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Accepting Resumes for Spring Internship 2018

December 17th, 2017

Be a part of our company and gain the skills to succeed!

Spring Engineering Internship

Educational Objective: To gain valuable hands-on experience in a thriving studio environment.

Requirements:

Currently enrolled in college level Audio Engineering classes or a degree in Audio Engineering
Ability to dedicate at least 16 hours a week, January through April
Must be available on weekends and evenings

To apply, please email cover letter and resume to record@mysterystreetrecording.com.

Applications will be accepted until December 21, 2018.

PLEASE DO NOT CALL.

Music Marketing Internship

Educational Objective: To gain hands-on experience in social media and other marketing, and be immersed in a music-focused workplace.

Requirements:

Currently enrolled in college level Music Business or Marketing classes or degree in Marketing
Ability to dedicate at least 16 hours a week, January through April
Must be available on weekends and evenings
Basic understanding of graphic design
Friendly and outgoing personality

To apply, please email cover letter and resume to record@mysterystreetrecording.com.

Applications will be accepted until December 21, 2018.

PLEASE DO NOT CALL.

Demystified: Elizabeth Morgan – “She’s Folks” (2017)

November 15th, 2017

Above: She’s Folks. Photo credits: Jm Fager Photography.

Demystified is a new series where Mystery Street Recording Company has an in-depth discussion with some of the artists who have recorded at our facility over the years. Elizabeth Morgan (Betsy to her friends) has been a regular presence in the Chicago theatre community for over a decade, but her roots in rural Ohio inspired her to develop a show called She’s Folks that combines folk, country, gospel and bluegrass music with narratives about her past. This year, she and her multi-talented band entered Mystery Street to record some of the original songs from the show. The result is an album that captures a restlessness unique to the small towns in midwestern America, celebrates the heady freedom of travelling in cars and on trains, and tries to reconcile the moral foundations of old-time religion with the prejudice and intolerance that can often accompany it. Demystified talked with Betsy in the Mystery Street control room just before the album’s release; below is an edited transcript.

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Q: How did She’s Folks begin?

A: It started as a cabaret, actually. I’m an actor and I do a lot of musical theatre, and I had wanted to do the music I missed doing, which was folk music and country music. I was trying to get myself in front of agents and to show people what else I did, so I put together this one-night-only cabaret called She’s Folks at Davenport’s Piano Bar. I had this whole plan that I was gonna do a series of cabarets – She’s Jazz, maybe She’s Silver Screen – but She’s Folks went really really well and they wanted us back so we went back. So we did keep doing it, and the further I dug into it, I realized I needed to start writing specifically for it, because I was telling a lot of stories about growing up out in the country. I wrote a few songs and we put those in, and I just kept writing and people kept liking it. And we ended up at Steppenwolf’s new LookOut stage last summer, and that was great, we did a lot of original stuff there and it just kind of took off from there. So now it feels more like a band than it initially was – that wasn’t the initial concept around it, but we really like that part of it now.

Q: You alluded to your upbringing out in the country, and there’s a very specific geographical sense to the lyrics on this album. Where did you grow up?

A: We moved around a bit when I was a kid, but it was all out in the country in northwestern Ohio and a little bit of northeast Indiana. I lived in a lot of small towns and eventually we moved out to my grandfather’s farm, and I did not want to. I’ve always been interested in theatre, I always wanted to be an actor, and it just felt like I was getting further and further away from anywhere I could do those things, so I was very angsty about it. But as the years have gone by, I’ve actually become really grateful that I had experienced that, and it made me very resourceful. So the idea behind the show is that I kind of come to terms with my roots. And almost all my guys are from similar areas – Alex (Newkirk, piano) grew up in Iowa in a tiny little town with a thousand people, Tyler (Core, drums) lived in Indiana and South Carolina, Ted (Kitterman, fiddle and mandolin) was born in Ohio and then grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee. So we all sort of have this shared rural thing. It was always something I was kind of embarrassed by as a kid, and I thought you have to own it at some point. And the stories are funny, for a kid that was really into theatre and indoor things to be stuck out with goats and chickens and all of that, I just wanted to talk about that.

Elizabeth Morgan

I also wanted to hone in on the idea of midwestern country, because so much country is so southern, and I don’t relate to that. Growing up, I never really liked country because I was like, “this is not who I am, and this isn’t where I grew up.” And yet we’re still country. So what does midwestern-specific country sound like? And there’s a lot of people out there starting to do that now, for a while there wasn’t. And also from a girl’s perspective too, because so much of female country is a very specific story and perspective that I have never related to at all. I mean, there’s not a lot of broken hearts or anything in our work. There’s arguably one love song, but it’s literally about trains and truck and cars and traveling. That’s the kind of stuff that I relate to.

