Saltlands featured in Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal found our community-based studio approach intriguing–they came by to talk to us about the F train, sincerity, music, and the studio!

Photo by Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal.

“Rocking Near the F Train”

By STEVE DOLLAR

Beneath the historic cobblestone alleys of Dumbo, in a hive-like array of basement studios and rehearsal spaces, the Brooklyn music scene is inventing and reinventing itself.

On a recent afternoon, Steve Salett made the rounds of his Saltmines complex—a network of some 20 rental spaces packed into 10,000 subterranean square feet—where dozens of musicians and producers were busy recording, mixing or tinkering with new songs. Mr. Salett, who first founded his own Saltlands studio at the site in 2007, is something like its mayor. He’s an affable presence who oversees the independent network of performers that has coalesced around the onetime Jay Street tea warehouse, built in 1897.

Tuned In

“Most of us are in it for the long haul and the attitude is very accepting, even if we don’t always agree musically,” said Mr. Salett, a producer and songwriter who performs Wednesday at Joe’s Pub with his band The Poison Tree.

Acts as diverse as Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, Wilco, Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Jolie Holland and Sondra Lerche have passed through. Meanwhile, Mr. Salett’s modest studio has become a neighborhood hub.

Musicians Gary Maurer of indie-rock act Hem and songwriter Dawn Landes, who helped launch the facility with Mr. Salett, are regulars. They’re part of a steadily growing circle of Brooklyn-based musicians, including songwriter Josh Ritter and indie-rock faves The National, loosely connected by their residential proximity to the F Train, which stops one block away at the Jay Street station.

Mr. Salett, 39 years old, says a “grown-up-ness” sets these performers apart from the trendier bands that keep Williamsburg on the rock ‘n’ roll radar. “There’s a lot of sincerity, even though people rightly get turned off by that word.”

The musician describes the quality when he talks about his own songs. “We get older and have our dreams managed and changed, and that’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said. It’s a theme that runs through the self-titled album partly inspired by William Blake—Mr. Salett discovered Blake’s poem “A Poison Tree” in high school English. The album’s slow-burn approach casts a lingering spell, given authority through Mr. Salett’s meditative bass-baritone voice.

“I take some of that as a leaping off point. I want to write something that may have a positive effect on someone.”

Photo by Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal.

Back in his studio, vocalist Caithlin De Marrais—formerly of the Brooklyn indie-folk act Rainer Maria—is working on her solo album with a co-producer, Josh Kaufman, and house engineer Jim Smith. Mr. Maurer also has stopped by, with his toddler daughter Lulu in tow. Everyone seems very relaxed as they sort through a rough draft for a track, most of all Ms. Marrais, who is delighted to have a 2-year-old weigh in. It’s rare to have such a young pair of ears at the studio. “I have one the same age,” she said. “As a parent it changes the stakes.” The mellow atmosphere has an immediate impact on the music.

“The vibe is really experimental,” Ms. Marrais said. “They have all these unconventional instruments and a real willingness to put something down if it’s not working and come back later with a totally different approach.” Because so many different musicians are close by, a sudden inspiration can often be acted on right away. When Ms. Marrais needed a strings track on one song, she found cellist Eric Stevenson, of the chamber group Project Trio, down the hallway. And true to form, Mr. Salett returned from his walk-through with something to show Ms. Marrais: a jerry-rigged castanet clacker, acquired during a drop-in at producer Nick Stumpf’s studio, The Love Boat.

“We’re going to find a way to use this,” Mr. Salett told her. Later, Ms. Marrais confirmed that the gizmo did, indeed, find its way onto one of her songs. “We ran it through something else,” she said, “so it ended up sounding totally different!”

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