Pieholden Suite Sound (2116 W. Chicago) is a recording studio tucked inside an obscure building in Ukrainian Village. The one-story superstructure might have been a blockhouse. Or maybe a kindergarten. Navigating the labyrinth of hallways, I pass a bathroom with stalls and school desks just before the space opens up to a hoard of instruments. Vintage guitars line one wall; a live room stuffed with pianos, Wurlitzers, and a virginal harpsichord acts as fodder for a keyboard player's wet dream. The building—actually a former rec center—is now a musician's playground, as well as a shrine to Pieholden's founder.
First, a brief history lesson: About 20 years ago, Bill Skibbe (cofounder of the Key Club Recording Company) acquired the building and converted it into a rehearsal space. That sparked a music community hang spot, which evolved into a show space—oldies may remember it as 6Odum. Semaphore Recording then occupied the building for a decade before turning it over in 2010 to engineer Matt DeWine, who currently runs Pieholden Suite.
The studio was founded by the late Jay Bennett of Wilco in 2002 and was initially migratory, existing wherever he stored gear. DeWine began working with Bennett after finishing at Columbia College for sound engineering. "He said I was welcome anytime. I took it literally and never left."
Most of the equipment at Pieholden comes from Bennett's life collection. "He was addicted to making music and recording. It's a lifetime of fun toys, and it's no small feat to keep it working," DeWine says. (A Tijuana velvet painting of Bennett hangs in the lounge.)
Unique to most studios, Pieholden has an instrument-repair workshop on-site. DeWine explains, "I realized Jay's guitar collection is vast and old, and I wanted to maintain it."
As for the recording process: "I love accidents," studio manager Josh Dumas says. "If you put a plug-in on a sound on the computer, it always sounds the same. Some days you can fire this analog stuff up and something weird and fantastic will happen."