Musicians are often perfectly happy to suffer for their art if it means an extra shred of realness is summoned as a result. Maybe that suffering manifests via ungodly amounts of studio takes or by amassing an expensive repertoire of temperamental, vintage instruments. It might also be realized, for instance, by building a recording studio in a goddamn pool and recording an album in said pool.
There have been a surprising number of records tracked in odd spaces and places in clever attempts to rebrand recorded music. An irregular environment can coincide with the theme of a record—or (likely) with the mystique of an artist. And it can often create precarious circumstances. Check out seven albums that spurned sterile recording studios for more adventurous confines.
A classic entry in any list about inexplicable studio locations, The Downward Spiral warrants inclusion every time—because it still elicits a what the hell? response nearly 25 years since its release. If you don’t know the story, it’s a relatively simple and demented one: NIN honcho Trent Reznor built a studio where the infamous 1969 Manson murders occurred. Located in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, 10050 Cielo Drive was the site where Sharon Tate and a host of others were brutally killed by what came to be described as the Manson Family. Reznor dubbed the studio “Pig” as an acknowledgment to what was scrawled in blood on the front door of the house following the murders. He eventually expressed regret over his decision to record there, and the house has since been demolished.
It’s not incorrect to describe the Icelandic post-rock powerhouse as having a flair for the dramatic, what with their sweeping, ethereal compositions and concocted lyrical language (which was dubbed “Hopelandic”). The idea that Jonsi and company might build a recording studio on a cloud seems perfectly plausible—so building one into an abandoned swimming pool from the 1930s feels very on-brand for Sigur Rós. Located seven miles east of Reykjavik in the town of Mosfellsbær, Sundlaugin (or “The Swimming Pool”) was conceived and constructed to track 2002’s ( ) and has since provided a recording sanctuary for a number of Icelandic bands.
You want opulence? Track your album in a castle established during the 15th century. The Krautrock behemoth couldn’t just write an 18-minute-plus masterpiece like "Halleluhwah" in some dinky recording studio. For a short period in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Can were bequeathed Schloss Nörvenich—a castle near Cologne, Germany—as a backdrop in which they were allowed to build their earliest albums. Monster Movie and Soundtracks would go on to help define the shapeshifting outfit, but Tago Mago from 1971 is arguably Can’s most recognizable and revered record.
Murder doesn’t really fall under extenuating circumstances as far as recording a record goes. It’s murder. Following his conviction for stabbing Mayhem bandmate and black-metal peer Øystein Aarseth (better known by his stage name Euronymous) to death, musician Varg Vikernes continued to record in prison under his project name of Burzum. Recorded on synthesizer, Dauði Baldrs is ominous and sparse as result of Vikernes’ limited means during his incarceration. It’s often described as dark-ambient music as opposed to traditional black metal, but knowing the circumstances in which it was recorded makes it creak and writhe in a manner that can be just as chilling.
If you’re from Akron why not be from Akron with everything you got? Or let’s imagine that’s exactly what the Black Keys figured when they rented the second floor of an abandoned tire factory in their tire-famous hometown to track, yep, Rubber Factory. Though probably not ideal as far as acoustics go, the factory was a bargain-bin setting—not to mention that the duo produced the record themselves. Bonus savings. If 2003’s Thickfreakness was the Black Keys’ first big breakthrough, the bluesy, blown-out garage rock of 2004’s Rubber Factory was the first to gain mega-media notoriety. Now the band doesn’t even live in Akron, and the factory has been razed.
Ah that’s right, David Gilmour did buy a lavish early-20th-century houseboat moored on the Thames and converted it into a recording studio. The Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist began recording on the Astoria not long after Roger Waters resigned from the group in 1985, leaving Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason with the daunting (but enviable) task of continuing under the great Pink Floyd name. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) was the result, and though it was plenty harrumphed by critics and Waters alike—believing it more represented a Gilmour solo album than a band record—it still went platinum several times over.
It’s probably no easy feat to record a hit album in a makeshift studio that’s better suited for demoing. Springsteen did in ‘82 with Nebraska—a four-track record first meant for the E Street Band but later preserved in its raw, solo form—and in 1983 the Eurythmics made Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in a very modest eight-track studio housed above a picture-framing factory in the Chalk Farm neighborhood of London. With its new-wave flair and experimental Krautrock lead, the title track went on to dominate MTV and become a behemoth for the duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. Not too shabby for recording on a budget.
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