FMF Episode #24 – Pachyderm Studio

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DJ:   Hello and welcome to Feel Me Flow!  Today we’re going to dig into the recordings of Pachyderm Studio, located in Cannon Falls, Minnesota!  Pachyderm Studio formed in 1988 when Jim Nickel, Mark Walk, and Eric S. Anderson bought the property.  Originally called Pine Glen when the Mensing family built the structure, the home was designed by  Herb Bloomberg, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  With its 60s style grandiose and swagger, the home studio boasts an amazing live room, as well as a live-mic’d lounge and bathroom area.  The full, rounded out drum sound is distinct and can be noticed with the right ear.  Even though many of the tracks we’re going to play today are spread out over a twenty year period, the sound will be similar throughout.  The studio has its feet planted in the rock genre but has branched out a bit over the years.  Famous for recording Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero, Pachyderm mimics a similar sounding vibe throughout most of their productions.  

Listen for chunky guitars, big drums, and an intense mood that will blast your eardrums.  This is Pachyderm.  

Leading off the show is Chicago, IL pop punkers Alkaline Trio.  The band recorded their 2001 album From Here To Infirmary at Pachyderm, and we’re playing you “Stupid Kid” from that LP.

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DJ:  You’d be hard-pressed to find a rock album recorded in the nineties that didn’t have Steve Albini’s name on it somewhere.  Steve worked at Pachyderm on numerous projects, starting with Leeds, England’s The Wedding Present in 1990.  Steve would man the boards for PJ Harvey’s sophomore album Rid Of Me, for which she and the band spent two weeks in Cannon Falls.  After completing the album, Steve would go on to send a copy of it to Nirvana to show them what we could get them to sound like at the studio.  We’ll touch a bit more on that later.  While there, PJ recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Highway ’61 Revisited” for the LP.  Not only does the homage fit well with a Minnesota studio, but Highway 61 is only about 8 miles from the studio itself.  I like to think that while out on a scenic drive, the band stumbled across the famous thoroughfare and the idea hit them like a bus.  

Before PJ, we played 90s one-hit wonder HUM with “Stars”.  Deftones’ Chino Moreno cites HUM, especially the album You’d Prefer An Astronaut.  The slowcore clean guitars mixed with a heavy-crashing distortion from HUM would go on to fuel a new genre, with Deftones taking the reigns.  

Kim Deal’s twin sister Kelley was busted for heroin possession in 1995.  She went to rehab in St. Paul, MN and while there decided to start another band; The Kelley Deal 6000.  Recruiting local musicians and funding the project herself, Kelley would record two albums at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls.  We played the side-1 track-1 song “Shag” from their sophomore and final release, 1997’s Boom! Boom! Boom!. 

Hey Mercedes followed fellow Illinois pop punkers Alkaline Trio with “Our Weekend Starts On Wednesday” from their EP The Weekend.  The band formed in the ashes of Braid and reunited to play the Wrecking Ball festival in Atlanta, GA last year.  

After the dissolution of Hüsker Dü, Grant Hart would put out a bit of solo work before forming Nova Mob in 1989.  Nova Mob recorded their debut, The Last Days Of Pompeii at Pachyderm in 1990.  Here’s “Admiral Of The Sea” from their debut LP.

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DJ:  Minneapolis punkers Babes In Toyland recorded “He’s My Thing” for their first LP in 1990.  For their sophomore album, Fontanelle, the band would return to Minnesota and record at Pachyderm.  A handful of songs were cut from the album, including a re-recording of their first single “He’s My Thing”, and were later released on the follow-up EP Painkillers.  We played the re-recording, with the fuller drum sound.  

Before Babes, we played a deep track from Columbus, OH punk band Gaunt.  Gaunt served up four full-lengths and a 10″ debut before signing with Warner Bros. Records in 1997.  The major-label debut was recorded at Pachyderm and the band even dug up some old tracks to re-record; including the 1993 tune “Pop Song”.  Funny how bands want to re-record things at Pachyderm; must be that live drum sound!  

Brian Setzer made his way to the North Star State in 2006 to record his thirteenth album 13.  The album has thirteen tracks, including the song “Really Rockabilly”.  

