Storefront recording studio brings soul to downtown Edgerton

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

— Walking up the narrow stairwell to the second floor loft that houses Edgerton recording studio Shoez Music, the air is ripe with old wood varnish, dusty plaster and incense.

It smells like soul.

At the top of the stairs, laughing voices and Pink Floyd’s “Money” waft through a thin wooden door.

Inside, a high-ceilinged room with original tin walls, wainscoting and hardwood floors slants off into partitioned alcoves. The nooks house pianos, drum sets, hand-built amplifiers and vintage-style microphones.

The walls are emblazoned with guitars, photos, hand-scribbled art and acoustic panels that hang like blank canvases.

It’s Old World Wisconsin meets Storefront Rock.

Lou Dog, a reggae-rock band from Janesville, is just leaving Shoez Music after meeting with studio owners Jeremy Brockman and Seth Bonte about a local music compilation album the studio plans to record this year.

Brockman and Bonte retire to their black-walled control room, which is stacked with speakers, digital recording equipment and custom two- and four-track analog recorders. The room is the mother brain of the 6-month-old recording studio at 106 1/2 W. Fulton St. in downtown Edgerton.

Brockman grabs a seat at the control board and cues up a 27-year-old country song sent in as an audition demo by Janesville-area musician Jerry Dabson.

Dabson bawls about a wicked woman in a low, whiskey-soaked drawl. Brockman’s eyes light up. He laughs.

“Isn’t that great?” he says.

Bonte opens a hinged wall panel, letting in sunlight from a window that overlooks downtown. He sits down on a futon couch.

Maybe it’s the Pink Floyd or the studio’s acoustic soundproofing, but inside Shoez Music it’s easy to forget that you’re in Edgerton. The ambience of the place smacks more of vintage-era Motown than Rock County, Wis.

That’s just what the two friends pictured when they hatched the idea for Shoez Music while jamming on jazz last year in Brockman’s home studio.

Brockman and Bonte, both Edgerton residents, built the downtown studio themselves in 2010, renovating and soundproofing 2,300 square feet of rented space above Edgerton’s former Shoes shoe store, which now houses a stained glass shop.

The friends pooled their gear and technical know-how with the goal of building a recording space with a relaxed, throwback feel.

The duo says they kept the building as original as possible. It matches their recording philosophy, which melds modern digital music technology with age-old analog and mono recording methods.

The mission at Shoez Music, Brockman and Bonte say, is simple: to give local musicians an outlet to record music affordably, with emphasis on giving the music as spontaneous and “live” a feel as possible.

“The idea is play it right, record it right and say good night. That’s how it should be done,” says Brockman.

Brockman, a Madison native and a former tree-cutter for the U.S. Forest Service, says he’s rambled the country as a musician and a music producer since his teen years.

During the mid-1990s, he operated his first recording studio out of an old bus in the mountain community of Yaak, Mont., population 30.

Since then, Brockman has owned music studios in Minneapolis and in West Virginia. He works with recording artists all over the country.

Bonte, a native of rural Clermont, Iowa, studied classical music at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He and Brockman are skilled session musicians.

Though the studio has operated for just months, Shoez Music already has a growing list of clients that include local and regional musicians. The studio does everything from re-mastering older recordings to doing session work with singer-songwriters to live, full-band recording.

Guitarist and singer John Norland of Edgerton, who fronts the Madison acoustic folk-rock band Bathtub Mothers, was at Shoez Music planning a music video shoot.

Norland said he thinks Shoez Music sets itself apart with its unique, down-to-earth atmosphere.

“The other studios I’ve been in try and make it look as much like a spaceship as possible. Like a combination of a dentist’s office and the Starship Enterprise,” he said.

Norland’s band mate Phil Redman, who plays the upright bass, said it’s a rare gem to have a storefront studio such as Shoez Music in a town the size of Edgerton.

“It’s really unusual. I was surprised to hear they were opening on a small town main street because that’s really unheard of now,” Redman said.

However quirky, Shoez Music is striving to become known by area musicians.

The studio has put out advertisements for a local music compilation album, soliciting dozens of music submissions from local musicians in genres as diverse as folk, reggae, blues and country.

Shoez Music is accepting artist submissions for the album through April 19. They’re working on the 20-song project free of charge, giving the artists selected for the album free studio time to record selected songs. Bonte and Brockman said the main profits from the album would go to the artists who record the songs.

Their goal is to have the album finished in November—in time in for a music engineering convention in Nashville. Bonte said the album will showcase the wealth of working musicians in and around Rock County and give area artists a shot at their music being heard outside the region.

“We want to promote the musical eclecticness of the area,” he says

Meanwhile, Edgerton’s most rocking downtown business plans to bring back some local history while honoring the business that inspired its name.

Brockman and Bonte plan to fix the old neon Shoes sign, a broken local landmark that hangs on the front of the building. But like their studio and their music, they want to keep the sign as vintage as possible. After all—age is ambience.

“The sign doesn’t need to look shiny and new,” Brockman said. “We’re just looking for it to turn on and come alive.”

Last updated: 1:32 pm Thursday, December 20, 2012

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