East End Audio Arts is a recording studio and rehearsal space with a nearly 30-year history in East Austin. It’s also a library and a residence stuffed with art, lined with books, and circled above by model airplanes.
Allan Gill has spent decades creating a singular music landmark with an interior atmosphere that encourages the flow of ideas. All the wood, walls, and floors generate, facilitate, and reverberate one-of-a-kind sonic expressions.
In about 1950, Springdale Road, way over on the east side of Austin, was mostly residential, and one particular block featured several modest new homes. Families sent their children to Govalle Elementary School, which is EEAA’s next-door neighbor to the west. Over a span of years, nearby petroleum storage tanks leaked and tainted area soils and groundwater.
In 1985, Metropolitan Community Church bought 1100 Springdale and renovated the two-bedroom, one-bath home into a simple church.
The “Tank Farm Scandal” became public knowledge, and property values plummeted. Afterwards, homeowners and Big Oil reached a settlement.
About this time, Gill happened to be in the neighborhood looking for a place for a studio, and the rest is history. He bought 1100 Springdale Road for half its previous value.
In the eye of the beholder
Allan Gill is not short of words when it comes to the studio’s origins. “I was looking for a studio, and I saw this church for sale. The exterior is kind of homely. Some people might have called it unsightly. It didn’t look like a big deal.”
The exterior paint is gray and weathered – peeling. It resembles the texture of bark, like what you’ll see on the property’s heritage pecan trees. The building itself looks like it’s settled comfortably into the ground…. like a leather rocking chair on a front porch that’s worn in the shape of an old farmer who sits there at the end of a long day. “But I even liked that when I walked around outside,” he said.
“All around the place, I got this real sense of the neighborhood…”
The signs and vibes of life on the East Side were fantastic, visceral: schoolchildren playing, yelling, laughing at recess. Trains. Modest shops and small businesses. Cyclists. Pedestrians with their leashed dogs. And over there, on the corner of Springdale and Govalle Avenue, a sculpture garden.
“I knew that I wanted to buy it when I walked in because of this interior. High rafters, tall trussed ceiling, windows to the west, wood floors, soft walls. I could feel the colors, light, wood, and the sounds and words that would be born here. I could live and work here, and knew I’d do anything to swing it. The style fit just right for me,” he said.
“So I went for it. I called in every favor and borrowed from my closest friends and family. I managed to scrape together enough money for a down payment. The church agreed to finance the loan for me at a time when I wouldn’t have qualified for any bank mortgage. And all of this happenstance came together with amazing synchronicity.”
“I was just a broke musician at the time, but I worked day jobs and freelance sound gigs, whatever I needed to do. Then I got a cool day job as a proofreader, fact checker, and later an editor at Hoover’s, which is an Austin business news company. It was a good day job that made it possible to keep doing my gigs at night.”
Gill managed to pay off the studio in seven years, and he’s owned, operated, lived, and recorded in the former church for almost 30 years.
“When I first bought it, the neighborhood was considered the ghetto over here on the East Side, and I fit right in. It might have been ghetto a generation ago, but it had heart and a genuine, colorful, soulful identity. It’s become a special section of Austin that’s got its own kind of cool to it. The culture here is based on a Hispanic tradition; very open. It’s become such a fantastic part of Austin all its own, even though gentrification and renovation bring their own evils,” he said.
“Over the years, I turned an old church building into a terrific rehearsal and recording space. Sound has its own life and signature here. It’s acoustically good on the west side of the room, where the pulpit and choir would have been in the old church. It’s warm, relaxed, and comfortable. I don’t have or need soundproofing, but I have a few baffles that I put up sometimes.”
“It’s not a space for fully pristine, soundproof, and neutral sounds. I respect producers and engineers who work in that kind of environment because it’s easier to manipulate the sound in post-production. And while that can be great and useful, it also can be overused and overrated. And that kind of environment sometimes feels dead to me. My style is different.”
“I am drawn to a style of dirty tracks and minimal processing, and basically no rules. Pristine tracks are useful, but to me, they tend to be less lively, and you have to add processing like reverb and stuff that’s already sort of built into my space organically by the shape of the building and the wood floors and high ceilings supported by these cool, basic wood trusses. Quality sound for me is different than what you might hear other sound engineers describe.”
“I think that an acoustic signature in a given room or space can positively inform the tracks recorded within. I do believe that isolation is useful under some circumstances, but my studio is not always the place for that. I use this big room to its architectural advantage.”
“I’d rather have really great, live-sounding organic tracks, with or without warts and flaws. East End Audio Arts is an old space with very forgiving acoustics. You walk in here, and not only is it big and good sounding; it’s also immediately welcoming and casual, like a living room or a New York loft with a bedroom and kitchen, all in one.”
“If you walk over to the west end of the great room, you’re in a music room with drums and a full back line: amps and bass rig, plus a front line of microphones and monitor wedges. You can fire up the live sound system and put your band in here and be ready to go in five minutes. All you need to bring is your guitars and drumsticks. I also have a great baby grand piano.”
“When you walk over to the east end, you’re in a library with comfortable chairs and a bed, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I can position a guitar player way over in the library with a few soft chairs in between that amp and that mic and the singer and the drummer way over on the West End, for example. That’s how I achieve separation without complete isolation.”
“You get a sense of that in this video of a couple of friends I’ve worked with for a while who stopped by one day, and this happened. The space works for them. It compliments their sound.”
“I’ve got some gear here for the studio – and there’s a story behind a lot of the pieces. No bare walls – I have an eclectic art collection that’s personal and noteworthy. Everything inside ties together. I filled the vertical space with model airplanes and a long string of origami cranes. And over the years I acquired some cool old comfortable furniture for the sitting space in front of a bookshelf that goes from floor to ceiling. People like hanging out here.”
Update: East End Audio Arts has been remodeling into a residence/studio.