Cloud Cult have one of the most interesting and heartbreaking stories in rock.  Craig Minowa started the band with a few local musicians and his wife in the mid-nineties.  As the band played live, Craig’s wife Connie would paint during the set and auction the painting off at the end of the show.  In 2002, their two-year-old song Kaidin died unexpectedly and would influence all of the band’s forthcoming work.  Kaidin’s drawing is featured on every Cloud Cult release, and although the couple managed to have kids later in life, Kaidin’s legacy lives on throughout their work.  They released a movie to accompany their 2017 album, The Seeker, and support an organic, solar powered lifestyle; including recording.  

We’re gonna do an alt-country set now, as the genre has many roots based in Minnesota.  Here’s the supergroup Golden Smog starting us off with “Pecan Pie”.

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DJ:  If you build the studio, the actors will come.  Kevin “John Dunbar Ray Kinsella Dry Land Is Not A Myth” Costner decided to jump into the music world in 2007, recording with his band The Modern West.  In 2010, they ventured to Cannon Falls to record the sophomore LP Turn It On, which was only released in Europe.  While it’s not typically my style, I will say it’s much better than many, many other actors-turned-musicians.  The album artwork is mediocre at best, and the studio musicians are formulaic, but things could be much worse.  Right, Don?  

Martin Zellar and the Gear Daddies originally hailed from Austin, MN; the home of SPAM.  The band would achieve enough national success to land a gig playing their big hit “Stupid Boy” on David Letterman, and built a huge local following in the early 90s.  After the band split in 1993, Martin and bassist Nick Ciola would go on to form Martin Zellar & The Hardways and continue playing music.  Guitarist Randy Broughten became a phys-ed teacher, but also sometimes plays with The Cactus Blossoms.  

We played another Minnesota alt-country band, The Jayhawks, before Gear Daddies.  Their first major label hit “Waiting For The Sun” would also land them a spot on Letterman, as well as help launch a lengthy career that’s still going today.  The Jayhawks released their latest effort Paging Mr. Proust, recorded with Peter Buck in Portland, last year.  

Other than Costner, the four bands in this set are all connected via the players.  The story goes that Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner (both of Soul Asylum), Jim Boquist (later of Son Volt), and Martin Zellar played a couple gigs as a cover band in the late 80s.  After officially appearing as Golden Smog in 1989, Dan and Dave would recruit Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of The Jayhawks, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run, and drummer Chris Mars (of The Replacements) to record their first EP, On Golden Smog.  Fast-forward a couple more years and you’ve got Jeff Tweedy onboard along with Noah Hardy replacing Mars.  They recorded their full-length debut Down By The Old Mainstream at Pachyderm, featuring “Pecan Pie” from Jeff Tweedy.  Jeff played in Uncle Tupelo with Jay Farrar before the two split the band up in 1994.  Jeff would go on to form Wilco, and Jay would form Son Volt.  Although the two wouldn’t grace the studio in each others’ presence, they’d still make their way to Cannon Falls for some backwoods sessions. 

Back to rock now, here’s Dovetail Joint with “Motorcade”.

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DJ:   Minneapolis punk band Buildings recorded their latest LP You Are Not One Of Us at Pachyderm last fall.  They’re part of the post-noise-punk scene that’s growing in the Twin Cities area with bands like STNNNG and Gay Witch Abortion; though sometimes they remind me of Building Better Bombs.  We played “Pastor Dick” from their recent effort.  

Haley Bonar is no stranger to Pachyderm Studio.  She’s recorded more than one album there, and sat in on other artists’ tracks as well; including backup vocals to Andrew Bird’s “Fiery Crash”.  We played “Kismet Kill” off of Haley’s latest album Impossible Dream.  

Another Twin Cities indie rock group, White Light Riot, played before Haley.  The band has been featured on the Minnesota Beatles Project as well as the Pachyderm Studio samplers.  Their debut LP Atomism, which we took the title track from, was released in 2007.  

