Local Current Blog

The last days of the Sound Gallery

Jacob Grun in the Sound Gallery. Photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

“In 24 hours, I’m out,” said Jacob Grun. He stood in the Sound Gallery late last month, surveying the space on its second-to-last day. The recording studio has hosted artists from James Blake to Marijuana Deathsquads. The venue hosted rehearsals, recording sessions, and parties for local musicians. But on July 1, Grun received notice from the building’s owners; he had to leave by the month’s end.

Located on 3rd Ave. N. in Minneapolis’s North Loop, just yards from Target Field, the Sound Gallery existed under Grun’s ownership for about ten years. It’s been the building’s most consistent tenant, overall; not counting the second floor, which Solid Gold have been using for rehearsals, the structure’s other three levels (plus its basement) have stayed mostly vacant.

Through time, though, Grun’s relationship with building management has been fairly tenuous. The decades-old freight elevator has been out of service for months at a time. The trash service ended a year ago. Generally, Grun’s overhead was “really high.”

Even so, the space’s versatility made the challenges worth it. Previous tenants (like glam-rock band Flipp) “were definitely using it as a rehearsal space,” Grun said, but he “turned it more into a recording studio.” Many noticed the Sound Gallery’s great acoustics, which it owes to the brick walls and unique floor plan.

Expansive and dimly lit, the Sound Gallery space had loads of character. At the top of a few flights of stairs, a door opened into a dark hallway painted with loud colors. On the left, there was a tall-ceilinged lounge with a bar, couches, and several windows. Down the hall, a control room and a storage space lay behind doors on the left and right, respectively. At the end, the corridor opened up into a roomy studio/main space.

“This is nothing,” Grun said of the almost-empty studio. He’d just sold a couple of pianos, hauled out other instruments and equipment, and taken down the control room’s padding. Even during the move-out process, personal touches proliferated. In a nod to Gene Simmons’s Sound Gallery visit years ago, a KISS plushie sat on a window ledge in the control room. Orange and brown paint screamed from studio walls, stacks of posters lined the storage space’s floor, and old MTV and P.O.S stickers littered the pillars in the main room.

In keeping with the space’s artistic heritage, Grun said the floor’s next tenant is a painter. “He wants this to be his private oil painting studio and a living space for him and his wife. The other spaces are going to be artist spaces, like they are now, and they want the first floor to be a sort of art gallery.”

Aesthetically, the building will relive its Ford-warehouse past. “They want to restore the building to its original state—strip all the paint and begin anew. I wish them luck.” Having said that, Grun raised his eyebrows. “I think they’re taking on a very challenging project…but everyone underestimated me as well, so.”

Over the past decade, the North Loop has gone through a lot of changes. Looking out from the fourth floor’s fire escape, Grun pointed to the relatively new highway ramp. He indicated that a river (churning from Cedar Lake to the Mississippi) runs under concrete, saying it’s still audible from a huge grate in a parking lot. And of course, the looming Target Field is only in its sixth season of Twins baseball. Hearing fans cheer is fun, Grun said, and next-door concerts are an experience in themselves. Notably, Paul McCartney’s recent Target Field performance reverbed over to the Sound Gallery; Grun heard it from across the street, dancing with his girlfriend on the roof.

Grun, 34, has also seen a lot of change in the music business. “When I started, computers were just really starting to invade the recording arena,” he said. “Growing up, I never imagined that making a record would entail sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day. I imagined a tape spinning, listening to music.”

He added, “It used to be a really big deal to record a CD or make a recording, but now it’s not a big deal. It’s what you have to do. But back then, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m getting the opportunity to go into a recording studio and my band is going to have a record in store! Like, whoa.’”

Reminiscent of dead-and-gone restaurant Nick and Eddie in its own last days—Grun actually performed on Nick and Eddie’s last night of music—the Sound Gallery shredded through a packed calendar month after its 30 days’ expulsion notice. RONiiA (who recently opened for TV on the Radio at First Ave) joined Marijuana Deathsquads and DJ Fundo in a performance on the 23rd, and Grun’s band Me and My Arrow got together on July 30. Sophia Eris (one third of GRRRL PRTY, who will play First Avenue’s Mainroom on Aug. 28) closed out the month with a DJ set on the Sound Gallery’s last day.

“This month, I’m just going nuts and having everybody play,” Grun said. He’s been in Los Angeles for eight months, but his 12-person staff has been “kicking ass” the whole time; now, he’s temporarily back in town. Even so, it’s been tough to enjoy a throng of Minnesota shows while filing paperwork and moving.

The good news: the future has unimagined potential. Nate Vernon (Justin Vernon’s brother and collaborator) has a building on 20th and Central in Northeast Minneapolis, which he uses as a base for artist management. He’s branded it Sounds Expensive, and “funnily enough,” Grun said, “it’s even cooler than [this] space.”

Grun told his story: “I went over there just to talk to him, and when I found out I was getting the boot from this place, he was the first person I called.” In the beginning, Grun’s expectations weren’t lofty; he was first hoping for a space to store his recording equipment, to “maybe cover it with a blanket” before heading back to California. But then, “We just got to talking.” Vernon manages several musicians, including incredible pop artist Elliot Moss, who recently filmed a pair of videos at Sounds Expensive. “[Vernon] was in need of some recording equipment there.”

So, in an extremely quick turn-around, the Sound Gallery found a future home. It might be time for a name change: “I think we’re going to rebrand something,” Grun said, thinking through it. “We might do some events there eventually and call it ‘Sound Gallery Presents.’” Then, shaking his head, Grun grimaced and looked up. “I’ll think about it on Monday.”

As guests came and went via fire escape, the Sound Gallery’s casual, original spirit shone. Grun was clear: “This is a place where musicians can feel safe and let loose.” If a photographer were to start shooting pictures at an event there, they would be firmly asked to stop. The Sound Gallery, a musician’s safe space, was always more for the scene than the public.

Clearly, the trust was mutual. Many years ago, P.O.S (of Doomtree) gave Grun a van—or rather, he said Grun could have it if he could start it. $30 later, Grun drove it out of the rapper’s yard.

Another musician, Doug Deitchler of local band Beasthead, summed up the Sound Gallery’s end best; while rummaging through a bin of Me and My Arrow T-shirts, he discussed the studio’s influence on many bands. Everyone in the local music scene will be affected by the closure of the Sound Gallery, said Deitchler, even if they don’t know it’s happened yet.

Writer Cecilia Johnson is studying English and Spanish at Hamline University. Her favorite things include tteokbokki, three-part harmonies, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Photographer Emmet Kowler is a student at the University of Minnesota—Morris.