John Baccigallupi 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 for the home recorder and audiophile), as engineer and producer of many...
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.
VICE: What would you say is your favorite time of the day?
John Baccigaluppi: Probably the morning. Yeah, definitely the morning. It is my favorite time of day in terms of the potential. It’s unlimited in the morning, you know. I like making a cup of coffee and putting a record on and sort of planning my day out. Although my favorite time of day, in terms of the weather is definitely as the sun is starting to set. I love the light, I love the way the light looks when the sun is setting, has set. I guess that’s what photographers call “the magic hour.”
Is there a friend, and you can name a couple if a couple people jump to your mind, in your life who has influenced your taste in music?
God, there are a ton. That’s a good question, do I listen more to other people or not? Oh, you know, I had a teacher in college at Evergreen in Olympia named Stephen Scott. He was a composer, who recorded for New Albion Records I think, more than any other one person in my life up to that point, he really broadened my musical horizons. Up to that point, I was just kinda, you know, listening to whatever rock 'n' roll records most nineteen year old kids listened to in 1981.
I just remember the first day of class, he played us Steve Reich and Terry Riley and Laurie Anderson, African drum music, and John Cage. I guess you would call it postmodern, you know, serious compositional music. A lot of minimalist stuff, obviously with Steve Reich pieces. So that was definitely very influential. He was very influential in opening me up musically, and his own music was really fascinating, too. He composed exclusively for what he called “bowed piano” where he had fifteen, twenty people inside a piano playing the strings with modified violin bows. So he was definitely someone who at a fairly early age made me say, “Whoa, I don’t know shit.” Prior to that I don’t know if there is any one person. I mean, I was quite a stoner in high school, so anyone that would get me stoned and put some headphones on my head and play whatever record they thought was cool. They were influential. More recently, not so much. I’m in the position now of constantly being sent music to listen to, that I’m just forming my own opinions. I tend to just get information like a lot of people do—through blogs, and I still actually read print magazines, too (the few that are left). I like Sasha Frere-Jones, too. I always enjoy his writing, and I will tend to maybe give something another listen based on something he has written about it.
What was the last record you bought?
I bought Silver, Silver by Simone White.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
That’s a tough one... Man... Just one?! Um... let’s move back to that one because I might go online and just reference something because I am bad with names.
OK. Fifty years from now, what controversial thing do you think will be commonplace? And, conversely, what currently fairly common thing do you think will be regarded as almost barbaric?
Gosh, that’s probably for smarter people than me. Well, I’ll take a stab at it. I hope that some of the more conservative practices of society and government are somewhat done away with in terms of, you know, throwing people in jail for smoking marijuana, or people not having health insurance. I would sure hope some of that would be less controversial. I don’t know if this would be the case, but I hope that, as a society and a government, we will have evolved so that we have a more humanistic approach to how we get along. If we don’t, we’re gonna be in deep shit. Now something that’s commonplace that seems barbaric? God, I guess maybe just the converse of that. I would hope we’ve evolved where we’re not so violent. I sound like such a left-wing wacko. It would be nice to have violence be considered barbaric, though, and it doesn’t seem to be. Violence seems to be very celebrated. We defend our rights to have guns and kill people and we have video games that help us practice to do that. I know I sound like a bleeding-heart liberal. Other questions I could be incredibly conservative and right wing on. Anyways, I guess that’s the best I can do on that one.
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.
When did you discover these books, and when did they hit home for you?
Well, I don’t know, the Time-Life stuff, I just started finding in thrift stores. They were three or four bucks usually. And then I started tuning in and was like “Wow, there are a lot of these!” I don’t remember exactly how many there are, I think there are 26 of them. At some point, I started really looking for them and eventually completed my collection of the entire series. And they’re neat because they are all done in the 60s, way preglobalization. They hired some really good writers to edit each book. And the photos are just a kick because they are all, like, you know, well, they’re all dated looking. And there’s just these classic photos from all over the world. There’s a volume for just about every country and region you can think of, and funny infographics. Like there’s this one in the “Foods of Italy” series (can you tell I like Italian food a lot?) anyway, they have a map of Italy that is broken down into whether they prefer olive oil or butter and what shape of pasta they like. And somebody actually assembled a map of little noodles and shaded the color to be butter or olive oil. Just goofy stuff like that, that nobody bothers to do anymore. And as you can probably tell, I like things that are handmade like that a lot.
Keep tabs on the development of this new studio below.
And keep tabs on me and my bad sense of humor