Q: Are there any specific artists that you think influenced this album?

A: Oh yes, most definitely. First of all, the really old stuff like the Sacred Harp, which is not an artist but more of a collection. I grew up listening to Gordon Lightfoot, who’s Canadian, but there’s parts of Canada that actually feel more like where I grew up then, say, the middle of Nebraska or something like that. It’s that Great Lakes feel, and I always loved his guitar playing. He was what my parents listened to, and he was a major influence on the kind of harmonies I like to hear. And he writes a good driving song! I would also say Dolly Parton, in the sense that she’s such a storyteller. So many of her songs are stories, and mine are stories too, so she’s a big influence on that. I’m sure that my theatre background peeks its head out every once in a while in the imagery. We like a little bit of drama in our harmony, so I think that shows up a lot too. But definitely Gordo, definitely Dolly.

Q: I hear a little bit of Johnny Cash in the real low notes in “I-90 Take Me Home.”

A: Oh yeah, for sure. We really like to go up and down the scale. I will say to my drummer, “just Johnny Cash it,” and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. “Trains” too, actually – my grandpa worked on the B&O Railroad and train songs were a part of my youth, and nobody is more known for train songs than Johnny Cash. So it’s hard not to tie in him to him. Even Alan Lomax, who did those field recordings – I literally listen to that for fun! (Laughs.) Which is weird, but I’m really fascinated by it.

Q: The sound quality is pretty rough on some of those.

A: Yeah, it’s rough, but if you can get into a headspace where you can hear it, just hearing some of those old voices and the imperfection of it, I really really like. I don’t like things too polished. Even in the visuals we put out there, the way that we dress – I like a little bit of rust. My husband’s from the eastern part of Ohio, really deep Rust Belt, steel towns and all of that. We had a friend visit one time, and he was like, “Oh, I guess people can rust too!” And that’s kind of what we’re going for in our sound.

Q: There’s some really nice harmonies on the album – does everyone in the band sing?

She's Folks

A: Our drummer does not, but everybody else does. The main vocals are me, and then Tyler Thompson who is our banjo player and Alex Newkirk who is our pianist. Alex is also a music director in the musical theatre world, and that’s how I met almost everybody. We really like to sing together, and particularly the three of us have built a blend. I would say another influence is Brandi Carlile, because she sings with her two guys, and I love that sound and it seems to really work for us. Our fiddler will come in on vocals sometimes too, but we like that trio sound. Because Alex has a gigantic range, the way we usually structure it is that I’m in the middle, he’s actually above me, sometimes the octave below and sometimes in my octave. Sometimes they’ll both go falsetto above me, and that I really love, because you keep my femaleness, but it makes the chords so tight. When we were recording, I was telling Joe, when we do a three-part chord, there’s no backup singer, there’s no melody – I want everybody on equal ground. And we really focused on that for a lot of the big harmonies.

Q: The acapella track “Saint’s Delight” showcases your voices really well.

A: That is from the Sacred Harp. I wrote my own first verse for it, and then we removed a verse that was about hellfire and brimstone. It wasn’t the story of the album – I was like, “We don’t need to talk about Satan!” (Laughs.) So I took that out and I wrote my own more down-to-earth opening verse. Tyler Thompson and I both have separate backgrounds that involved learning about the Sacred Harp, so we introduced the Sacred Harp to Alex, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a Sacred Harp sing, but it’s horrifying. It’s really fascinating, but it’s a very specific thing. So we were really having a good time torturing him, because he’s such a music director from the musical theatre world, which is like perfection, perfection, perfection. Very specific placement and a very specific sound, and he was just dying! As we were digging through the Sacred Harp we landed on this “Saint’s Delight” song, and I really fell in love with it. We knew we wanted to do a Sacred Harp on the album. We had originally done a piece called “Wondrous Love,” which I adore, but we really fell in love with Blue Highway’s version of it, and I could never write my own arrangement that I loved as much. So I thought, let’s find one and make it our own, and that was the goal with “Saint’s Delight.”

Q: You do a weekly web series called Old Timey Tuesdays. How did that start?

