Jacob Grun’s warehouse space has always been much more than a studio, going back to his predecessors, Flipp.
With incense burning and air flowing in through a broken window, there was no aromatic evidence of last weekend’s party at the Sound Gallery by Monday afternoon. But there were plenty of visual clues: a sign on the front door asking for a $10-$15 donation, a flier emblazoned with Sean Anonymous’ and Lizzo’s names, and a DJ table in the corner.
“It was actually pretty laid-back and a lot of fun,” recounted Jacob Grun, the Sound Gallery’s owner and de facto party host. “For Sean and Lizzo, it gave them both a chance to try out new stuff.”
A “try-out” pad is a good description of the Sound Gallery, along with experimental incubator, artistic co-op, video production hub and the two main titles that drive it — recording studio and rehearsal space.
Sort of a modern and more musical Minneapolis version of Andy Warhol’s Factory, it’s spread over two main rooms on the fourth floor of a 90-year-old former Ford auto parts warehouse within Jim Thome-hitting distance of Target Field, its high concrete ceiling and artfully colored walls soaked in paint and history.
On closer inspection Monday, there was also leftover evidence of the decades of music and mayhem that predated Grun’s eight-year involvement with the storied space: a cheap, gaudy, teal-colored imitation of a Flying V guitar, and a giant road case with Froot Loops still stuck inside.
Those items all used to belong to the clown-faced, fun-loving ’90s hard-rock band Flipp, whose frontman Brynn Arens haunted the space going back to the mid-’80s when metal bands like Obsession and Funhouse first used it.
“We were so spoiled in that space,” Arens said, lamenting its loss but perfectly describing the qualities that persist to this day. “For one thing, it’s just a great-sounding space, especially for recording drums. For another, it’s kept just nice enough to not be a total rat-hole, but not so nice you have to worry about finding a coaster to put down your Coca-Cola.”
Kiss, Crüe worked here
It’s all thanks to Flipp and its industry connections that Grun can now tell guests that Kiss once rehearsed at the Sound Gallery, and Mötley Crüe did a radio broadcast there (good thing the freight elevator still works; Gene Simmons and Vince Neil never would’ve climbed the grungy flights of stairs). Flipp also built the studio there, using money from its deal with Hollywood Records.
Under Grun’s leadership, the Sound Gallery’s recent résumé includes: widely viral Pitchfork.tv videos with Andrew Bird and Toro y Moi; high-profile parties such as Astronautalis’ recent house-fire benefit; plus many recording and/or video sessions with Solid Gold, Marijuana Deathsquads, Fort Wilson Riot, Communist Daughter and even Nick Cave’s Grinderman and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell (he made a solo album there that was reportedly stymied by label politics).
“Events there tend to feel like a mixture of a show and a party,” said Sean Anonymous, who believes the “good communal atmosphere” there is more important than whoever happens to be performing.
Coming up, the Sound Gallery will host an eclectic, two-stage party Saturday dubbed “Dark 13,” featuring Audio Perm, the Japhies and 11 other acts. On June 22, Atlanta indie-rockers Snowden will play a special “live video show” there, a link for which is up on the studio’s Facebook page.
Also the frontman for the stormy experimental band Me & My Arrow (which performs there Monday), Grun is a son of political refugees from Prague. The 32-year-old Henry Sibley High School graduate previously worked as a sound engineer and sometimes a booker at the Dinkytowner, Turf Club and other venues in town. He knew a lot of people and a lot of tricks by the time he took over the Sound Gallery. His bandmate and fellow club vet Brian McDonough helped him secure the sound board from the defunct Uptown Bar & Grill, still used for most of the public events hosted there.
Officially, though, the Sound Gallery is not a music venue. After an ugly run-in a few years ago with Minneapolis police, who thought he was operating a club illegally, Grun sat down with the authorities to find out exactly what he can and can’t do at the space in terms of hosting live music. First and foremost, he can’t charge a cover, nor can he charge for alcohol without proper licensing.
“It has to all be by donation,” he explained. “I can’t actually make somebody pay if they don’t want to.”
But anyway, Grun says he’s not really interested in operating the Sound Gallery as a venue, at least not now. The parties he hosts help promote the other functions of the space and are born more out of a spirit of artistic camaraderie.
“In no way are the parties how I make money here,” he said. “I have bands coming in here to record and use the space 30 days out of the month, and then I host these handful of events on the side. It’s just that those are the things that more people know this place for.”
Asked what he thinks the Sound Gallery should be best-known for, Grun said, “It’s just been a sort of gathering place.