Tom Waits wanted a different recording experience for his 1992 album, Bone Machine. But even Waits admits he got far more than he bargained for. Inside a non-soundproofed barn at Prairie Sun Recording Studios in the wine country north of San Francisco—clanging away on car fenders for percussion and laying down tracks using classic analog equipment—Waits delivered a no-frills masterpiece that’s grisly, macabre mood and tone was perfectly captured by the primitive technology on hand.
“I was so disturbed; the studio we got was totally wrong,” Waits explained to KCRW’s Chris Douridas in ’93, still a little pained by the memory. “I was stomping around thinking, nothing will ever grow in this room.”
What grew was arguably the defining album of Waits’ stellar career, a haunting and haunted rumination on decay, relational disintegration and the ever-grinning skeletal presence of the Grim Reaper. The, umm, bare bones production fit the music, which features a sonic landscape critic Django Boren memorably described as “the sound of a German dwarf beating on farm machinery and shouting through a bullhorn.” Under-produced and non-commercial have never sounded so demanding, or so bracing and startling in their immediacy.
“It worked out okay,” Waits conceded. “Fortunately, we stumbled upon a storage room that sounded so good. Plus it already had maps on the wall. So I said, ‘That’s it, we’re sold.’”
To read about other classic sessions and the studios that shaped them, take a look at our feature, Just For the Record.