A: Old Timey Tuesday is very much an experiment, so we have no clue what shape they’re going to take. The way that we do it is I get whoever in the room I can get, we take three hours, and we do not know the song. I mean, I have the song picked, but we have not touched it, and whatever happens in those three hours is what happens, and that’s what ends up on the video. I wanted to see if I could be consistent about something. I feel very strongly about doing what you say you’re gonna do, and I was like, let’s see what happens if I say we’re gonna produce something every single week without fail. Even if it sucks!

The cool thing about it is it’s expanded our repertoire like crazy. The only drawback to it is I think people don’t realize I do write my own stuff. Because I can’t write that quickly, it’s almost always some old public domain song. But I only learned how to play guitar about a year ago, so it’s bumped up my guitar skills. I also think we’ve learned how our sound works better. It’s been a really cool experiment and also, since a lot of us are actors, it’s a theatrical outlet as well. So I can put something stupid on our heads, or we can try to tell a little bit of a story. And we started in June of 2016 and I just put out our 56th. We’re not going to do as many this year, we decided to do a school year schedule, Labor Day through Memorial Day. But we should hit about 80 by the end of this year.

Q: How did you choose Mystery Street as the place to record the album?

A: I was listening to Glass Mountain’s album Restless Mind, and I thought “This is right along the lines of what we do.” I mean, it’s not exactly the same, but I was thinking, who’s gonna understand this folky old timey sound? Coming from the theatre world, I’ve been very intimidated by some studios. And so, after listening to the Glass Mountain album, I thought, “I wonder where they recorded,” and it was here. So I started asking around – my friend Diego Colón has rehearsed here quite a few times and was like “oh, they’re great, I love them.” And then we’ve collaborated with Wild Earp on some stuff, and they were really complimentary. So things just started to come together and I had a good feeling. Then I talked to Joe, and he said he was a banjo player, and I was like, that’s it! And we knew it was the right choice. It fit our budget, and we also wanted to make sure there was the capability of isolation, because some places we’ve worked in the past, there wasn’t and it was a big problem. And then I found out that you guys had that amazing old piano, which is just like the one I grew up with. It was like all these little things coming together that made us think this is the place. We had a great time, and we definitely plan on being back.

Q: You mentioned the isolation being a factor of choosing Mystery Street – did you record live?

She's Folks

A: We actually didn’t use it as much as I thought we were going to. The only thing that was totally live was the acapella number, we were all in the room together. Everything else, we laid down drums and guitar with me doing scratch vocals, and built it from there. I just kind of trusted Joe. I was just like, I am out of my element, so I let Joe kind of lead the parade, and it worked out really well. The only other time we had recorded, everything was live, so it felt luxurious to us, that we could go back in and like fix a line. I mean, I’m used to everything being live on stage, there’s no second take and it is what it is. So anytime we patched in, I was like “this is amazing!” I think we did “Little Town Girl” first, and I was like, “that take’s fine except there’s just one little section,” and Joe was like “get back in there,” and I was so excited about it – it didn’t occur to me that we could do that.

I think we probably added banjo and guitar after we did the drums, and then our fiddler also plays mandolin, but then Joe was like, “you know, this song would sound really cool if it had trumpet on it,” and then we find out my fiddler also plays trumpet. Ted’s just like a mystery man, he’s always revealing something about himself. We find out he’s a yoga instructor; we find out he plays trumpet. Joe also had the idea to add glockenspiel on a song, and I never would have thought of that. He also helped us simplify “The Threshold,” and I think it was the right way to go for sure. He was like, “I can see how this like plays live, but it kind of sounds a little Kenny G in the studio,” and I was like “dear God, let’s not do that!” (Laughs.) So that was something I was really grateful for. He just understood what we were trying to do. And that was another thing I was nervous about in selecting a studio, that they weren’t going to get it, that it was just gonna be like, oh, you’re doing a country album, or are you doing a bluegrass album? And it’s like, no, this is part of a larger narrative, and he just totally got it. And that was great, because I know I’m singing about trains here – I mean, this is not revolutionary music, but it is my story, and I want to be true to that story even if it comes off as a little hokey. If I had made it slicker than is, I think I would have felt disingenuous, and the second we started working with Joe, I was like, “oh, that’s not gonna be a thing at all.” And Taylor too, who was the intern, we loved her and she was a lot of fun, and she said it was cool that she was able to work on a full project rather than a single or something. She was definitely in the chair sometimes.

Q: Did you choose the sequencing of the songs?

