Humboldt Park recording studio Phantom Manor: An oral history | Bleader

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Humboldt Park recording studio Phantom Manor: An oral history

Posted on 01.26.13 at 09:00 AM

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Phantom Manor
  • Phantom Manor
A lot of great music comes out of Chicago, and a lot of it has been recorded at Phantom Manor—the Humboldt Park recording studio has been a staple of Chicago's music community for the past ten years. It was located above a print shop, so the smell of ink permeating the studio was part of its charm; the toxic taste lingering at the back of your throat at the end of the day became associated with a sense of accomplishment. It meant you had worked hard, you had created something that felt meaningful, you were a part of something bigger. Behind the Manor is the forever generous, inspiring, and encouraging recording engineer Mike Lust. The studio has recently closed, but never fear! The legend lives on as Lust enters a new era of recording via his traveling studio, Manor Mobile Industries. And be on the lookout for the upcoming season of the Onion's AV Undercover featuring Yo La Tengo, which he will record. But first, in honor of endings and in the spirit of new beginnings, Chicago musicians reflect on Phantom Manor:

"The Manor was and will always be a magical place for me. Mike Lust is a magical dude, y'know? He created a space where bands believed what they were doing was valuable, important. I feel so incredibly thankful and proud of any recording I've been involved with there. Listening back to everything from Sybris, Coins, Touched by Ghoul, and especially the collaborations we did with Living Owl I realize that these are not just recordings but sonic proof of my entire 20s even happening at all—it takes me back to the forever inky, incense filled rooms where no idea was a waste of time, where the white wine and Squirt flowed, where Funky Monks played on VHS incessantly, where there was a genuine, earnest love of music, and an almost childlike reverence toward its power. Thanks, Mike, for helping me and so many others record our songs and create our memories at the Manor." —Angela Mullenhour, Sybris/Coins/Touched by Ghoul

"Phantom Manor is a part of Sybris' DNA. Two months after we had our first practice in 2003 we were there to record our demo and were back as recently as this December to record our latest song. What happened in between? Wow. Phantom Manor was kind of our Lost Island. Full of love, drama, flashbacks and flashforwards. I remember going there to record after seeing my son Eros in his first sonogram as well as it being the first studio he ever went to about a year later. So many milestones, inside jokes and ditties, so much booze and studio psychosis, so many memories." —Shawn Podgurski, Sybris

"One particular story blends the effects of long hours, Hamm's, whiskey and Mike's built-in, value-added quality control. We were tracking drums, guitars and bass late at night for a mellow number on our latest full length, Crooks and their Castles, when Matt Jannotta, our drummer, laid into an over the top, dramatic fill. Mike immediately stopped the tape, jumped up and (in view from the square control room window) began furiously making the 'cut' sign with his hand across his throat. Through the control monitor/microphone he exclaimed how the drum fill was ridiculous, that our drummer should just 'play the f'ing song' and most importantly, that we as a band should have never watched the Rush documentary prior to recording that night.

"Needless to say we were on the floor nearly peeing our pants laughing. Actually, we have portions of this recorded and maybe we'll share this moment with the world in the future." —Billy Kenefick, Bully in the Hallway

"As someone who has spent a lot of time at the Manor the past 7 years, I will miss the camaraderie of it all. I was lucky enough to not only be at the Manor to record, but it was also a practice space for Tight Phantomz. Going over there for a few hours was always a highlight of my day, because I knew there would be a new rock documentary to watch, another episode of Eastbound and Down to catch up on, listen to an album Mike was working on, or just drinkin' a couple beers with whoever happened to be hanging out at the time. Having just practiced with TPz last night at another location . . . the difference in atmosphere was truly jarring and just felt wrong. It was a reminder of how much I am going to miss that place." —Pete Croke, Tight Phantomz/Reds and Blue

"I'd like to think of Mike as in an intense love affair with music. The Manor was a spot for late night musical ramblings as well as getting a record done. It'll be missed, but we've still got its mastermind." —Ellen Bunch, Reds & Blue/Coins

"The first thing you notice is the smell. Phantom Manor is unceremoniously located in one of the most precariously sketchy corners of Humboldt Park in a building whose primary tenant is a paint factory. Or a varnish storehouse. Or some other toxic-smelling business whose fumes seep into every corner of the building, including the recording studio. You stop noticing it after awhile, and the haze that comes with settling into a wood-paneled wonderland of guitars and drums and amps and cords and good-luck horse portraits and Mike Lust Paraphernalia (or, perhaps, the haze that comes with willingly immersing one's self in a toxic-smelling building for 12 or 14 hours at a time), begins to take over, and it feels good. It feels good because Mike Lust makes you feel good, even when things aren't going so good. I'm not talking about your rock antics or the recorded takes on your songs; those are totally on you. I'm talking about the time that Coupleskate recorded Don't Scare The Horses over the sticky late spring and early summer of 2008. (Side note: I remember the exact date we went in—06/07/08—because I had booked an early brunch date before our session. At high noon, everyone else showed up at Phantom Manor hungover, and I showed up all rosy-cheeked, babbling about a very awkward but very endearing blind date with this gentleman, who is now my fiance. I will forever associate that time at Phantom Manor with those first few days of falling in love.) Anyway, for some reason we may never know, the server kept crashing and losing our tracks. Like, after hours of recording stuff, everything would just be gone. Poof. It's totally inconsequential now; we just kept playing our songs over and over again until we got what we wanted and had the files to prove it. But I remember it now because the handling of the situation was, and is, classic Mike Lust: making jokes and keeping his cool behind the board, so that we kept our cool, even as we sweated and sweated—it was so hot and sticky in there that we used talcum powder to keep our hands dry so we could play our instruments—and kept rerecording those songs until we had them, and we were done." —Lauren Viera, Coupleskate

"Redgrave had their third practice as a band at Phantom Manor. We had no gear, everything we played was borrowed except for the guitar I bought that week from a pawn shop in the suburbs.

