The steeple and the freestanding yard marquee announcing next week's sermon are clues that the structure used to be a church, but the dust inside the marquee is the tip-off that it doesn't serve that purpose anymore.
Inside, the pews have been removed from the sanctuary, and chairs and instruments sit on the riser where the choir once stood behind the pastor.
In the back, perhaps in a space once utilized as a nursery, is a control room filled with the necessary equipment to manipulate the sound that emanates from the sanctuary, which now serves as a studio floor. Areas that may have been offices or Sunday school classrooms have been converted to rehearsal spaces or places to just chill during recording sessions.
This is the Monastery, owned and operated by multi-instrumentalist and producer Ric Hordinski (pronounced "Rich," and while he generally sticks to lower caps in his name professionally, we've given him the Initial Caps 2.0 upgrade here). The former Over the Rhine guitarist and longtime solo performer — the studio's name is a sly reference to Hordinski's solo band project, monk — was looking for a non-traditional space to convert into a studio to give himself and outside musicians an opportunity to work in a technically professional environment without the sterility that often permeates "real" studios. A little more than a year ago, he came across this church space on the corner of Stanton and William Howard Taft.
"The building had been abandoned for about a year and a half," says Hordinski. "The church was eerie. They literally walked out one Sunday and didn't come back.
The pastor's notes and glasses were still on the pulpit. Scarves were still in the pews and there was food in the refrigerators. I could never get a straight answer about what happened. I think they started to do some renovations and ran out of money."
An unfinished roof resulted in a lot of interior damage, which Hordinski had to address first. Three months after the necessary interior structural work was completed, he was able to install his recording gear and work on his first actual project, producing Kansas City Folk act Far Beyond Frail's Butterfly Sketches EP. As Hordinski begins to tackle some of the cosmetic issues around the Monastery, he has time to consider some of his upcoming fall projects — working with bands from as far afield as California, Colorado and England — as well as reflect on some of the solid work he's already turned out, including the new Ellery album and Even the Hills from local singer/songwriter Nathan Holscher.
"He's really talented and it's such a good record," says Hordinski of Holscher. "It's such a subtle record. A lot of those songs, I didn't get them until I'd heard them, embarrassingly, many, many times. He has such a dry sense of humor. You almost think he's not bright at first, then you realize, 'Oh, no, he's extremely bright.' "
The latest release to come from the Monastery is Hordinski's latest project under his own name, The Silence of Everything Yearned For, a work that will stand as a testament to what is sonically possible at the Monastery. It is an expansive, atmospheric album filled with the gorgeous melodies and exquisitely wrought melancholy that have danced through Hordinski's work with OTR, monk, Kim Taylor and on his own. And except for the use of vocals as a sonic texture, Silence is also completely instrumental, a new wrinkle for Hordinski.
"I've never had illusions about being a great singer, and I'm not really precious about the singing thing," says Hordinski. "I tried to really take an approach where I started by improvising a lot of stuff and recording it as I went and then picked out the good themes and tried to work that into a form, into a composition. I really tried to look at it — and it sounds pretentious as hell — but almost symphonically, like when a theme comes back again, it's not going to be exactly the same. Something's going to change, whether it's the harmony or the bass or the percussion, but it's going to be slightly different every time that theme comes around. With this record, I feel like it's a nice high water mark, like it feels consistent with my own perception of whatever little thing it is that I do."
As far as the Monastery itself is concerned, Hordinski has big plans for the studio and the space. Back in June, he utilized the studio/sanctuary area as a concert hall when he hosted a show with former Sixpence None the Richer vocalist Leigh Nash that served as a warm-up for a subsequent festival gig that Hordinski and Nash played together. He wants to do more shows of a similar nature in the Monastery, and will be doing just that with a pair of CD release shows at the studio this Friday and Saturday (featuring drummer Josh Seurkamp, bassist Mark Lukey and Venus Hum multi-instrumentalist Tony Miracle in Hordinski's band).
Ultimately, Hordinski sees the Monastery as a community asset and more than just a recording studio, ideas that are evolving but are fueled by his exposure to the Bernie Glassman book, Instructions to the Cook, a chronicle of community activism through small business in New York. In regards to his actual studio vision, Hordinski hopes to attract some big names to his space, noting that he'd love for Nash to return to the Monastery to work on a recording in the future, and he mentions Sarah McLachlan, Appleseed Cast, Steve Tibbetts and David Torn as other dream clients. And without generating unwarranted reunion rumors, he is hopeful that at some point he will be able to work in the studio with his old Over the Rhine bandmates, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler.
Hordinski also wants to keep the Monastery as "green" as possible, making sure that everyone who avails themselves of the studio's services abides by certain guidelines (recycle wherever possible, no plastic cups/plates). And he's looking into a grant to have solar panels installed on his large, south-facing roof. As things progress, he's equally committed to forming a plan that will include community outreach into the Monastery's overall function. It's all part and parcel of Hordinski's new framework concerning his livelihood.
"I guess what I want to do overall, rather than starting from 'This is what a studio is like, this is what a musician does,' I want to say, 'Look, it's 2007, we're in the 21st century. If you're going to have a business in this time and place, what kind of business would you have?' " says Hordinski. "In the music industry, you've got to provide something unique and moderately affordable, just because of the big pendulum swing right now toward home computers.
And I feel like it's a kind of therapy for people to record — I know it's therapy for me — and you've got to provide a very protected atmosphere. You can't have a studio where someone might just randomly walk in. Someone's singing or playing, that's a very vulnerable moment and they need to feel very comfortable. I have a lot of philosophies about the studio thing."