A: Yes, there’s very much a narrative to it. If people don’t pick up on it, that’s fine. But the first song is “I-90,” which sort of takes us back home; there’s a fiddle riff in “Little Town Girl,” which is the second song, that’s supposed to take us back in time a little bit to when I was younger. And then I picked “The Treshold” as third to continue a narrative about, like, where is home? What does that mean? One of the big themes of the show is where is home if you walk away, or if you don’t feel like you belong there anymore? And then the fourth song is “Trains,” which, like I said, harkens back to my grandpa and who I come from, and I kind of let that lead back to “Saint’s Delight,” which of course is this really old sound. I grew up going to church, but strangely not a conservative church, which is not typically the narrative. My uncle was our minister, and he was actually very liberal and he sang folk music, and so that’s kind of my nod to him, in that I had this religious background, but it was actually really accepting and it was very worldly. I wouldn’t downright say feminist, because we’re talking rural Ohio, but it wasn’t very patriarchal or anything like that. I’m not religious, but to deny that that was a part of how I learned music would have felt disingenuous to me, because I’m a piano player and I’ve played piano since I was a little kid, and a lot of that was in church.

“Back Home” I wrote after the election. I heard a comedian the other day who grew up in a town of thousand, and he said “everybody wonders who are these Trump voters? I grew up in a small town in Idaho, and I know who they are!” And that’s how I felt, I was just like, I know these people, this isn’t shocking to me. I know who they are, I grew up around them, and that was kind of the idea behind that song. My family is like this little liberal bastion amongst a bunch of conservatives, and I was trying to talk about that. It’s not a monolith. There are rural people that don’t feel this way, and then there are rural people that do feel that way, and it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that’s where I grew up. And so that was my attempt at saying, it’s complicated, and I don’t know how to talk to these people, so I’m going to sing at them! (Laughs.) And after that is “For The Beauty of the Earth,” which is an hymn, and that’s kind of a nod to our Holiday Hootenanny. It’s not a Christmas song but we do it during our Christmas show. We rearranged it and, not to toot my own horn, but it’s my favorite arrangement of that song. And we also sang it at my sister’s wedding, so there’s a little bit of that familial connection there.

And the album closes with “The Truck Stop Where I Hung Out in High School,” which I think is my way of saying that the songs I write after this are not going to have such a historical factor to them. I think these songs are my bio, and after this I want to write about now. I’m not saying that I won’t write about all the shenanigans of my past, I’m sure I will, but “Truck Stop” is kind of like, okay, let’s see what happens now. And I also wanted to start and end on a driving song, but two completely different driving songs. I love driving songs. For a while, I thought about just doing an album of driving songs, and we had talked about doing an album called She’s Folks – Plains Trains and Automobiles, but then I thought, I don’t know if I can get away with that. So I decided against that, but there’s a little hint left in there. There’s something about the Midwest that is about getting to places. It’s not about where you are, but where you had to drive through to get there. I left home and I did not look back and didn’t want to, and that song is my way of being like, for five minutes, I will look back. (Laughs.) I like ending the album on that note, partially because it is such a long song. It’s like, if you’ve stuck around for this, I think at that point they might want to hear a story. So that was kind of the thought process with the flow.

Q: Were there any challenges of adapting the project from a show to an album?

A: Yes, it’s challenging because there are stories that go with most of the songs I perform in the show, and we decided not to record those for the album. We do a version of “Banks Of The Ohio,” and I weave a story in between each verse. We had recorded the song by itself, and it’s fine, we do some nice harmonies on it, but I don’t think we were doing the definitive version of it until we put the story into it. And I toyed for a while with putting the stories in, but it just doesn’t translate if you’re not seeing the facial expressions and things like that. So it definitely colored what we chose to put on the album and what we chose to leave out. I think probably the biggest influence was what we didn’t do. We have a big gospel medley with a lot of old hymns that’s a lot of fun, and it’s one of our signature pieces that we do in the live show. We worked on it and I thought, “should we put this on the album?” And the decision I ultimately made was no, I think this is a piece that is for performance. So I had to look at what has the ability to stand alone and what doesn’t.

And “The Truck Stop Where I Hung Out in High School” was one I wrote specifically for the album. We’ve never actually performed that one live. It’s long, and it’s a story, and I was nervous about it being long, but Alex, my pianist, was like “you told the story that is the story, so that’s how long it is.” So ultimately, I didn’t end up cutting it, but I’m still not sure it belongs on stage. You can sit there with earbuds and listen to it, but I don’t know, it might lose people in person. It’s certainly not an opener – if anything it’s a penultimate or the closer. I’m just gonna have to take the risk one of these times and do it, and be like, okay, we’re never doing that again! (Laughs.) I do that a lot, where I’m like, “that joke didn’t work.” A lot of times my guys are like, “you cut things too quickly,” but I just get that sense of “nope, we’re losing them!” And that’s the actor in me, or the comedian, that says “no, it didn’t work, I don’t want to do that again.”

