On Graham Avenue, Strange Weather Recording Studio Defies Real Estate Trends

Photo by Jane Bruce

Brooklyn real estate has long been a bloodsport short on stories that give the city’s many DIY strivers much hope, yet Strange Weather Recording is definitely one. The small, independent recording studio is located on Graham Avenue near the L stop, in one of the last dreamy residential bastions of Williamsburg. It’s the fifth location bearing that name, following five years in another Brooklyn spot and three separate Philadelphia locations in three years before that. Since construction finished in 2012, this latest locale has thrived. In the past year, they’ve worked on high profile new records for artists as diverse as Modest Mouse and Ghostface Killah. This week, they began production on DIIV’s second record for Captured Tracks, one of the most-anticipated follow-ups in indie-rock.

But before they could establish themselves as in-demand producers, mixers, and recording engineers, the Strange Weather guys had to take a huge financial risk, spend three years making construction progress at the mercy of the Department of Buildings’ glacial pace, and commit to another three years doing the hard work of building any small business—not only making music, but repairing gear, cleaning floors, and shoveling sidewalks. Still, founder Marc Alan Goodman calls the purchase of the unassuming building that now houses his studio (along with his and business partner Daniel Schlett’s current apartments), “One of the luckiest things that’s ever happened to me, and probably ever will happen to me.” He’s not just being humble.

Photo by Jane Bruce

“We were looking around, mostly for warehouses out in Bushwick, and then I got a lead on this place,” says Goodman. “My maximum budget, which was already way past what I thought I could ever spend, was only 52% of his asking price. But at this point, I had looked at so many places that I was like, ‘Hey look, here’s an offer. I know it’s an insult, but whatever happens, you know what it is.’ I didn’t ever expect to hear anything back from him, I kind of forgot about it. Suddenly, the market collapsed. I get a call back three or four months later and the broker’s like, ‘If you can close in two weeks, it’s yours, but it has to be an all-cash deal.’ It wasn’t actual physical cash, he just didn’t want to wait on mortgage paperwork. That’s how Williamsburg is now. Everyone I know who’s tried to buy a condo or an apartment, you can’t get a loan on stuff. The banks will give it to you, but people won’t take it because they are getting offers for all cash and it’s cheaper for them to take the cash and walk away.

“So this guy said, ‘I need it in two weeks.’ I scrambled like crazy, and I put it together, and the guy and his wife had their bags with them at the closing. They left from there, went directly from there to the airport and left the country.” That the demanded closing date was April 14th, 24 hours ahead of tax day, was not a likely coincidence. “I immediately started getting subpoenas,” says Goodman. “My lawyer calls me five days after the closing to say, ‘Just so you know, we’re getting calls’. But it’s a done deal, they’re gone. I’m assuming they left the country and never paid any exchange taxes on it, or anything? Other people were looking for their money pretty hard.”

That unlikely rush of events left Goodman the owner of a total dump. He says the space that now holds a clean, modern recording studio was previously “the most disgusting chiropractor’s office in the history of mankind.” Black mold grew from crumbling drywall. A GE X-ray machine from the 1950s loomed hulking in a corner, and the dark room that had long been used fro hand-developing its spine-pics was, to put it mildly, “foul.” But, in a climate that chews up successful creative endeavors as soon as their next lease drops, a back-breaking rebuild was the only logical choice. “It’s happened to almost all of our friends who have studios,” he says. “Only a couple people have gotten a ten-year lease at the right moment and have seven years left, and even then, what are you going to do in seven years? We wanted to do the kind of build out that was going to take us 20 years to validate. In order to do that we had to be able to own the place.” Strange Weather needed a true home.

Photo by Jane Bruce

Planting roots in a part of Brooklyn that’s fast become a punchline as a playground for enormo-brands and condo-buying transplants lousy with finance cash might still seem unsustainable. But the Graham Avenue section of Williamsburg remains a somewhat cozy Italian-American neighborhood, steeped in multi-generational tradition and not as easily transformed as waterfront property that was underutilized for decades before the current boom. Strange Weather, completely invisible from the street except for a tiny door-buzzer label, has had little problem fitting in.

“We have one neighbor, said Goodman. “They are three generations of an Italian family who’ve been there since I think the 1940s, and they are the nicest people on the planet. They came over for that first noise complaint with a plate of fresh-baked cookies.” So, if working on something as definitionally ear-splitting as the latest record from an avant-metal band like Liturgy requires them to restrict their hours, then that’s what it takes to be good neighbors, and Goodman and Schlett are happy to comply.

Their track record has been impressive. An album as solid as The Men’s 2014 LP Tomorrow’s Hits was knocked out there in just 2 days, for both recording and mixing. Legendary producer Chris Shaw (Leonard Cohen, Public Enemy, Wilco, Lou Reed) used the space to mix Bob Dylan recordings from his 1969 Isle of Wight concert, for use on the Another Self-Portrait box set. Radiohead producer and noted studio master Nigel Goodrich has used the room too. Their bookings are on a serious uptick, and whether it’s lo-fi rock, black metal, or old-school hip-hop, Goodman’s confident Strange Weather can handle it. “That’s really what engineering is,” he says, “listening to what’s going on and helping to find the interesting parts and make them loud, and find the parts that aren’t so interesting and turn them down. If you can appreciate the music in any way, you can do our job.”