Music

A Whole New Hollow

Pine Hollow Studio's Evan Middlesworth talks shop

Eric Christenson, photos by Lee Butterworth |

STUDIO CROON SESSION. Folkster Willy Porter dropped by local recording studio Pine Hollow Audio last fall, one of many intimate concerts hosted by engineer/owner Evan Middlesworth.
STUDIO CROON SESSION. Folkster Willy Porter dropped by local recording studio Pine Hollow Audio last fall, one of many intimate concerts hosted by engineer/owner Evan Middlesworth.

Pine Hollow Audio, a recording studio in the outskirts of Eau Claire, has been one of the local music scene’s most valuable players in recent years. So many of the Chippewa Valley’s most talented musicians make their way through the studio at some point to create records with engineer/owner Evan Middlesworth in an idyllic rural setting. The studio is more active than ever, making records, fostering a base of local engineers, throwing intimate concerts in the studio’s live-room, and even keeping a trove of honey-makin’ bees on site. We recently caught up with Middlesworth to talk about the state of the scene, new developments at Pine Hollow, and the joy of seeing your favorite artists in an intimate setting.

Volume One: How are things going out at the studio? It seems to me like you’re busier than ever. Tons of local CDs come across my desk, and so many of them have that Pine Hollow liner note on them.

Evan Middlesworth: That’s great to hear! This year, I’ve started moving the studio towards the vision I’ve had since I started back when I was 19 years old – which is to have outside engineers using the space to make records, making Pine Hollow a hub of activity and providing a variety of creative output that I don’t necessarily have to have my hands involved in 100-percent of the time. Local engineers Justin Andersen (Phil Faucett, Nick Anderson, Big Business) and Gabe Larson (Reservoir, Waldemar) have been making records with their own artists out here and helping me out on sessions whenever possible.

“I like to think of the experience as the intimacy of a house show, the vibe of a recording studio, mixed with the sonics of a major venue.” – Evan Middlesworth on live shows at Pine Hollow Audio

We updated the control room this past March to make it easier for outside engineers to come in and get to work. This setup not only broadens the type of projects that come in, but it also expands the community of engineers, producers and artists as well as supports the local audio engineer economy.

On that same note we’ve made a big push to hire session musicians as much as possible for projects that are looking for that “full band” sound or for a specific instrument. I tell artists, “Think of any instrument you want to add and chances are someone in the Chippewa Valley is an expert; let’s hire them.” Not only does this add an amazing vibe and experience for the artist, but, again, it supports the local musician economy which I feel strongly about. As a side note, with all the talent in the area I’m confident Pine Hollow can put a stamp on history. There’s no reason why it can't!

Evan Middlesworth at a recent Pine Hollow concert featuring S. Carey.
Evan Middlesworth at a recent Pine Hollow concert featuring S. Carey (more photos below).

So what initially made you decide to start having intimate shows and performances out there? How does it work exactly?

I’m always open to ideas and Gordy Bischoff called in early 2015 asking if I would be interested in hosting Sundae & Mr. Goessl, a Seattle based band on a Midwest tour. We certainly have the space, so it made sense. We had a good time with that and in September 2015, Gordy asked if I would be down to have Willy Porter out. I had worked with Willy a handful of times on other gigs so, again, it made sense and we fired it up. After that show I thought it would be cool to aim for a series in 2016 with the goal being to curate four total shows for this year. Most times, I’ll reach out to buds that I think would do great here and try to set something up. With tour schedules as they are, we usually book months in advance. On the other hand, Shane (Leonard) contacted me about doing a show here with Sean (Carey), which was a no-brainer.

How has the reception been so far?

The reception has been stellar both from the artists and the audience – I aim to bring in acts that I know will sell out quick so we can provide a studio full of fans excited to see one of their favorite artists in an intimate and interesting setting. Plus the added rural setting of Pine Hollow has a laid-back vibe which puts everyone at ease. From the artist standpoint, I keep the business end of the deal simple and fair like usual and they appreciate the intimate, great sounding room with an audience that is there to listen. Getting folks like Shane Leonard from Kalispell and Sean Carey on board to do shows, you must be doing something right. What can people expect when those dudes play at Pine Hollow? I like to think of the experience as the intimacy of a house show, the vibe of a recording studio, mixed with the sonics of a major venue. I mix the shows on a full spectrum sound system so we feel the low-lows and sense the high-highs with a dose of reverbs and echoes thrown in for a little show-biz. Imagine sitting on the stage of a bigger venue mere feet from the artist with the same aural experience. Kinda cool, right? I will add that that doesn’t mean we’re blowing the roof off the place – it simply sounds full and groovy in a smaller room.

Describe the performance space. What makes it unique, for artists and for audiences?

The performance space is the live-room of Pine Hollow. This is where every sound of the records we’ve made has been recorded, which I feel adds a little extra nostalgia. The space holds around 50 people or so. Not many people get the opportunity, or have the need to set foot into a real recording studio, so a lot of audience members comment on how cool it is to see a show in a place that makes records. Turns out, it’s very educational for them as well. Seeing undeniably true talent in a space that records it makes them realize that it isn’t a bunch of smoke and mirrors; they really are that talented.

What’s the future plan for shows at Pine Hollow? Is it something you want continue to do regularly?

It’s certainly something we will continue to do – regularly enough to keep it fun for us and unique for the audience and visiting artists. I’ve got feelers out to a few friends who are in amazing bands that I know would do well here in Eau Claire. We’ll see what the remainder of 2016 and throughout 2017 has in store!  I can break the news to you first: Michael Perry & The Long Beds will be out on Sept. 16.

Tickets are still available to see Shane Leonard (Kalispell) and Sean Carey (S. Carey) at Pine Hollow on July 1. For more info, or to reserve your tickets email tickets@pinehollowaudio.com.

Journey Ahead

We all get old. In fact, some of us, right at this very moment, ARE old. V1's guide to challenges and opportunities of growing older in the Chippewa Valley. Presented by the ADRC of Eau Claire County