And it is a weird thing, it’s kind of in between an EP and an album. It’s eight songs. But I think we can get away with a few things by virtue of skirting a couple of genres, theatre and music. I think I don’t have to follow some rules. (Laughs.) So we’ll see how that goes.

She's Folks

Q: How long is it?

A: About a half hour.

Q: I’d say that’s an album.

A: That makes me feel better.

Q: It’s better to leave the listener wanting more.

A: That was my thought process – I could have pulled 12 songs together, but we’d have to rush the recording. And money aside, getting five people in a room together in this day and age for a certain amount of time is my biggest challenge. So I was like, let’s do eight well. Let’s do eight the way that we want to. And I learned a lot just going through the process and thinking, I could have put more energy into my voice here, but that’s what it is. Everything I do, I’m learning in front of people, and we don’t have a lot of groups to look to that are doing exactly what we’re doing right. I’s been very invigorating, but it’s also a little nerve-racking too. A lot of times I think venues are like, “What are you?” and I’m like, “I don’t know!” (Laughs.)

One of the biggest lessons I think I’ve ever learned as an artist is that you don’t have to know what the thing is when you’re getting started. It’ll teach you what it is, and that’s been the case for us, where it’s like, let’s just keep doing this. I think we’re onto something. Let it define itself. It’s gonna change, we’re not gonna look the same from month to month and year to year, but the thing is we actually have stayed consistent. I never know what to do two steps from now, but thus far, I know what to do next. And that’s all I think I need to know, because I think ignorance is bliss a little bit. If I had a total sense of the world in which I was operating, I would want to quit. (Laughs.) But I don’t! So as long as I’m doing the next right thing, let’s not worry about long-term plans. I don’t need a five-year plan, I don’t need a one-year plan. We’re booked through January, and that is great!

She’s Folks’ Holiday Hootenanny will be returning to Steppenwolf’s LookOut Series on December 7th and 8th (tickets available from Steppenwolf) and at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights on December 12th (tickets available from Metropolis Arts). To learn more or to catch up on Old Timey Tuesdays, visit their website at shesfolks.com.

Demystified: The Polkaholics – “Wally” (2009)

October 5th, 2017

Above: Li’l Wally Jagiello with The Polkaholics. Photo credits: Dick Blau.

Demystified is a new series where Mystery Street Recording Company has an in-depth discussion with some of the artists who have recorded at our facility over the years. If you’ve spent any amount of time playing or seeing shows in the Chicago area, if you haven’t already seen The Polkaholics, chances are you’ve at least seen a Polkaholics sticker stuck to the wall. The group was founded in 1997 by Don Hedeker, formerly of seminal Chicago new wave band Algebra Suicide, and since then, they have been making audiences dance, smile and drink (not necessarily in that order) with a joyous blend of punk rock and polka. In 2009, the band embarked on its most ambitious project, Wally, a polka rock opera based on the life of Chicago polka pioneer Li’l Wally Jagiello, recorded right here at Mystery Street. Demystified talked with Don about Wally and the band’s history in its 20th year; below is an edited transcript.

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Q: How did you start playing polka music?

A: I didn’t grow up into polka, like some of the traditional people in the city had, but I got into it about 20 years ago. I was playing in Algebra Suicide in the 80′s. We used to play at Phyllis’ Musical Inn all the time, and I knew nothing about the history of that street. Apparently, Division Street between Ashland and Western was called Polish Broadway in the 50′s, and it was lined with bars that had polka bands. And that’s where Little Wally made his mark, on that street. So when I was writing him these letters, I told him we were playing on Polish Broadway, and he wrote back saying “you should arrange a show, and I’ll make an appearance!”

At thrift stores, I just saw these records and I was kind of curious about it. It was like, “wow, these people look so happy!” And at that time, there was sort of like a shoegazing movement in rock. The kind of rock music I’ve always enjoyed is the stuff that’s really out there, like glam rock and punk rock. Just stuff where the people are trying to entertain the audience, basically. So I started buying these polka records, and it connected to me with the kind of rock music I liked, because it was DIY. None of these records were on major labels or anything, the artists put them out themselves. And I soon came to realize that Little Wally was like the Muddy Waters of polka music. He’s hugely influential in polka, and his records were just amazing. So I started writing him fan letters, and we played a few shows with him before he passed away.

Q: And he was semi-retired in Florida at this point?