"From the beginning of the inception of our band, my bandmate kept bringing up Mike Lust. My only frame of reference was knowing this dude fronted Tight Phantomz and he wrote a pretty bad ass song called Sickening. Apparently, Mike Lust was the solution to all of our problems as a band. It was all, 'Oh, we can just borrow that from Lust. Lust has a studio, we can record there. I don't have drums, but I can borrow those from Lust. Don't worry, we can just practice at Lust's . . .'

"So by the time we pulled up to Phantom Manor for the aforementioned third ever band practice, I was pretty curious about this guy and his studio. And as I was trying out my first ever electric guitar, Lust walked in. Bandmate says, 'Wait, Lust . . . don't leave yet . . . you gotta hear this song we're working on.' We started playing one of the three songs we had written and my guitar couldn't have been more out of tune. I'm not talking about being a little flat, this was the FIRST TIME I played my own electric guitar and it sounded wretched. I'm expecting the guy to leave the room after a few measures, but he stood in the doorway and endured the entire song and said something friendly and assuring when it was all over like, 'sounds pretty good . . . ' before he slid out the door.

"We've since become friends. One of the many things I've come to admire about Lust is his ability to truly listen to music. I've never known him to turn on a song without listening to it in its entirety. From beginning to end. I think it's awesome. Because there's nothing more annoying then the person who talks over a hot jam or starts giving commentary about the hot jam while you're trying to listen to the hotness of the jam. Lust hears the nuances and the subtleties and finds redeeming qualities. It's totally refreshing. Plus he owns a drum kit with a hot dog in a sesame bun painted on the kick drum. So he's pretty A-OK in my book. " —Angie Mead, Redgrave

"It must have been 1996 or so when I was attending Columbia College and had a class or two with a guy called Mike Boltz, which always seemed like as good a stage name to me as Mike Lust, but that was his given name. I don't remember the first time I spoke to him or why we had a class together—He was in sound engineering and I was in film. I do remember that he had hair down to his ass and always wore this PJ Harvey Rid Of Me shirt. I was glad when he asked if I played music and would I want to get together sometime. This was before cell phones, so I remember calling and asking his dad if Mike was there. That's not a thing anymore, asking if someone is there. I ended up with Mike and a drummer out in the suburbs at a weird warehouse. We rode on a platform lifted by a forklift up to a high shelf with no railing where all their gear was stashed. I tried my best to keep up with the staccato, mechanical mayhem Mike and the other guy had clearly worked out, but my slack Pavementy strumming wasn't really clicking with it. Unbeknownst to me, I was trying out for what became Lustre King.

"Later Mike and I were both Reader delivery men. That's not a thing anymore either, but the guys who did it have a bond that's pretty cool. Eventually I found a band that I did click with and we've recorded with Mike at Phantom Manor a number of times. You look forward to this not just because you get to work on your music in a comfortable environment with great equipment, but also because you get to spend hours with Mike Lust and its going to be hilarious. You will create many inside jokes and he's going to tell awesome stories and do impressions of your friends and maybe some rock stars that you've never met. Mike is what you would call a scene lynchpin. He has done a solid for a lot of people reading this. I wish I was writing this to recommend that you book some time at Phantom Manor, but it's not a thing anymore." —Dan Worland, Blasted Diplomats

"I've recorded dozens of songs and spent countless hours over the past several years at the Manor recording with Lust. Everything from full albums and singles with my band Mannequin Men, to singing and playing with Vacations, to late night spontaneous recording sessions as a band mate with him in Shrimpss, to demoing freelance jingles for commercials.

"It was a comfortable place. Mike made it feel like home. Actually less like home and more like the bachelor pad I wish I had. I could spend all day there, and did some times. It was a recording studio to drink beers at, smoke cigarettes, and watch old Van Halen VHS tapes or play Sega Genesis while your band mates were busy laying down guitar solos.

"My favorite memory was during Mannequin Men's Lose Your Illusion, Too sessions. We close that album out with a cover of the Pagans, '(Us And) All Our Friends,' and the last thing we needed to record was a vocal backing chorus of people singing/chanting 'us and all of our friends are so messed up!' Mike let us invite like, 40 of our close friends on the last night of recording and we PACKED the live room, had a party, and nailed it in one take! Such a great night!

"But in the end, it's just a room in a building. Lust is what made that place a place I wanted to record. A great engineer and an even greater dude. I'm sure he'll keep engineering, either in his home or out of other studios in town. And most of us will follow him. We'll miss the Manor, but Lust lives on!" —Seth Bohn, Mannequin Men

"When we finished Lose Your Illusion, Too, we had all our friends come in to close the session out and sing on the record for the Pagans cover, '(Us And) All Our Friends'. Scott Masson of Office decided to come by later after everyone had arrived and so he got out of a cab and rang the bell. He was wearing headphones and so must not have seen the dudes who jumped him and hit him in the head with a pipe. Blood everywhere, ambulance, everyone outside . . . Scott INSISTED on coming upstairs and recording the part, so we all trucked back up to the Manor and laid it down. The Manor is the only place in the world that inspires rallies like that. We will miss it dearly." —Kevin Kujawa, Mannequin Men

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