Doomed: The house with the secret studio

Question: What do two bands, one traveling music engineer, and one impending demolition have in common? Answer: one House.

The house, 1301 Park Street, has been sold to Weather Hill Homes, a residential building and design firm that plans to tear it down and build 54 condominiums in its place. While no demolition date has been set, Vito Cetta, Weather Hill's owner, says he's hoping to start construction in October.

It turns out that the doomed structure (which had been in the Coles family since it was built in 1890) is a little-known part of Charlottesville's musical underground.

While living in the house, Rod Coles, a music engineer, slowly acquired the equipment to create a recording studio which he called "Studio 1301."

The low-key location served as studio for a couple of bands on the Harvest Moon label, including renowned local Charlottesville roots-rockers the Hackensaw Boys– who made two albums there– as well as the Richmond-based up-and-comer Meanflower.

Now that his family has sold the house, Coles has taken his production on the road, bringing his recording studio to the bands.

"The space really affects the recording," he says, "not only how the thing sounds, but also how it feels. Some artists would be happy recording in a closet, but others would think that was too intimate. It's all about making the band happy."

Coles says he took some cues from Led Zeppelin, whose members often recorded their albums in and outside of castles. While Coles has yet to work in a castle, he decided to adopt that idea on a more local level.

"There are acoustic battles," he says. "Sometimes that's part of the gamble the bands take. But what we lose in acoustics, we get back in feeling."

"I'm going to miss it," says Tayloe Emery of the house, who as executive producer was there July 4 weekend in all the structure's un-air-conditioned splendor when Meanflower's latest album, ...A Distant Episode, was being recorded. The band spent about a week living in the house, recording much of the time and crashing in sleeping bags.

While Coles says he's perfectly happy to record inside a church or in a band member's house, Emery says nothing can compare to Studio 1301.

"The vibe was great," he says. "We were all just living in this old house that was 105 degrees, recording this album up into the waking hours, drinking 20 or 30 cases of beer. And we got this beautiful album out of it as well."

Coles says that Meanflower had low expectations at Studio 1301, but the record– produced by former Dave Matthews Band keyboardist Peter Griesar– went to number seven on Freeform Americana Radio (allegedly the last indie DJ chart), and it's getting heavy airplay in the U.S. and Canada.

In May, readers of Style Weekly in Richmond voted Meanflower "Most Promising New Band." The band's hard-hitting lyrics and meandering sound have been quickly drawing a following. And while they're mostly an opening band right now, Harvest Moon records is lining up shows all over the country. Locally they're opening for Carbon Leaf at Starr Hill on September 13.

Vito Cetta was unaware that the house at 1301 had any musical connections. "I don't know much about it," he says. "I know the family is an old family around Charlottesville, but I wasn't aware of any great history of the house."

Although there's no hope for the house, Coles isn't making too big a fuss about it. "I don't see the house as a landmark or anything. Nothing you would put a plaque up for. It was really just a guy in his room doing something he was passionate about. Now I'm out of my room."



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