A: Yeah, he retired to Florida pretty early, in the late 60′s. He would come to Chicago about once a year, play at some banquet hall like the White Eagle out in Niles. So in 1999, we set up this show at Zakoipane Lounge, which is on Division there, and the idea was the Polkaholics were going to be his backing band. I thought, “wow, his vocal with our way of playing polka would be super cool. It would give us so much legitimacy right there!” That’s what I thought anyway.

So I picked him up at the airport. We were going to have a practice that day, and then we were going to have the show the next night. At practice, as soon as we start the first song, he yells “no, no, no, no, no!” He was kind of a control freak; he basically neutered us. He said “what’s wrong with your guitar?” I said “it’s distortion.” “I don’t want that!”Li'l Wally and Don Hekeder

Q: He kind of sounds like Chuck Berry – an old school dude who’s got his own way of doing things. He just rolls into town for a show, and you have to follow his lead.

A: It was very much like that movie, “Hail Hail Rock & Roll” – except I’m not Keith Richards! We spent that whole summer trying to learn as many of his songs as we possibly could, and then at that practice he changed the key on everything. It was just a waste of time! So we do the show the next night, and I can’t even tell you how pumped up I was for that show – opening for little Wally was like a dream come true. As we were playing our set, he was at the bar and all these people were buying him shots. So by the time he comes on, he was just tanked! So it was quite an an event, but musically, it wasn’t all that great, really.

So after that happened, I had this crazy idea of “let’s do a polka rock opera about Wally!” It’s sort of chronological in the songs. “Son Of A Gun” is when he’s first born, then “Caldwell Woods” is sort of how he made his mark in the beginning. Caldwell Woods is at Devon and Milwaukee, and on Sundays they would have polka bands playing out there in the afternoon. He was just 10 years old, and there was a polka band out there, and he was singing on the side of the stage and they invited him up – like the Michael Jackson of polka or something – and that’s how it started for him. He would go to these Sunday picnics, and then he started playing in bars at the age of 14. He wasn’t legal, let’s put it that way!

So this guy’s story is unbelievable. He was this child star, and a super hustler. He was first signed to Columbia. He put out two 78′s, but he didn’t like the way they sounded because they brought in their own musicians and just had him singing. He didn’t like that at all, so he said “fuck you, I’m gonna start my own thing!” So he started his own label, Jay Jay Records, started recording with his own band and became a great success. That’s the part of him that really intrigued me. He’s just so punk rock!

Q: I like the fact that there’s so many local references on the songs – it gives Wally a very authentically Chicago flavor.

A: When I was growing up listening to the British Invasion bands, they would sing about England and it seemed so cool, so exotic. Chicago doesn’t seem that exotic, but you should sing about what you know, and so that’s what we did. I grew up around Caldwell Woods, so I went there many many times before knowing it was important in polka history. In fact, after we picked Wally up from the airport that time, we drove over to Caldwell Woods and took some photos there. It was him back at his old stomping grounds.

Q: Rock operas, as well as concept albums and even musicals like Hamilton, all seem to function on several levels simultaneously. They have to have compelling stories as well as being enjoyable to listen to. And you had to make both a great polka album and a great rock album. How did you go about crafting the songs so that they reflected this balance between genres, along with telling a story and flowing well as an album?

A: It sort of gave a direction for the songs. I was thinking about different aspects of his life and and how they might translate to a story, to a song. The music for “I Miss Chicago Again,” is basically Li’l Wally’s biggest hit, “I Wish I Was Single Again.” We sort of used his music and then created a different narrative over it. Same with “Zakopane Waltz.” That’s a song about when we played with him, but it’s also the music for another big song of his, “The Lucky Stomp Waltz.” And the very end is when he died, and “King of Happiness” was trying to summarize things. Having this idea of doing this polka rock opera kind of dictated, you know, “I need a song for this period of his life.”

It was a lot of fun, and working with Joe and Mickey at Mystery Street, they just facilitated it big time and made it a lot better than it would have been anywhere else. They knew what we were going for real quick. What was great about Mystery Street was if we had some crazy idea – and we had a lot of crazy ideas – they were facilitators of those crazy ideas, as opposed to saying “you can’t do that!” They went with us, big time, and I think that makes it that much more interesting.

Li'l Wally singing

Q: How did you first find out about Mystery Street?

A: We were practicing there when it was Blue Room, before Joe took it over. We just liked the space and the attitude and everything about it, and so we just recorded a few things there as well. In fact, we’ve recorded everything since the third CD over there – I think we recorded Polka Uber Alles there, but we had an external engineer, Scott Ramsayer, do that one.

Q: I assume that Wally was a Pro Tools recording?

A: Yeah. I don’t think The Polkaholics have ever recorded to tape actually. The first one was on ADAT. The great thing about recording with Pro Tools it gives you a lot of flexibility, no doubt about it. The bad thing is that you can wind up with 20 tracks that you now have to mix and edit. In the old days, when we would record to tape, you did a lot of editing before recording, whereas with recording onto the computer, a lot of times bands go in and put down everything and you spend so much time editing. We’re a little bit more on the side of doing things ahead of time and not having to spend a billion hours editing. Especially with what we’re doing, it’s not about perfection, it’s about the whole feeling of the thing, and that’s way more important than hitting the note perfectly.

Q: Were there any rock operas that were particularly influential when writing or recording Wally?

A: We tried to merge some aspects of Wally’s music with The Who. On some of those songs like “Division Street,” “Teacher” –

Q: “Sea And Sand” even shares the name with a track on Quadrophenia.

A: Precisely! We all had this notion of “What would it sound like if The Who played polka music?”

Q: What was your approach for recording guitar on Wally?

A: What I would do often is play my live sound, and then go back and do the same thing using a beefier kind of sound to bring those together. And again, I was trying to get a Pete Townshend kind of sound. There are some songs, like the solo on “Son Of A Gun,” where I worked it out ahead of time, but some of the stuff is on-the-spot. Over the years, I’ve had this experience where the first time you play something, you can’t recreate that. It’s got that kind of energy, the spark, all that. So I think some of the stuff we went in with that idea, to not have everything nailed down ahead of time to give us some flexibility there.

Q: How much say did you have during mixing and mastering?

A: I think the way we did it was we said, “you go ahead and do a first pass, and then we’ll add input as we go.” It’s good to give people flexibility, it brings out the best in them, I think. If you’re just dictating everything, that limits creativity. So we gave Joe and Mickey a bit of a free rein on things, because they know what they’re doing and they have cool ideas. They have ideas I would never come up with, so why would I want to limit that?

The Polkaholics will be celebrating their 20th anniversary with a show at Phyllis’ Musical Inn on November 25th at 9pm. For more information about the band, visit their website at http://polkaholics.wixsite.com/polkaholics.

Mystery Street on S.E.E. Chicago TV

August 30th, 2017

This past weekend, Mystery Street Recording Company was featured on an all-music episode of S.E.E. Chicago TV, a show where Dawn Jackson Blatner explores some of the coolest businesses the city has to offer. Special thanks to Beta Dogs for being a part of the filming and writing a theme song for the show that’s sure to be in your head for days. If you missed Sunday’s broadcast on WGN, check it out at S.E.E. Chicago’s official website or below:

A Bear Hug For Carlos

July 21st, 2017

One of the most fun and unique services that we provide here at Mystery Street are the karaoke parties for kids. For 3 hours, we open up the studio for an unforgettable birthday party where kids can sing their favorite songs into professional microphones and get a copy of their performances afterwards on a customized CD. It’s always rewarding to help kids celebrate their birthdays while also allowing them to glimpse a real recording studio, but last month we hosted a particularly special party for a very brave young man named Carlos.

We were first contacted by Bear Necessities, a Chicago-based non-profit pediatric cancer foundation. Founded in 1992, the twin programs of the organization are Bear Discoveries, a grant program that seeks to research tools to fight pediatric cancer, and Bear Hugs, a program that seeks to create unique experiences for kids ages 0-19 who are going through cancer treatments. According to Hannah Witte, Bear Necessities’ co-director of Programs and Services, “we’re really trying to make each Bear Hug a huge sunshine moment in the middle of a very hard thing that these kids are going through.” Bear Necessities was referred to Carlos Meija, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. It was natural that Carlos’ love of music would be the focus of his Bear Hug. “His social workers already knew he loves to sing. When he’s in the hospital, he sings to the nurses,” said Witte. “So we did some research on who offered karaoke options for a kids’ age group in his neighborhood and found Mystery Street.”

Carlos with Dan and Austin

On the day of the party, our staff engineer Dan Norman and intern Austin Walsh set up Studio A with a table for pizza and refreshments, Studio B with microphones and headphones and got the control room ready to capture all the performances before the party arrived. According to Austin, “Carlos was so outgoing and had a lot of great friends that were there to support him. Some of them were wearing shirts that said Team Carlos. So just to see him at his age, a freshman in high school, with the amount of friends he has that care for him was really heartwarming.”

