Usually when we imagine bands and musicians recording their latest albums, we envision them in a recording studio with a producer sitting in front of a mixing board that has lots of knobs, buttons, and faders and the artist on the other side of a window in a soundproof room.
However, some musicians choose to record their albums outside of the studio and in some pretty strange places.
Here’s a list of some alternative bands who have gone outside of the studio to record albums in much more interesting places.
Toronto’s own alternative country/rock/indie band recorded their second album, The Trinity Session (1988) in a church. The Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinity Square, right by the Eaton Centre, to be exact. They also used a single Calrec Soundfield microphone to record everything.
Thom Yorke and company decided on an Elizabethan setting when they recorded 1997’s OK Computer at St. Catherine’s Court in Bath, England. The medieval Tudor manor house was also where The Cure recorded Wild Mood Swings (1996) and Bloodflowers (2000) and New Order recorded Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2005).
Originally, the Icelandic post-rockers wanted to record at a NATO base, but when that didn’t pan out, they went to a rural community outside of Reykjavík and used an abandoned swimming pool to record () (The Bracket Album) (2002), instead.
Turning recording music into a semi-extreme, and slightly dangerous, endeavor, Einstürzende Neubaten used a crawlspace to get inside a pillar of Stadtautobahn Bridge in West Berlin. They used candles to monitor the oxygen levels in their very tight space and Blixa Bargeld had to sing the entire album hunched up in a position that’s not usually recommended for singing.
I’m not sure which situation I would dislike more: recording in a cramped bridge pillar where oxygen needs to be closely monitored, or in Death Valley where temperatures can reach up to 57 degrees Celsius (134 Fahrenheit). I personally don’t do well in extreme heat, but Marilyn Manson recorded most of 2000’s Holy Wood in the region. The rest of the album was recorded at Rick Ruben’s Laurel Canyon mansion because the house is apparently haunted.
Nine Inch Nails
While Marilyn Manson borrowed Charles Manson’s name for his stage name, Trent Reznor used the house where the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate in 1969. The Downward Spiral from 1992 saw Reznor turn the “Tate House” into his own studio. Furthermore, while the house was demolished in 1994, Reznor managed to liberate the front door to use at the HQ for his own label, Nothing Records.
In 2004, Australian alt-rockers participated in MTV’s Band in A Bubble reality show. They spent nearly a month living in a self-contained enclosure and decided to spend their time making music. Mish Mash (2004) was the result.
This five-piece Danish band headed to the north of Norway to an abandoned Russian mining town. They took a ton of field recordings in the arctic ghost town and used them throughout 2012’s Piramida.
In 1971, an art collector named Mr. Vohwinkel was impressed with the band and allowed them to stay at his castle, Schloss Nörvenich, rent free for a year. For three of their months staying there, Can recorded Tago Mago. Just before their stay at Schloss Nörvenich, Can’s original vocalist left, so the group found a new vocalist, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, who was busking outside of a café in Munich.
Aussie rockers decided to choose an abandoned mill in Tasmania to record their third album. Apparently, if you listen close enough, you can hear the bands’ dogs barking between the songs on Gala Mill (2006)
Thankfully, not all of the songs on Black One (2005) were recorded in the same manner as “Báthory Erzsébet”. Apparantly, extremely claustrophobic singer Malefic was locked inside a casket to sing the vocals.
(unfortunately, there seems to be no recorded version of this song on YouTube that I can find, so here’s a live version)
Although less exciting than some of the other locations, Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago (2008), was recorded one winter while Justin Vernon lived alone in his family’s cabin in Wisconsin.
In 2003, before Animal Collective began using that name, the band recorded and released an album called Campfire Songs. The entire album was recorded in a single take while they sat on someone’s front porch. Crickets and other outdoor sounds can be heard throughout the album.
During his 15 year prison sentence for murder and arson, Varg Vikernes continued his one-man black metal project. Two of his albums, 1997’s Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf (1999) were both recorded in the prison. These two albums also use synthesized sounds because guitars, amps, and drums weren’t exactly allowed in the prison.
Another band to make use of a castle as a recording studio. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) was recorded in Clearwell Castle. Apparently, the gothic estate is haunted. Led Zeppelin also used this castle to record an album.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Marilyn Manson isn’t the only artist to use Rick Ruban’s Laurel Canyon mansion to record an album. The Chili Peppers recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) there and after deciding the house was haunted, drummer Chad Smith refused to live there with the band during recording. The Chili Peppers returned to the mansion again to record 2006’s Stadium Arcadium. Along with Manson and the Chili Peppers, Slipknot and Maroon 5 have both recorded at Rubin’s mansion as well.
The Black Keys
Tired of recording in drummer Patrick Carney’s basement, the Black Keys looked to find a larger space for Rubber Factory (2004). They found just the place in an abandoned tire factory.
This band originally wanted to record Machine Head (1972) in Switzerland’s Montreaux Casino, but a fire at a Frank Zappa concert ruined that plan. They ended up borrowing the Stones’ mobile studio and recorded at the Grand Hotel instead.
Yet another band who has made use of a castle to record an album. Their 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire was recorded in Slane Castle to create a more atmospheric and “European” sound.
During Fath No More’s 1995 world tour, vocalist Mike Patton chose not to join the rest of the band on their excursions into various cities. Instead, he stayed in the hotel rooms with a TASCAM 4-Track Portastudio and a Gideon’s Bible to record whispers, howls, lip-smacks, screeches, and other various vocal noises. This resulted in Adult Themes For Voice (1996).
There’s nothing ordinary about a band that is portrayed by four cartoon apes. In 2010, their album The Fall (2011) was recorded entirely on an iPad over the course of 32 days on a tour bus while they drove across Canada and the US.
Great Lake Swimmers
For their debut album, indie rockers decided to pick an interesting place to record. For this eponymous album, they used an abandoned grain silo as a recording studio.
Plenty of musicians have used the great outdoors to record their albums. Chris Connelly is no different. He chose a location near Lake Wandawega in Wisconsin to record The Episodes (2007). He didn’t have the greatest weather either; it was cold and raining for a lot of the time.
Known as the frontman for both Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers, in 2006 Eric Bachmann released a solo album called To The Races. He recorded the album in the back of his van, which was also his home at the time.
My Morning Jacket
Although he eventually left the band, guitarist Johnny Quaid lent his grandparents’ farm as a place to record. The Tennessee Fire (1999), At Dawn (2001), and It Still Moves (2003) were all recorded there.
For other, non-alternative bands, here’s a few links to musicians who have used more interesting places to record albums: