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RiverRock Studios: Where Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s console rocks on

by Kyra Herning

March 19, 2014

RiverRock Studios, in Northeast Minneapolis, is a relatively new recording venue—but it contains a lot of history. Although the studio itself was only constructed in 2010, it's home to two analog consoles from the 80s that have been used in recordings by music legends including Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Usher. Since moving to RiverRock, the same equipment has been used by local artists including Lizzo, Poliça, and Astronautalis.

RiverRock is housed in a warehouse-like building it shares with a Mercy Vineyard church. The organizations neighbor each other, and both play a lot of music, but they never hear each other due to the building's layout and a careful design created in 2010 by RiverRock’s owner and engineer Eric Blomquist.

Blomquist has been working in the Twin Cities music scene for ten years. When A440, the studio where he previously worked, closed in 2007, Blomquist started his search for a new place to record music. The space that is now RiverRock had exactly what he needed: 15-foot ceilings for good acoustics, and half the cost but double the size of a studio in Uptown. 15,000 feet of sheet rock and 20 gallons of soundproofing green glue later, RiverRock was ready. (The studios were first known as Waterbury Studios, after the building where they are located; the name was later changed to RiverRock to avoid confusion with other Waterburys.)

The studio has soft lighting and a sleek but cozy décor. The massive 72-channel console in the main studio is illuminated with blue lights and gives the place a sense of retro grandeur. Instruments are everywhere: sitting on couches, hanging on walls, and standing by in the recording rooms, combining decoration and utility.

River Rock has three separate studios, each with a distinctive set of strengths. The C studio, where local producer Big Cats frequently works, is equipped with synths and mixers, conducive to hip-hop and electronic recording. The B studio is home to the Harrison console from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s studio in the 80s; it's used for both mixing and recording. The A studio, with a console from New York’s famous Unique Recording Studio, is best for big productions (Poliça used it to record a song live with two drum sets at once). Both the A and B studios are connected to a live room, so music can be recorded and mixed at the same time.

Blomquist is a strong advocate of analog, as opposed to digital, recording technology—especially for folk and rock, although he likes recording all genres. “Recording with analog technology stores the sounds and vibrations. When you record on a computer, the sounds are translated and reproduced in 0s and 1s,” he explained. As a veteran of the recording industry, Eric has been able to observe changes over time. He noted that with the popularization of lo-fi recordings, home studios, and accessible editing software like GarageBand, the recording industry took a hit. As the economy has started to improve, though, Blomquist noticed a resurgence in business. “People have the money to utilize a full-size studio now…home studios can’t capture the sound of an acoustically rich space in quite the same way, and working with trained professionals allows artists to stay in the creative process rather than the logistic one.”

When I visited the studios, there was an acoustic guitar being played in the lounge area, a musician signing backing vocals in the live recording room, and a producer working with Blomquist to layer the vocals as they were being recorded and to create harmonies. Joel Kachel—a former Minnesota resident—and his band had flown in from Colorado to finish recording their album at RiverRock. Accompanying him was David Becker, a producer based in L.A. and Germany, who has produced several projects at RiverRock. The amount of music being made and played at once was dizzying—but Blomquist said it was just another day at the studio.

Action Shot
Pre Construction

Above: Eric Blomquist at RiverRock Studios before and during construction. Below: After construction.

Live Room
Members of MPLS at Console

Above and below: MPLS recording at RiverRock Studios.

Members of MPLS Recording

Below: the Harrison console in Studio B.

Studio B-Harrison Console

Kyra Herning is a student at Macalester College.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.