As each song played, Carlos was never far from the microphone, singing on nearly every song. “Toward the end of the party, his parents were sitting back here in the control room and it was really interesting to hear the story that went along with each specific song,” Austin continued. “His mom was explaining that “Brave” by Sara Bareilles was a huge song for him because he had been in the hospital for like a month, and he like got to that point in the chemo where he just couldn’t eat. Somewhere along the line, he ran into that song and started singing it, and his mom noticed that he started to eat again, from the introduction of that song. So that was a cool little story to hear.”

To book or learn more about our karaoke parties, go to http://www.mysterystreetrecording.com/rates/karaoke-parties/

To learn more about Bear Necessities or donate, visit their web page at http://www.bearnecessities.org/

15 IPS: Live From the Lab, Episode 2, ft. The Polkaholics

May 7th, 2017

Episode 2 of “15 IPS: Live From the Lab”, featuring Chicago favorite polka rockers, The Polkaholics, is now streaming!

This first ever acoustic performance by the band was recorded live at Mystery Street’s Audio Preservation Lab, in Chicago, IL, on April 23, 2017.

Audio was recorded in mono using a Neumann u87ai, Universal Audio 610 tube preamp, and a Studer A812 1/4″ tape machine at 15 IPS.

Listen to more of The Polkaholics’ music at www.thepolkaholics.com.

Job Opening: Audio Archivist

April 8th, 2017

Part Time Audio Archivist


All applicants must have experience with Pro Tools recording/editing, analog recording techniques, and have superior customer service skills. You must be focused, a critical thinker, self motivator, and maintain a clean and organized workspace. Must also be willing and capable to work on a vast variety of audio projects (not strictly music production).

If you have skills in any of the following, while not a requirement, we’d like to know:

Multiple Language Speaker
Library Sciences
Soldering/Equipment Repair
Marketing/ Social Media
Graphic Design
QuickBooks

Requirements: 4 year degree in Audio Production and a passionate understanding of analog and digital recording.

To apply, please email the following to record@mysterystreetrecording.com. We will not accept applications any other way.

  • Cover letter and Resume in PDF format
  • Links to at least 5 projects in which you have recording, mixing, and/or mastering credits or equivalent audio archiving/preservation experience
  • Minimum of 3 industry references

Applications will be accepted until April 30, 2017.

PLEASE DO NOT CALL, EMAIL, OR DROP BY TO FOLLOW UP. WE WILL CONTACT YOU WITH OUR DECISION EITHER WAY.

15 IPS: Live From the Lab, Episode 1, Ft. Glass Mountain

March 13th, 2017

We are excited and proud to present the debut episode of “15 IPS: Live From the Lab”, featuring Glass Mountain.

The performance was recorded live at Mystery Street’s Audio Preservation Lab, in Chicago, IL, on February 18, 2017.

Audio was recorded in mono using a Neumann u87ai, Universal Audio 610 tube preamp, and a Studer A812 1/4″ tape machine at 15 IPS.

Listen to more of Glass Mountain’s music at www.glassmountainmusic.com.

Staff Audio Engineer Position Available

December 11th, 2016

Be a part of our fast growing company!

Staff Audio Engineer

We are hiring full or part time Staff Audio Engineers. All applicants must have experience with Pro Tools recording/editing, analog recording techniques, live sound, and have superior customer service skills. Must be a critical thinker, self motivator, and maintain a clean and organized workspace. Must also be willing and capable to work on a vast variety of audio projects (not strictly music production). Bilingual speakers are a plus, as well as the ability to solder and repair audio equipment. Engineers who can prove a steady client base will be given high priority.

Requirements: 4 year degree in Audio Production, credited recording experience, and basic understanding of live sound reinforcement

Much potential for growth, especially for motivated individuals.

To apply, please email the following to record@mysterystreetrecording.com. We will not accept applications any other way.

  • Cover letter and Resume in PDF format
  • Links to at least 5 projects in which you have recording, mixing, and/or mastering credits
  • 3 industry references
  • Please specify if you are interested in part or full time employment

Applications will be accepted until December 31, 2016.

PLEASE DO NOT CALL, EMAIL, OR DROP BY TO FOLLOW UP. WE WILL CONTACT YOU WITH OUR DECISION EITHER WAY.

Recent Americana Recordings….

November 15th, 2016

This summer, our lead engineer, Joe Tessone recorded a few really great albums by americana/folk bands- Glass Mountain and Trick Shooter Social Club. Different styles of music and both super fun. Give them a listen below and purchase their albums to support the bands!