March 3, 2013

Storied Sacramento music studio the Hangar to close

The Hangar, a sprawling, storied Sacramento recording studio with a garage-rock appearance, loads of space and world-class equipment, will close this month after more than two decades in business.

It's freezing in the winter, blazing hot in summer. The linoleum is stained and cracked. There's a hole in the ceiling.

There is no place like it, and there will not be again.

The Hangar, a sprawling, storied Sacramento recording studio with a garage-rock appearance, loads of space and world-class equipment, will close this month after more than two decades in business.

It leaves behind recordings by the Deftones, Far, Jackpot, Kevin Seconds, Jackie Greene, Middle Class Rut, Sea of Bees and Sister Crayon, as well as other musical favorites with less of a local connection, such as psych-folk singer Devendra Banhart and Wild Flag, the latest musical project from "Portlandia" star and ex-Sleater- Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein.

Oh, and there was that time Kanye West, in town for a show at then-Arco Arena, spent two days at the Alkali Flats studio, recording and meeting with vodka-company executives in the studio's grubby lobby area.

Hangar owner John Baccigaluppi, 51, a veteran recording engineer and producer, shifted course a few times during the run of the studio (once known as Enharmonik), diversifying while never abandoning the recording business. He and partners Sonny Mayugba and Chris Carnel ran the skateboard and music magazine Heckler out of the building, and during a tour of the Hangar on a recent Friday, Baccigaluppi pointed out where the skateboard ramps used to be.

Since 1999, Baccigaluppi and partner Larry Crane have published the respected recording-business magazine Tape Op (Pete Townshend is a fan). So Baccigaluppi is enough of an industry expert to recognize the rarity of a 3,000-square-foot recording space like the Hangar's.

Only two other studios – L.A.'s Capitol Studios, recently seen on the Academy Awards, and Marin County's Skywalker Ranch – boast that kind of space. Both charge much more than the Hangar's daily rate of $200.

Baccigaluppi did not rely on the Hangar for income, and his rent was cheap, so studio rental was cheap. But recording at the Hangar came with a caveat. An engineer for other studios before he built his own, Baccigaluppi spent years recording quickie albums and demos that went nowhere. At the Hangar, he became quality-driven.

He booked bands that could devote serious time to making records – a week, or two or three, as opposed to squeezed-in weekend sessions.

Some sonic pleasures to emerge from the Hangar over the past few years, such as the Baccigaluppi-produced "Songs From the Ravens" – the 2010 album by folk-pop singer-songwriter Sea of Bees (Jules Baenziger) – were local. Most were by out-of-town bands.

Baccigaluppi's business model of low rates and quality recordings worked well, and he responded to widespread use of Pro Tools software and the subsequent popularity of home studios by offering mixing as well as recording services at the Hangar. The studio became known for its great-sounding analog mixes of Pro Tools recordings.

But Baccigaluppi's landlord needs to make much-needed and costly improvements to the building. The work required would have entailed vacating the building for at least six months and, eventually, higher rent.

A Hangar with higher rents and corresponding higher rates would not be the Hangar. So Baccigaluppi will close shop.

In the meantime, he's clearing out contents, giving away musical instruments and furniture.

The Hangar figuratively will split in two. Part of its recording equipment will move to a house near the ocean in Marin County. This "destination" studio should draw the bigger acts in a way the Hangar sometimes could not.

An avid surfer, Baccigaluppi said he will enjoy the beach, but he's a Sacramento native and will continue to live and work here. He and Chris Woodhouse, producer of the Wild Flag album, will move the rest of the Hangar's recording gear to the nearby General Produce building. The daily rental rate will be a Hangar-esque $200 for digital, $250 analog.

The space is only 1,000 square feet. But it's also the only business in the General Produce building not fruit- or vegetable- related. That's pretty punk-rock.

Here's Baccigaluppi on the Hangar's history:

THE BENEFIT OF RECORDING IN A LARGE ROOM: "It allows you to spread out a little bit. It is a lot harder to record people playing together in a small room, because you get all sorts of 'bleed' of one instrument's microphone onto another."

HOW PRO TOOLS CHANGED THE STUDIO BUSINESS: "Every recording has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is the basic tracks when you are at least doing the drummer and probably a few other instruments. The middle is the overdub, which can go on forever, and the end is the mixing. Technology has changed it so much. It used to be you had to do all that in a studio. Now it's like you don't really need a studio for any of it. You can do so much with computers. (But) I think, and lot of people think, it doesn't sound as good."

WHY SO MANY HANGAR ACTS WERE ALTERNATIVE: "Through Tape Op and just my circle of friends and acquaintances, things definitely leaned in that direction.

We used to do more of the hard-rock stuff, and we sort of moved away from that. Like (Sacramento band) Papa Roach was never here. I think part of that was that type of music did sort of embrace the computer more, so the big space was less necessary. (Hard rock) is more of 'We are just going to (record) drums' and then everything else is just built up track by track, and you can do that in a small room.

"This place sort of evolved into doing music where people did want to play together and capture the vibe of being in a room together. That tended to be more alternative and punk-rock, garage-rock sort of stuff.

BRUSH WITH KANYE: "It was such a fluke (laughs). It was a minor footnote at best to this place. He was a nice guy, (but) they brought in their own Pro Tools rig, and his own engineer. We really provided a space and a microphone. He came back after his show at Arco and cut vocals until like 8 the next morning, and then got on a bus and went to his next stop. He's got a work ethic.

"(While West was at the Hangar) the people from Absolut Vodka's ad agency flew in to meet with him. So there are ad execs hanging out in the lobby discussing storyboards for this ad campaign. Kanye was sitting in this old La-Z-Boy chair we had at the time, so after that we always referred to it as the 'Kanye Chair.' "

THE LOCAL MUSIC SCENE'S EVOLUTION: "To be a serious professional musician and live here is not easy, because there is not a lot of infrastructure for it without something kind of like (1990s venue) the Cattle Club. I kind of go back to that era of when there were tons of touring acts coming through and several small independent record labels based out of Sacramento. To me, it just felt like it was a healthier scene back then, and people wanted to make good records.

"It feels like this market doesn't do that for the most part. You get some bands, like Sister Crayon, who want to make a really good record. By making a really good record, you are investing in your career instead of not. There's no polite way to say it.

"A week to three weeks – that's an album budget, to not make a record where you are not cutting corners and saying 'Oh, we will fix it in the mix, we will edit.' ... It didn't mean we didn't want to work with Sacramento bands, but that's where it ended up going because we rarely get a band from here who is going to invest that kind of time and energy. And that is kind of a drag. Because there are so many great bands here."

HIS FAVORITE HANGAR RECORDS: "I love that first Two Sheds record. And all the Vetiver records. Part of that is because (Vetiver frontman) Andy Cabic is so great. I really like Devendra's records. The first Sea of Bees record for me is my all-time favorite record I have done because it was so fun to make. It is sort of odd because before I met Jules, I was more kind of just retired, and just enjoying being a studio owner. In the last 10 years, I did no more than 10 records. ('Songs for the Ravens') kind of dragged me back into making records. But in a good way."

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