When I set out to write this intro, I thought it would be heart wrenching. A sob story about yet another great death in music. Another worthy and truly independent establishment sunk into the ashes of a changing world. “Ohh, boo hoo,” I was going to say. “The world is turning into a big pile of shit. We’re all going to die surrounded by condos, idiots, and sequin-butted douches who talk on their cellphones too loud.”
I was wrong this time.
For those of you who don't know John Baccigallupi, let me tell you. He has been a huge influence on the side of goodness in music for nearly three decades now: as publisher and one half of Tape Op magazine (the monthly bible of the home recorder and audiophile), as engineer and producer of many amazing albums, and as owner of Sacramento's Hangar studios. The Hangar has been the genesis of albums by a whole host of amazing musicians and is the only affordable large recording studio on the west Coast. Devendra Banhart, Little Wings, Sea of Bees, Ty Segall, Alela Diane, Wild Flag, Lavender Diamond, Thee Oh Sees, Bright Black Morning Light, and even Kanye West are among the countless who have recorded here.
The space itself is a hollowed out warehouse. A giant cement building next to the railroad tracks, the studios house rooms of threadbare couches, a few offices that have been collecting indie-rock clutter since the 90s, an indoor skate ramp, a full auditorium, about a billion instruments, microphones, and technical equipment that I don’t know shit about, but makes a lot of audiophiles swoon. It feels like a teenage fantasy come to life, without the body odor and horrible emotional angst. It’s cold and it's drafty and it's magical—and it's closing. The lease ran out and, like all good things, the curtain is headed down from the rafters. (Read this blog post by John himself for more detailed and articulate information on the studio, the studio's closing, and what it all means.)
I met up with John off the ferry in Larkspur, just north of San Francisco, on a bright white day in early spring. As we headed north, he kept a firm eye planted on the surf, having us take a quick detour just to see how the waves were fairing in the hidden town of Bolinas, home of the best fish tacos of the universe. The waves were mellow and the surf was packed, so we headed straight away to the new space.
Or, I should say, one of the two new spaces. John’s taking the Hangar’s closing, and he’s splitting the difference. In Sacramento, he’s set to open a new, cheap, quick, and good studio with Chris Woodhouse in the Fruitpacking District. He’s also opening the residential studio we headed to the day of the interview, along the coast of Northern California at the base of Mount Tamalpais.
In the instant we turned in the driveway, this article stopped being a sob story. I officially (at least for a couple hours) went from being a curmudgeon to a downright optimist. There will be no vomiting all over the future in this article for me! I will not talk about how great things were and how bad things are going now! Not today, world. Not today.
Oh my God, people, if I was a musician with any skills, I'd record here forever. I honestly considered many times throughout the interview pushing John off a turret (yes, a motherfucking turret) and taking the space as my own. I generally hate sunshine, but I even considered moving to California and sleeping in a yurt, just to be closer to the magic of this space. A fucking yurt, people.
The home of the new studio, still to be named and announced, is the love child of a Winchester Mystery House and a French Villa. It was all constructed by hand with cobblestones from San Francisco streets and found objects from around the Bay Area over the last century or so. This place is mind boggling. There are endless levels. Every room is unique and feels handcrafted. The echo chamber is in a bomb shelter. No, really. A motherfucking bomb shelter. There's room for ten people to sleep, in addition to a guest apartment that's separate but attached by a very small secret passage. The view looks like a postcard from the early sixties, with blue waves and sandy shores. There are secret passageways and strange doors leading nowhere.
I couldn’t be more excited.
Keeping with the ethos of the Hangar, this place is not going to be outlandishly expensive, either; John is adamant that he wants to make sure that people aren’t barred by exorbitant prices most of these destination studios have. And once construction is done, it’s going to be equipped with all the weird and wonderful audio gear from the Hangar, too.
In other words, the Hangar is dead. Long live the Hangar.
And now. Irrelevancy.
Now as for cookbooks... I’m gonna say Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli and The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. I know I’ve got some others, but those two jump out. Mostly because I keep buying them for other people. Oh wait, you know what? Here’s two others. I love the entire Time-Life Foods of the World series. And there’s, God there’s these two cookbooks—one’s called A Table in Provence, and one’s called A Table in Tuscany—that a woman named Leslie Forbes wrote and hand-illustrated and hand-lettered. The first two cookbooks I mentioned—the Chez Panisse books—have an immense amount of knowledge on how to cook fresh food well with a few simple ingredients, and the last two I mentioned, I just love looking at because all the photos and illustrations are so cool.
Keep tabs on the development of this new studio below.
And keep tabs on me and my bad sense of humor