played drums in months, except for the night before when I gleefully put everything in the still-unfinished room. It was technically never finished, but at that point, the carpet was just put down, so it was finished enough! This first date was, for all intents and purposes, the first time my drums and VS-880 recorder were used together. For many months before, I had not played drums at all, and that was terribly frustrating. I had been living in an apartment where obviously I could not play drums (the kit was just stacked up in the front room, useless and available for anyone to walk off with), and my studio was limited to my somewhat new VS-880, some outboard stuff, my guitar and bass, and a few mics. Add drums and a room to play in and I had Hog Heaven Studio. For me, there would be no other name considered. It had been years since I could play drums at home, and never did I have a space with so much promise.

As I said, the room was never done, and from the beginning, it was a work in progress. I constantly changed gear, and of course that dictated the arrangement of it all. For a while, it was manageable, but about the middle of 1999 it started to really get filled. It's impossible to track the changes in gear that I had, but as I started working with a few others, and getting more and more confident in my playing and recording ability, the room started to fill up with my full drum kit, a guitar amp or two, my Wurlitzer or Rhodes keyboards, guitars and basses of my own, and other people who were doing projects here, and usually a number of borrowed things, often keyboards and modules. And of course, it was a pretty complete recording studio with mics for all the drums, guitars, and all the related outboard stuff. It was my ultimate sandbox. I started with eight tracks, and spent some of my most creative years on eight tracks. Then I moved to 24 tracks on the VS-2480, and then to ProTools with 24 tracks, which I use now. Ironically, the 24 track years were the least productive for me. There are lots of reasons for that, but it was just so.

Of the stuff I have recorded for myself, I recorded the entirety of my CD Receiving here. I recorded a lot of my still-not-released CD called ReCyclED here. I recorded an overwhelming number of jams here of various short-lived groups here. I recorded more of my stuff here, after Receiving was finished in late summer 2000. The years since then have been less productive, but a lot of magic still happened as I eased off the concentration on recording and did more jamming and group work here, some of which was transcendent for me.

And there were the folks who also reaped the benefit of the place, jammed here, or played sessions for me: Mike Keneally; Rebecca Vaughan & Loaf; Mark Decerbo; Kelli Parrish; The Magnificent Meatsticks; Paul Horn; George Farres; Tamara Vilke; Mike "Bad Jesus" McMahon; Ron Sada; Glenn Farrington; Tom Griesgraber; Dom & Whit; Jason, Michael & Jeremy; Todd Larowe; Marc Ziegenhagen; Mike Case, Mike Ryan, The Mysterious Matthew, Bad Bo, Gary Taylor, Bob Sale, Mark Moorhead, Brandon & Ryan; Dave Stark; Mike Bedard; Kat Castelblanco; Danny Mac; Peg Totzke; The Magnificent Nucci; Zak Najor; Jason Harrison Smith; Chuck Phillips; Jukka Pietarinen; Steve Young; Doug Boucher; Gary Cox; Gigo; Bill Ray; Danny Donnely; Paul Cougill; Definition of Dope; Doug Robinson; and many more who came by for auditions and jams and so forth.

For about a year or so in 2002/2003, I split off into the neighboring room, which once upon a time had been the real garage but was really now an oversized bedroom/living room. I had a two room arrangement that worked more or less great as an engineer/operator, but for shit as an artist unto myself. This was the biggest the studio ever got; two rooms, 24 tracks, six guitars or basses, drums, two guitar amps, bass rig, Rhodes piano, Triton synth, and about 20 spaces of rack gear, monitors, with all the mics and cables to go with. It was pretty impressive as a home studio. Ultimately, when I got wicked depressed in 2003, I took all that apart and never went back to it. When I did return to recording, I used the 880 for a while then sorted out how to use ProTools in the small room, which required some extra computer gear, and some particular space and layout demands.

I could act on most musical ideas around the clock. I limited the drums and really loud stuff to 10 pm, but in my heyday, I was recording bass, guitar, vocals, keyboards, and mixing in the weeeeeeee hours, sometimes till the sun came up. I did most of my best work then. The period from its inception until about the end of 2000 was the most active period. 2001 was a slower period, and then when Kelli and I got together, my musical time got cut a lot, but had spells of hyperactivity, but nothing like the times when I was working on my own stuff while doing someone else's stuff too, and filling all my available time with recording. For a guy who used to have to drive my drum kit down to parking garages a few miles from home (and not on any regular basis at all), this was the coolest thing. I had moved into the house itself just weeks after the studio was first used, and just hit the ground running. No studio time to pay for, no dangerous and cold parking garages, no bandmates to quarrel and share rent with. Just me and my little slice of recording heaven. Sonically, it was a shithole, but I did some mixes in there that still delight me, even on some mediocre gear. It was just my passion that led me to not stop until I had every detail as right as I knew how to make it.

This place was like an old friend. It was one of those instances where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It was drywall (never finished, really), studs, insulation batting, and some plywood. The thing was an acoustical nightmare. The floor had a space under part of it that got mildewed when there was standing water. The carpet was second hand. There was one flourescent light permanently mounted in the middle of the room. It was tiny. It had no air conditioning except for an open door and a broken floor stand fan with the tripod taken off, and the fan inverted and hung from the ceiling. It had no space to store anything that didn't need to be in there. It had no windows. It was painted terribly (by semi-accident). There was one power outlet. On paper, it was a dismal place, but for a few years, it totally gave me a reason to live. It housed my passion. It made dreams come true (talk to Todd about one such instance). It sparked creativity. I'd lay on the drumstick splinter-covered floor and blast my mixes so that I could feel them, even at four in the morning. I'd play horrible guitar or bass in horrible jams, maybe just because I could. I'd do overdubs ad nauseum for eight hours and not even eat. I'd belt out the most personal stuff. I'd sit outside the front and lay on the little loveseat that I collected just to keep there, and I'd daydream for an hour then go in and lay down my next masterpiece. I'd take it all apart sometimes only to see if I could put it back together better somehow. I'd jump from one instrument to the next in a fit of insprired tracking.

Yeah, I was happy as a pig in shit.

Hog Heaven. 6/11/98 - 4/8/05

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