By David Chiu
At first glance 68 Jay St. in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood doesn’t look like a place where the magic happens. The building’s facade is very nondescript, and two large elevators and a worn out-looking vending machine mark its minimalist-looking lobby area.
The commercial building’s sparse interior gives no indication that in one of its spaces is Saltlands, a professional recording studio. Founded in 2008 Saltlands has been used by various artists for their projects such as the Soft Pack, Alexi Murdoch and Josh. Several songs from the Away We Go movie soundtrack were produced at the studio, and Wilco’s DVD Ashes of American Flags was mixed there.
A cavernous hallway, which is reminiscent of being in an indoor parking lot, leads into the studio’s entrance. Inside is a relatively cozy relaxing space that houses the usual fixtures such as the studio per se and the control room that features large mixing desk.
“We’re not really competing with Avatar or Sear Sound, which are these amazing studios in New York that charge thousands of dollars a day,” says Saltlands’ owner and co-founder Steve Salett. “So we don’t try. I think we have very good equipment and we try to focus on the performance.
“My experiences at studios before building this has often been [being] very nervous about how much money I was spending. Not having that constant pressure of being in a very expensive place and also having the vibe be comfortable is a big combination.”
Salett, the singer of the band The King of France, says that starting the studio was an organic process for him as he had previously constructed rehearsal rooms. “I just started to get the bug to do it as I got started building out the spaces. I didn’t realize how much I was suited for it. Once I started to build a little studio, then I got much more ambitious of what I wanted to do there.”
The evolution of the studio on 68 Jay St. came from Salett first rehearsing there. “That was before there was anything in DUMBO,” he recalls. “The only restaurant was Pedro, which is still there. Aside from that, you couldn’t buy a bottle of water. We were there because it was convenient and cheap. And now DUMBO is a great neighborhood.”
The studio’s clientele is very diverse, drawing from both local and international acts. “We get some bands from out of town like the Soft Pack,” he says. “There’s no typical client that we have. It’s not something we widely advertise or promote either. It’s a lot of people coming through word of mouth, which is the same way we did the rehearsal room.”
One of Saltlands’ clients is Cobble Hill resident and musician Dawn Landes, who is also a co-partner of the studio as well as its producer and engineer. Her most recent album, Sweet Heart Rodeo, was recorded here at Saltlands along with the music of her other project, the Bandana Splits.
“I’ve been touring a lot for my last record Fire Proof with Ray Rizzo on drums,” she says during a moment in the studio. “I kind of just came in here and Ray and I just started playing some new songs that I’ve been working on. I thought it was just going to be some demos…and then it became the album.”
Landes has been working at recording studios for ten years, including a stint at the now-defunct Looking Glass. An opportunity to own a stake in a studio came when she connected with Salett and fellow studio partner/chief engineer Gary Maurer.
“Steve and I met years ago when he was working on the last King of France record at Dubway studios,” she recalls. “I toured with them doing sound and playing a little bass. Gary and I met at Stratosphere when he was producing Hem and a bunch of other projects there. He really took me under his wing. They took to me and eventually I started touring with Hem.”
Saltlands is not the only recording studio in DUMBO—Salett cited others in the area, including one in the same building. However, he says: “What I think makes us different [is] we focus on community,” he explained. “It’s not uncommon to walk the hallway and grab a sax player who rehearses down the hall. I think the difference is a lot of people know each other and everybody is really supportive. It’s not a competitive atmosphere.”
“I am so proud of this studio,” says Landes. “It’s such a great thing. I just want to show it to everyone. Everybody’s making cool music down here, everybody’s really professional but really open.”
As listed on its Web site, Saltlands’ most recent projects have involved the Gray Goods, Revolutionary Road actor Michael Shannon, musician Nate Martinez and a Match.com song. As for what he would artists that use Saltlands to get out of their experience, Salett says: “You want people to be happy with what they record there and not just the day they leave. You want someone to be happy two years later when they start thinking about their next record. I want people to feel like they are a part of something that it’s a place they can go back to and tell their friends about it.”