Sometimes, even the new owner of the Old Blackberry Way studio in Minneapolis gets a little weirded out by the reverence for its history.
"I seriously had someone ask me if I knew if Dave Pirner sat on the toilet," recalled Neil Weir, who took over the studio in 2004. "That's taking it a little too far."
Aside from Prince's Paisley Park and Steve Wiese's Creation Audio, Blackberry Way is the most historic Twin Cities recording studio still in operation. It's where Pirner's Soul Asylum recorded its early albums, Hüsker Dü cut its first single and the Replacements made "Let It Be." Other regulars in the late-'70s to mid-'80s included the Suburbs, Suicide Commandos and Curtiss A.
In fact, three of the four 'Mats albums reissued by Rhino two weeks ago were mostly made at the small studio, located in the front half of a two-story house in the heart of Dinkytown.
Since Weir took over (and moved in upstairs), though, a new generation of bands have been, um, squatting over the facilities at Blackberry Way.
"There's a band from Denver called Big Timber coming to town soon to record here," Weir said.
"Replacements fans?" I asked. "No," Weir replied. "They really liked the Signal to Trust record that we made here a couple years ago."
In addition to Signal to Trust, some of the local bands that have recently recorded or mixed at Old Blackberry Way ("Old" was added to the name to signify it's a new incarnation) include Vampire Hands, Gospel Gossip, the Stnnng, the Deaf, the Blind Shake with Michael Yonkers, Daughters of the Sun, Baby Guts and -- not long after Weir took over -- Chooglin'.
"Of course, I knew about the history: 'Let It Be' and such," Chooglin' frontman Brian Vanderwerf recalled. "But when we were going to record there, it didn't have a name yet, just 'Neil's place.' It came up in conversation that it used to be Blackberry Way. I thought it was cool, but I didn't feel the ghost of Bob Stinson around either, if you know what I mean."
Stnnng bassist Jesse Kwakenat was back in the studio last week with his new band, Private Dancer. He joked that "once we concluded the seance and put out all the candles it was basically business as usual."
"The studio is very much Neil, and the history feels more coincidental than overwhelming," Kwakenat said.
Weir, 31, is a central Illinois native who wound up in Minneapolis mostly on a whim after studying engineering in Toronto. He was an intern at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls in 1997 and stayed on as an engineer through 2001.
Weir was looking to open his own place when he found out that producer Alex Oana, the studio's former owner/resident, planned to move to Los Angeles.
"There's always been a fear that someone nonmusical will buy the place and convert it into sub-units to rent out to students, which [Alex and I] agreed would be a shame," Weir said, adding that the Dinkytown/University of Minnesota hubbub actually suits a recording studio (the exact address is being left out for security purposes).
"When you're surrounded by houses where kids are partying and screaming from the roof in the middle of the night, a little snare drum coming through the walls is nothing," he said.
You know it's a studio the second you walk in the foyer, which is lined with amplifier cables. Inside the studio, cedar-plank walls and wood flooring warm up the acoustics naturally.
Aesthetically, the place hasn't changed a lot since the early '70s, when Twin/Tone Records co-founder Paul Stark originally put in the studio. There's still a pristine 2-inch (analog) tape machine made in 1978 that's the same model the Clash used for "London Calling."
Amazingly, the cost of booking Blackberry Way also hasn't changed much. Weir showed off some memorabilia in the basement that included a rate sheet from the early '80s, when Mike Owens and Kevin Glynn were the owners. The $350 daily rate (without an engineer) is very close to what Weir charges today.
"Bands don't spend a month and a half in the studio anymore, like they used to," Weir said, alluding to slimmer record-company budgets and ever-improving home-recording technology. Still, he's happy to report that the studio is turning a profit.
"There are always going to be certain things that bands can't do on their own, no matter how good they are at recording themselves. So this place is still pretty important, I think."Picking Petals
There are two kinds of compilation albums: Heartless, hastily done ones that a label throws together to make some money (Soul Asylum can tell you about those), and anthologies like "Kicking Our Own Asses," the first retrospective of the other, poppier all-female rock trio of the early-'90s Minneapolis scene, ZuZu's Petals. It was issued by Rhino Records last week alongside the Replacements reissues.
You can feel the love with this one. Anyone who read singer/guitarist Laurie Lindeen's great book last year, "Petal Pusher," will feel it all the more. (Too bad the two projects didn't coincide.) You also get a strong sense of time and place, from the clever liner notes by Marc Perlman (Jayhawks) to the Dave Pirner-co-produced opening track, 1990's "Babblin' Mules," to the hidden-gem cover of Grant Hart's "Zen Arcade" classic "Standing by the Sea."
The other tracks (20 total) run chronologically and include more than half of the band's two Twin/Tone albums. It may not be legendary stuff, but hey, it sounds more in tune and polished than most of what's on those 'Mats reissues.Oh my Dosh!
Even after spending most of the past year on tour with Andrew Bird, Martin Dosh found time to polish off another sonically mesmerizing album by his eponymous one-man-orchestra Dosh. This time, though, the drummer/keyboardist invited many of his old friends plus one well-known new chum, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, to guest on the 10-track collection, titled "Wolves and Wishes." Billy sings on the eerie, tribal-sounding track "Bury the Ghost," also featuring guitar by Fog's Andrew Broder.
Other standouts include the organ- and vibe-filled space-age anthem "If You Want To, You Have To" (with Bird's vocals and violin) and the vaguely trip-hoppy "Wolves" (one of many with Mike Lewis' sax). The album won't be out until May 13 on Anticon, but Dosh will host two release parties Saturday at Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater (8 and 11 p.m., $20) featuring Bird, Broder, Lewis, Jeremy Ylvisaker and more. Coincidentally or not, he'll be back at the Walker June 21 to back Bird for the Rock the Garden outdoor show. Busy guy.Random mix
Anyone who's caught the riveting VH1 documentary "The Night James Brown Saved Boston" should be extra pumped about Saturday's tribute to the Godfather, featuring an all-star lineup of Prince and/or the Time vets at the Cabooze. They include Eric Leeds, Paul Peterson, Kirk Johnson, Chance Howard and Jerry Hubbard, plus other guests (9:30 p.m., $10-$15).
You could feel the love last Friday at the Hexagon Bar, where Jesse (Pretty Boy) Thorson gave one of the best disses I've heard for another band on the bill since Soul Asylum sang "It's a shame we're so lame" for the Lemonheads. "The ironic '80s hip-hop from guys too young to remember the '80s is up next," he said. The fact that the members of MC/VL were riding on his back during the following set suggested it was all in good fun. I think.
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