John Kuker, who ran the Seedy Underbelly recording studio as it migrated from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and New York, and who most recently renovated and reopened the historic Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minn., passed away suddenly yesterday. He was 40 years old.
Kuker got his start in the Twin Cities music scene with the original Seedy Underbelly studio, which was located on Washington Ave. in the North Loop of Minneapolis. One of the first albums to be recorded at Seedy Underbelly, Semisonic’s Feeling Strangely Fine, went on to become one of the highest-selling Minnesota releases of all time; other artists who recorded in the space included Jonny Lang, the Soviettes, Idle Hands, and Lifter Puller.
When Seedy Underbelly’s lease ended in 2003, Kuker and his studio partner Eric Olsen relocated to Los Angeles. Over the past decade, Minnesota artists like Har Mar Superstar and Motion City Soundtrack have logged hours in the studio along with national stars like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Silverchair.
And when Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls went into foreclosure and fell into major disrepair, it was Kuker who brought it back from the dead and remodeled it into a midcentury-modern paradise, complete with plush orange and navy carpeting and rust-colored lampshades.
“That was all John,” Tveitbakk said while giving a tour of the renovated space this winter. “A lot of the local contractors would come in with these weird Menards countertops, and we’re like, ‘No, we’re trying to restore this to look like 1962.’ John’s just all about ‘60s and ‘70s, orange and gold, brown. So this house is like his dream home.”
Above all else, Kuker was known as a kind spirit who cared deeply about not just recording music but creating safe, comfortable, and unique spaces where artists could explore their creativity.
“John Kuker was a tornado of smiling happy energy in every interaction I ever had with him,” tweeted Communist Daughter frontman Johnny Solomon.
“You supported my drumming so much you came all the way to Japan for 48 hours to see me play,” musician Christopher McGuire posted on Kuker’s Facebook page. “You allowed Kid Dakota and me to make our masterpiece in your beautiful studio. You gave me a place to live when I needed one… I thank you. I love you.”
And Dan Wilson added, “John you were such a generous and joyful presence. You helped me so much on my musical journey. The word ‘sweet’ keeps coming to mind. What a sweet sweet man. Deeply sorry to hear you’re gone.”