If you live in Chicago, you have probably driven by it a hundred times. The outside of the building is so bland that it’s almost “hidden in plain view.” This “urban camouflage” was not exactly intentional but it certainly keeps this building under the radar.
While the exterior so forgettable that the building is nearly invisible, what you see inside this studio is impossible to forget.
The 4,000 square feet that make up Pieholden Suite Sound is home to:
- 58 vintage guitars, basses (some going back to the 40s!)
- 31 Pianos, Vintage Synths organs (including an original Mellotron, Optigan, Hammond b-3 and many leslie rotating speakers, and a baby grand, multiple upright pianos)
- 6 different analog tape machines (including a mighty two-inch tape recorder as big as a washing machine)
- 5 vintage drum machines
- 25 tube microphone pre amps, tube compressors
- 300 pound vintage plate reverb tan (capable of the most shimmering 60’s reverb you’ve ever heard)
From Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to Nobody Knows
After his work on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jay Bennett founded Pieholden Suite Sound primarily to work on his own music. Upon his departure from Wilco, he took with him many of the instruments, microphones and other used to create some of the most classic Wilco records.
Jay was a continual collector of weird instruments and recording equipment so this collection grew year after year as the location of the studio changed from Chicago’s far west side, to Champaign-Urbana to Ukrainian Village where it now resides.
As a musician, I was drawn to the studio for many reasons. Primarily it was Jay’s magnetic personality and recording expertise, but the fact that this collection of equipment had a track record of creating amazing (and commercially successful) records was important.
Musicians that record here can rest assured that this gear is capable of making records that get glowing reviews from even the most jaded critics…
Willis Earl Beal’s September 2013 Release called “Nobody Knows” got a 7.2 on Pitchfork:
The music [on Nobody Knows] is more diverse and expansive than it was on Acousmatic Sorcery [Beal’s previous album), which is probably just a function of better resources: Sounds and styles Beal only had the tools to hint at before are rendered professionally and in high definition, and his voice– a bellowing, conventionally soulful instrument– is given the sonic space it probably deserves, sitting in the mix like an old iron anchor.
Pitchfork critic Mike Powell goes on to describe the record as:
…old-fashioned blues and indie ballads, replete with the sounds of glockenspiels and warm, staticky ambience.
I think “warm, staticky ambience” is a good description of what has come to be the “Pieholden” sound.
Running Chicago Mixtape forces me to listen to a ton of music. I can tell you that the “warm, staticky ambience” of true analog recording using vintage instruments and tube mic preamps is becoming incredibly rare.
When I hear something recorded this way it makes me stop and listen.
For all the ease and savings of laptops, music software and home recordings, something has been lost. The unique sounds of an old instrument malfunctioning while it spills its sonic delights is a fascinating thing and it’s why Pieholden has become such an important force in my life.
Matt DeWine’s Generous Offer
My good friend, Matt DeWine was Jay’s apprentice for many years and is now the head engineer at Pieholden. While I was discussing all of the recent press Pieholden has been getting with Matt, it got him thinking.
As a way of celebrating some of the recent success the studio has had and a way to meet a few more great Chicago bands, Matt would like to offer the Chicago Mixtape community a heck of a deal.
He’s got some open days in the December, January and February, and wants to offer a couple bands a free day of recording when they book 2 or more days with him.
If you are interested in taking your music to the next level, email Matt (email@example.com).
I get asked all the time to speak on “how to make it in the music industry” and the one thing I always stress is that a band HAS to have a great recording of at least couple songs. 3 days at Pieholden is enough for any band to create something that can really move their careers forward.
There are only a few spots so hit him up today at firstname.lastname@example.org and setup a time to chat.