by Matt Ledger
For a local band, recording can be more of a headache than anything else. Between the commute to the studio, the oftentimes cramped recording spaces themselves, and the cost, what most bands need after a stretch of recording is some relaxation. At his friend Dustin Booth’s secluded barn in Clear Lake, just a little over an hour outside Eau Claire, producer Chris Mara seeks to combine the two. “The Barn,” as Mara calls it, is a country retreat and recording studio in one, a place where bands can feed sheep and chickens, grill out, do a little bit of fishing (although Mara admits there’s not many fish in the adjacent lake), and knock back a couple beers before they get down to recording. “It’s kind of glorified camping,” says Booth, “but at the same time you can lay down tracks and do a record.”
The actual recording does, for the most part, take place in The Barn, but Mara – who now lives and works primarily in Nashville and records in locales throughout the country including Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pensacola, and Atlanta – is quick to dismiss any who might be skeptical of how their sound will turn out when recorded in … well, a barn. “When I get here, it has to sound as good as it does anywhere else,” Mara says. “It’s not ‘It sounds pretty good for in a barn.’ I’ll play it for anybody.” The Barn, which measures about 40’ by 60’, is a juggernaut of recording space which Mara fills up with vintage mics (which get covered with sandwich bags at night to protect them from guano), headphone jacks on milk cans, and the rest of his recording gear. After that, Mara and the band hit the tracks, although they always leave some time for pleasure at the end of the day. “You know you have a good scene,” Mara says, “when you work til midnight and people want to go to town and bring beer back here and hang out.”
According to Mara, about fifteen bands, including Eau Claire’s own Irie Sol and Eggplant Heroes, have recorded at The Barn – and its repute is traveling through word of mouth. “It’s definitely got a little underground scene,” says Mara. “Once in awhile, I’ll be uptown and people are talking about something up here, and I’ve gotten e-mails from guys saying ‘Hey, are you the guy who records in a barn?’”
If you think The Barn might be right for your band, you can contact Chris Mara at firstname.lastname@example.org.