To spot Lord Huron's own studio Whispering Pines from the street might have you circling the block a bit. Down an alleyway behind an auto shop in Los Angeles' West Adams neighborhood, the two-story building is utterly nondescript, save a bizarre cartoon skydiver spray painted onto the adjacent wall looking down at the entrance. But inside, there's a beaming aura that tells you this is a special place.
"The history of the studio is somewhat murky," says leader Ben Schneider, walking up the wood stairs that guide you in. "We've had it from a good source that it was built for Sam Cooke, but he was killed before it was finished. I can't confirm that tale. We know it was used for Gospel and Hip-Hop in the '80s and '90s and then abandoned at some point. It hadn't been used for many years when we came upon it. I can certainly say it seems full of ghosts. But they're the friendly kind."
Approaching its second album, following 2012's Lonesome Dreams, Ben explains they'd wanted to take their time on this album, "so having our own space to work in on our own schedule was crucial." The thought of a place that was their own and felt like a clubhouse to the band and its friends was an appeal for good reason, and so they looked to make it happen. It took some time without much luck and then came across this space in the classifieds. It didn't seem very promising but they decided to check it out anyway, he says, "Lo-and-behold, she was a real beauty."
"We wanted to create an environment that we could live and work in comfortably and hopefully make something special. We're still cooking, so we'll have to see how it turns out, but we all feel pretty damn good about working here," he continues, giving a teasing a smile I've come to know since Hit City released the band's first piece vinyl with the Into the Sun 7" in 2010 and kicked off a meaningful friendship.
Because the studio hadn't been used in a while, Ben and the rest of the Lord Huron crew had to strip out a lot of old gear, cabling and such. "There was definitely a bit of work to be done just getting it up and running again," he tells me. "It was a lot like the firehouse in Ghostbusters."
"It took some time, but it feels more like home now. Our good pal and engineer Ben Tolliday helped us choose some nice, simple gear and we got to work. The overall design of the studio suited us fine, so we kept most of the wood panelling, faux bricks and weird acoustic padding. Miggy [bassist Miguel Briseno] fixed up the lounge to look like the Red Room from Twin Peaks. Add a coffee maker, a record player and a brown light for when someone is in the bathroom – voilá – super studio."
Laying down a guitar track with buddy Tom Renaud and the other Ben (Tolliday), Ben notes the distant echoing signal that comes through what the mic's picking up — it's a ghost in the machine, he says, half kidding. Scattered around the control room are bits of ephemera for inspiration: Old 45's, mostly a lot of early rockabilly stuff; comic books like Charles Burns, old western magazines, a book of Pettibon drawings; and photos on the walls, Mr. Cooke included.
"We'd have settled for a mediocre place so long as it was private and accessible any time. What we ended up with is actually a gem of a recording studio. They don't make 'em like this any more. It sounds incredible, the vibes are good. We feel damn lucky that we get to come to work here every day," Ben says. "We want other people to make records here, too. We've already had a few friends in to record and everyone is feeling pretty great about working here. We hope to keep Whispering Pines running for many years to come. So long as the ghosts continue to cooperate."
Lord Huron's brilliant (and badass) new album, Strange Trails, is out now on IAMSOUND. Buy it on vinyl here.