Belltown’s Studio X, home to some of Seattle’s greatest musical milestones, gives way to a wrecking ball

A drab brown building on Fourth Avenue has been the birthplace of some of Seattle’s most important musical stories, from Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” to Nirvana’s “In Utero.” Longtime manager Reed Ruddy, who oversees the studio’s move from Belltown to Capitol Hill, was there for the incredible journey.

Sometimes Reed Ruddy will come out of his office for lunch, and someone will be standing there with a camera, taking a picture of the unmarked entrance door to Studio X in Bad Animals.

The other week it was a kid from Brazil, his phone turned off, his eyes wide with wonder.

“I came to see where grunge was made,” he told Ruddy, who shook his head at the memory.

“They come to Seattle,” Ruddy said, “to Mecca, in their minds, to see where this has been done.”

Hard to believe looking at it, but this dull brown building was where some of Seattle’s most important musical history was created. Where the dynamite was wrapped and prepared.

“Superunknown” from Soundgarden. “In Utero” by Nirvana. Alice in Chains’ untitled “dog” album. REM recorded “Automatic for the People” here, and Pearl Jam completed their third album, “Vitalogy,” here, along with parts of four others. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis recorded here. Just like Chance the Rapper, Death Cab for Cutie and Dave Matthews Band.

It’s also where orchestral soundtracks were recorded for movies like “Office Space,” “Into the Wild,” and “Carol,” as well as video games like “Halo” and “Age of Empires.”

And because this is Seattle, this whole story is about to be reduced to rubble. Studio X is one of three properties on the 2200 block of Fourth Avenue that were purchased for $21.6 million last October by Skanska. The development company plans to build a 346-unit multi-family tower with retail on the ground floor.

On October 31, Ruddy and his team will move to Capitol Hill, where developer Michael Christ has donated space in a former church. Ruddy takes the name, Studio X, and all the gear he thinks he needs.

Some of the material will be sold, and some elements of the old studio will remain. Skanska has promised to “integrate musical practice or performance into the project” and is working with the Seattle Music Commission and others “to determine how best to support local artists,” according to spokeswoman Ann Marie Ricard.

That would be great, Ruddy said, given that so much has happened within those walls and so much has gone missing. The Black Dog Forge, where Pearl Jam first met and rehearsed together. Clubs like The Ditto and The Off-Ramp. Ruddy saw them all disappear. Slowly, at first, but in recent years with a speed and regularity that bewilders him.

“I’m from Seattle,” said Ruddy, 63. “So I saw where we went. And it’s so weird for me to come down here. All I know in South Lake Union is Whole Foods and Guitar Center. Everything in between is like, ‘Where the hell am I?’

“When we go to Capitol Hill, we will bypass this stage. And it will be fun for me.

The studio was opened in 1976 by actor Danny Kaye and his partner, Lester Smith, who owned and operated radio stations and that year became co-owners of the fledgling Seattle Mariners baseball franchise. They needed a local outpost, so they opened an office and studio and called it Kaye Smith Studios, where they held press conferences and booked sessions.

A man named Thom Bell brought soul and R&B bands like The Temptations, The Spinners. Singers like Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis. Elton John recorded an EP there. And Steve Miller recorded two of his greatest records, ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ and ‘Book of Dreams’, here.

In 1989, producer Steve Lawson bought the two music rooms, three post-production rooms and a cavernous studio and called it Lawson Productions, where recordings were made and commercials were recorded in an adjacent soundstage. .

In 1992, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart wanted to build a studio in Seattle, where they lived. Lawson agreed to partner with them and opened Bad Animals. Five years later, the sisters sold the studio to Charlie Nordstrom and the adjacent soundstage was turned into Studio X.

The only constant has been Ruddy, the grinning, white-bearded studio manager and engineer who still can’t believe his luck. The job, the place, the people he spent time with. The art he witnessed.

“If someone’s been working in the same building all their life, they’re probably looking forward to many careers out of it,” he said. “I was lucky…I’m passionate about it, even today.”

Ask him for a few memories, and the one that seeps to the top is the moment in 1982, when jazz singer Diane Schuur came to spend a week.

Producer Dave Grusin, “one of the former students”, played the piano, Ruddy recalled. Grusin’s brother, Don, played synthesizer. Stan Getz played the saxophone. Howard Roberts played guitar and Schuur sang and played a Fender Rhodes piano.

“It was just one of those times where you just go and record and it’s ‘Great! Let’s go to the next track,'” Ruddy recalled. we have all kinds of devices to manipulate sound.

Ten years ago, Van Morrison had a night off from touring and wanted to come the next morning. Ruddy gathered all the gear they needed.

They walked in, the band got together, Van Morrison was playing the piano and pretty soon they called the violinist,” he recalls. “She comes in and stands next to the piano. Background singers came in and gathered around the piano, rehearsing and doing stuff and I’m just sitting here, just…”

He knocked on the table.

“It was one of those moments,” he said. “That’s why you do it because it was, like, a real big one. And I’m not often impressed.

Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron remembers first getting into Bad Animals in 1993, as a member of Soundgarden. The band had just returned from “constant” touring to promote their 1991 album, “Badmotorfinger” and had a fresh batch of songs ready to go.

“Bad Animals was a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of downtown that we chose as our home/laboratory to record what would become our signature album, ‘Superunknown’,” Cameron said via email. “The studio had a fantastic sounding live tracking room which I immediately took over with two full drum kits.”

Cameron credited drum tech Gregg Keplinger, engineer Jason Casaro, and producers Adam Kasper and Michael Beinhorn with helping him capture “iconic Studio X drum sounds that have stood the test of time.”

“We used every inch of this studio,” Cameron said, “and let our imaginations run wild in the process.”

He remembered having lunch at the Sit & Spin or the Two Bells Tavern across the street – both now defunct. And he thanked Ruddy and his team for their “tireless contributions to our city’s musical culture.”

Cameron’s bandmate Soundgarden, guitarist Kim Thayil, called Bad Animals/Studio X “a weird fort in the trees where I camped out all day.” He remembered doing the test mixes for “Superunknown” and running around the studio garage with the band’s late singer, Chris Cornell, where they would sit in his car and listen to them on tape. (“How was the mix?”)

You can perform in one room, he said, listen in another, sit between reception and the studio, make phone calls and do interviews. You can try something at one of the other studios, visit another band, or head across the street to Two Bells Tavern for a sandwich or a meeting with your lawyer, if you had to.

He remembered this area of ​​Belltown as “this little triangle that I would define by my steps” which included another studio called The House of Leisure, where Artist Reyza Sageb did the booklet art for Soundgarden’s “Superunknown.”

But Studio X was at the center of it all.

“And it was sunny!” Thayil said. “On the rare occasion that we weren’t caught up in a meeting or taping, you could walk out and the sun would hit your face. Now it is transformed into this strange valley.

Ruddy will sell equipment that the studio hasn’t used or doesn’t need. The rest will be transported to the new location. Some date from the 1970s. Teletronix tube compressors. Limiters. Pultec equalizers.

“There are 24 hours in a day, right? Ruddy said with a laugh, then stopped, looked around.

There is still a lot of work to do here. Alice in Chains has just recorded “Rainier Fog”, a new album which will be released on August 24th.

“I want to do sessions for as long as possible, for obvious reasons,” Ruddy said. “Not just for the monetary part, but because this has been our home. I’ve had my whole life here and I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll be out of here someday.’

“If you walk into this room,” he said, looking through the window of Studio X. “There’s something about it. After all these years, I think a lot of people would agree with me on that.

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