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Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009

Howl Street Sessions

Bay View studio documents Milwaukee’s punk scene

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It's been less than a year and a half since Call Me Lightning drummer Shane Hochstetler moved out of his bedroom studio and into a more professional space in Bay View, but his Howl Street Recordings studio has already left an indelible mark on the Milwaukee music scene. The studio has become a breeding ground for great albums from many of the city's punk, metal and hardcore bands. In the past year, it's produced records from Malachi, Disguised As Birds, Cougar Den and Protestant. Many more will see release in coming months, including efforts from Herds, Terrior Bute, Get Rad, Northless, Party By The Slice, Father Phoenix and Freight.

The studio space came rich with Milwaukee history. Once run by Citizen King alums Kristian Riley and Malcolm Michiles as Bionic Studios, it was used to record albums from Decibully, the Rusty Ps and Paris, Texas. Hochstetler expanded that existing space, which had been primarily an overdub studio, to include a full live room, and turned recording into his full-time job.

"Home studios are great, but you're always going to be limited by space," Hochstetler says. "There's only so much you can do to treat an 8-by-10 bedroom acoustically."

Howl Street's business turned brisk last year as word of mouth spread, and the studio now books up months in advance, but Hochstetler still treats the job like a pet project, keeping his rates low enough for most DIY bands to afford them and working almost exclusively with artists of his choice.

"For me, the most important thing is recording bands that I like," he says. "Ninety percent of the bands that I've recorded I really, really like-I mean, I listen to these albums after I'm done recording them."

Though Hochstetler is open to working with artists of all genres-he's cut albums with roots rocker Jonathan Burks, indie-folk singer Chris DeMay and .357 banjoist Joe Huber, and his friend Justin Perkins has used the studio to record with The Goodnight Loving and The Candliers-Hochstetler's specialty is heavier music. His preference for clean, naturalistic production makes him an ideal complement to some of the city's hardest, messiest bands. Without sanding out the edge and character that define these bands, Hochstetler prunes undesired noise and interference. The resulting records are crisp and professional, but never so polished that they lose the integrity of a live performance.

Howl Street has filled a glaring gap in the Milwaukee scene. The city has long bred a wealth of talented punk and hardcore bands, yet few had the resources to record professional albums. Most cruised by on the strength of their live shows alone, at best leaving behind for posterity a muddled, demo-like album or two. Howl Street now provides a forum for these bands. In less than two years, it's become Milwaukee's answer to Inner Ear Studios, the D.C. institution that has recorded Minor Threat, Fugazi, Jawbox, Shudder to Think and just about every other D.C. punk band of note. And with Bay View increasingly emerging as the heart of Milwaukee's music scene, the studio is well located.

"Between the Cactus Club, Frank's Power Plant and Club Garibaldi, there's a lot going on down here now," Hochstetler says of the neighborhood. "The East Side feels like Brookfield to me now."

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