“Funky” would be a good word to describe Shacklyn, MM&W's project studio, rehearsal room, and storage space. It's located in a nondescript industrial building in Brooklyn, New York, just across the bridge from downtown Manhattan. The band has used it as their headquarters since 1997, and plenty of memorable music has emerged from the basement facility.
FIG.A: The main room at Shacklyn, set up for rehearsal.
When you first walk in, you're in a large open area that doubles as an entranceway and a storage room, and is cluttered with instrument, drum, and road cases stacked on shelves and on the floor. On the far left is a kitchen and an eating area. Against the far-right wall is an antique Windsor organ, and beyond that is a hallway that leads to the control room that features the band's vintage API console; an MCI 2-inch, 16-track recorder; and a rack of outboard gear.
In the center of the building is the main recording and rehearsal room (see Fig. A), which features wooden pallets for flooring, plywood and Sheetrock on the ceiling with Chinese lanterns hanging down, plywood-covered walls, and Medeski's vintage keyboards all over the place. What are the acoustics like in Shacklyn? “Good,” answers Medeski. “It would be nice if we could have the floor filled with sand; other than that, though, it's cool.”
The band built a separate room on the left-hand side that functions as a bass booth when they're recording (and a storage space for bicycles when they're not). On End of the World Party, one of the mics that producer John King used on Wood's upright (he played upright on about half of the songs, electric on the other half) was an old RCA 44BX ribbon mic. “It sounds unbelievable,” says Wood of the RCA. “It has all the oomph and punch that you would want. It did everything that a direct line would do, but it sounds a million times better.”
When recording the basic tracks for End of the World Party, Medeski and Martin recorded in the main room with Wood in the bass booth. Medeski's amps were miked, but they were isolated from the sound of the drums using improvised techniques. “We use the road cases, put the amps inside of them, and tried to at least blanket them off,” says Wood. “It's crude isolation, but it's good enough.”
On this day, the band is rehearsing for an upcoming tour. Medeski sits at a grand piano (which once belonged to his childhood piano teacher) that has an ARP SE-IV String ensemble and a Roland Space Echo sitting on top of it. Woods is playing an electric upright (which he uses only for practicing) through an old Ampeg bass amp, and Martin sits behind a vintage Rogers drum kit from the '60s. He uses a red, black, and green Nyabinghi drum for a bass drum, which he explains is a traditional Rastafarian drum that he bought on the beach in Jamaica in the '80s.
The band members, who had been joking, talking, and answering my questions during the setup, start to warm up and play what seems like an improvised piece, and they effortlessly lock into an impressive groove. As the music bounces off the plywood walls of Shacklyn, one thing is for sure: these guys can play.