Exploring Madison's Music Scene
Feb 28, 2014
04:00 PMLocal Sounds
'The Smart Studios Story' Documentary Kickstarter Campaign is Underway
Few things other than O’Cayz Corral elicit more musical discussion in the fair city of Madison than Smart Studios. People all over the world can now point to Wisconsin on a map because of the notorious reputation and mystique of the now-defunct recording facility. For those unaware, Smart was the brainchild of Butch Vig, a drummer who has had stints in some of Madison’s most well-known musical groups: Spooner, Fire Town and Garbage. Unless you’ve been sleeping you would have noticed the Grammys Vig has picked up since the '90s for his work with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, two of many big-name rock luminaries Vig has catapulted to fame with his production skills. That list includes the Smashing Pumpkins, L7 and local Midwestern rock icons Killdozer. Nirvana’s Nevermind album, which many consider to be one of rock’s greatest recordings, got its start at Smart and all of Garbage’s albums were recorded there.
I can personally vouch for the production skills of Vig and Smart compatriot Doug Olson. The And recorded there in 1987 and the experience was nothing short of extraordinary. In fact we were so efficient at recording our latest single that we were able to lay down basic tracks for four more songs. Then the folks at Smart were generous enough to allow us to return at a later date to record solos and vocals. This is but a small example of the spirit that pervaded Smart.
Vig now lives in Los Angeles and is a member of rock’s illuminati, though he would probably be reluctant to acknowledge that too loudly. As the success of Garbage (with fellow Smart associate Steve Marker and Spooner/Fire Town alum Doug “Duke” Erikson) lured him away, there was less time to attend to Smart Studios. It began to wind down and was finally sold last year (you can read about that here). Though it’s renamed Clutch Studios now, the Smart building, which Vig himself describes as “looking like a crack house,” deserves landmark status.
Meet another local music giant, Wendy Schneider, who operates her own famed recording studio Coney Island on Madison’s east side. Schneider has an impressive resume as a local musician, most notably with her band Bugatti 35, but her skills also extend to film. Her 2007 documentary, Cut: Teens and Self Injury, won Best Wisconsin Film at the Beloit Film Festival and was chosen as an “Official Selection” at the 2008 APA Convention.
Schneider has been hard at work on The Smart Studios Story, a feature-length documentary that, by all accounts, will be as sensational as other recent recording facility documentaries, such as those depicting Muscle Shoals and California’s Sound City. The Smart documentary features interviews with some of rock’s big names who have either recorded at Smart or been affiliated with Vig, especially in his role as a producer. Take a look at the trailer below (CAUTION: Try to restrain yourself—it’s awesome):
“I’ve interviewed seventy people so far,” says Schneider. “The film should be ready sometime in 2015. It's a people's history and with Kickstarter, it's a people's film. The film's production is in line with the ethos of Smart—DIY!”
The Kickstarter that Schneider refers to is a crowdfunding effort that is currently underway. Yes, you can get yourself in the credits! The nut they are seeking is $120,000 and they currently have about a fifth of that raised, so there is still time. But you better hurry because the word is out!
Schneider and others will hold a fundraiser at Genna’s (105 W. Main St.) on Wednesday, March 19, from 6-8:30 p.m. Live music will be provided by Freedy Johnston and Jay Moran, both of whom have extensive ties to Madison music, Smart Studios and one of Vig’s side bands, The Know-It-All Boyfriends. Who knows who else might show up.