Perhaps the most famous group to ever record at Pachyderm is The Simon Ritchie Bluegrass Ensemble, or as the world knows them; Nirvana.  When then-engineer Brent Sigmeth was sent to the airport by Steve Albini to chauffeur the new clients, The Simon Ritchie Bluegrass Ensemble is who he was told he’d be picking up.  Krist, Kurt, Dave, and Pat would end up being the actual artists to head to Cannon Falls for another drum-powered grunge session.  Nirvana would record their final album In Utero with Steve and Brent at Pachyderm in 1993.  

Chicago’s Dovetail Joint kicked off the set with “Motorcade” from their 1998 EP Level.  

Soul Asylum had a national breakthrough in 1992 with the release of their sixth album Grave Dancers Union.  The success of the single “Runaway Train” helped carry the album to triple-platinum status.  Here’s track 2 from that album; “Black Gold”.

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DJ:   Trampled By Turtles frontman Dave Simonett started his solo project Dead Man Winter in 2011.  Having mastered the acoustic world of bluegrass and folk music, Dave took cues from fellow North Star Stater Bob Dylan and plugged into the electric scene.  The band released their latest album Furnace in January of this year.  

Hippo Campus is currently enjoying national success after the release of their debut LP Landmark; released this February.  They recorded their debut EPs at Pachyderm in 2014 and exploded onto the music scene immediately, with opening slots for bands like My Morning Jacket.  We played “Little Grace” from their debut EP Bashful Creatures.  

Earlier in the show, we mentioned Haley Bonar singing backup vocals for an Andrew Bird track; that track was “Fiery Crash” from his album Armchair Apocrypha.  Steve Albini must’ve had an infatuation with Pachyderm’s sound, as he helmed the boards for most of the artists that recorded there.  

Yet another Albini-produced album, 1994’s Libertine from Silkworm, graced the show’s presence.  Silkworm started in Missoula, MT and moved to Seattle in the late 80s.  They fit in well with the mid-90s alternative/slacker rock vibe that bands like Pavement and Beck were exhibiting; even drawing comparisons to Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus’ singing style.  We played “Couldn’t You Wait?” from the alt-rockers.  

Our final set has some extreme eclecticism.  We’ll start off with folk-rocker Mason Jennings doing “Be Here Now”.  The rest of the set will bring more 90s alternative, some pop punk, some metal, and one of the most recognizable 90s anthems rounding out the show.  Get ready!

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DJ:  Did you know that Live’s lead singer,  Ed Kowalczyk, had a brief role in Fight Club?  In his only acting role, he played a waiter asking the lead character if he wanted anything to eat, for free.  Live enjoyed massive success in the mid-late 90s, with their album Throwing Copper going platinum eight times over!  “Lightning Crashes”, “I Alone”, and “Selling The Drama” became huge hits for the band, all off of Throwing Copper.  The LP was produced by the Talking Heads’ bassist Jerry Harrison at Pachyderm.  

Mudvayne may be one of the heaviest bands we feature on the show but isn’t outside of the realm of rock by any means.   Their third album The End Of All Things To Come would be recorded at Pachyderm in 2002 by producer David Bottrill.  David has worked with Tool, Muse, Rush, and Coheed & Cambria amongst many other artists.  We played “Not Falling”, one of Mudvayne’s lighter singles, although it sure packs a punch!  

Minneapolis pop-punkers Motion City Soundtrack broke onto the mainstream when Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus invited them on tour after the release of their debut album I Am The Movie.  The band enjoyed a niche in the rock world with their Moog backing up the typical pop punk sound that emanated Hot Topic in 2002.  After nearly 20 years as a band, they split in 2016.  They held a final show in Chicago in September and played songs spanning their entire career.  

Chapel Hills, NC band Superchunk chimed in with their 1994 cut “Driveway To Driveway” from Foolish.  The 1994 album would get a hand from Steve Albini and held bring them into the indie rock spotlight.  

Capping off our show is the instrumental post-rock band Explosions In The Sky.  Yeah, yeah it’s longer than the standard outro; but we couldn’t not play a track from their phenomenal album All Of The Sudden I Miss Everyone.  Alright FMF Fans, let’s wrap this up.  Thanks for visiting Southern MN, and we’ll see you next time on Feel Me Flow!

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