Evan Middlesworth Interview




Evan Middlesworth is a Producer, Engineer, and is the owner of the Pine Hollow Recording Studio. In this Oral History, he discusses his early interactions with music and what brought him to Eau Claire. Also, he discusses the Eau Claire Music scene and his experiences running a recording studio.


Interviewers Amanda Bridges and Dan Colburn


April 3, 2017



DC: Hi, this is Dan Colburn and Amanda Bridges interviewing Evan Middlesworth for the Sounds of Eau Claire Oral History project. The date is April 3rd, 2017 and we are talking with Evan at the recording studio he owns in Eau Claire, Pine Hollow. So the first set of questions are going to be about your background, so could you just tell us about your background and education in music?

EM: My education in music is really limited, it’s technically it’s only limited to one semester in high school was my one and only music theory class. Really my education in music has come from playing a lot of gigs and hanging out with musicians. The technical side of things, I went to Purdue University and got my degree in sound design which is
through the theater department there and it was the only way that I could get into a
recording studio at Purdue which is where I wanted to go. So at the time, I didn’t even
know what theater design was and so that was really new to me and it turns out that to
this day I still do that and that involves all the sound effects that you hear and in my case
it involves composing music for theater productions and where the speakers are placed
and you know does the phonograph on the stage actually work, all that kind of stuff. So it
was fun but that’s also when I was at Purdue, I decided, like the first day I got there I was
just gonna say yes to everything that came my way that had to do with music or audio. So that got me into a lot of really, really great situations on campus that were all
geographically really close to my apartment so I had this highly concentrated, batch of
experiences whether it was working for the L.A. hall of music as an audio engineer or
doing theater stuff, or you know playing down the street at coffee shops. I did a lot of pit
musician work, so there was the theaters on campus and the theaters in mos la feete or in la feete profer that I could go do that. So it’s been this combination of real world
experiences and gigs. Plus you know an actual University education that has contributed
to my education and it didn’t stop there. I mean you know really, after I graduated school
I kept saying yes to everything. I moved to Seattle about a week after I graduated from
college and same thing, just started saying yes, you know, and got myself involved in all
kinds of stuff. You know, it’s almost safe to say from the time that I had my first
professional gig at 14 to this morning it’s been, one long education. (Laughs)

AB: Did you start at 14 or what got you started or what got you interested in music?

EM: I don’t know, I was interested in music and audio from a really really early age. My, my,
one of my earliest memories is watching um, like country music awards when I was
maybe two or three years old and, and just being fascinated by it. And I didn't know, I
mean I didn’t I wasn’t too young to know what was going on, but it just seemed
awesome. and uh so I started playing guitar when I was five and um and then when I was
13 I got into recording uh at the time The Beatles had released The Beatles anthology,
and I was I didn’t I didn’t listen to The Beatles at all my folks weren’t, you know they
were like folky’s from the 60’s, they weren’t like you know rock n roll, so I, I listened to
tons of folk music growing up. But never really the Beatles, my guitar teacher got me into them. Um, and I got this anthology and it was great because there was all these outtakes and studio chatter and different versions and, and I’m listening to it at, you know I just thought, hence, this is a mysterious world I, I need to know what's going on. Um, and so that's what got me into recording, I, I just I couldn’t put down, you know any book that I had that had to do with recording or how to do it. But the thing was, it was al, it was all centered around like 50’s and 60’s style recording, I didn’t really care about modern recording. Um, and so, Yeah I, I, that's, they, it sound cliché to say that you know I didn’t find this occupation, it found me and all that kind of stuff but I really think that there was something else going on cuz I didn’t wake up one day and just decide like, “oh this sounds cool, I’ll do this now.” Ya know, from the get go it was, there. Yeah.


DC: Cool, so you said you’re from Indiana, um and then you moved to Seattle for six years, um, what made you want to move to Eau Claire? Um especially from a city like Seattle where there a lot more people, like um, yeah what were your motives behind that?

EM: My motives, um, well my, my wife took a job here at the university. And so my motive was to follow her. Ya know? Um, but, you know, I was really excited being from
Indiana, and moving to Seattle, that was something that I wanted to do, I wanted to get
the big city experience, and, and the six years I was there, I got it. And I, It had reached a
point where, you know, I didn’t want to stay in a city my whole life, I wanted to move back out to the country somewhere, and all these sort of little, these little ducks were
starting to get in a row where it was like if I live in the country by Seattle its gonna be
one hell of a commute to get to, to work, you know. Um, and it’s gonna be expensive,
and traffic is awful. You know, and all these real world things started to stack up, and so I
was kinda ready to do something else, and, uh, she took the job here at, at the University
of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and she said I took this job and I basically started packing right
then and there. I was like, “that sounds great.” Um, the other side to that question is
everybody in, in Seattle had a, had a recording studio. And, I, I did recording out there
but not nearly as much as I do here. Um, which getting back to saying yes to everything
what that, what that uh, contributed to was a very diverse existence in this business. And so I could go and just do anything, you know and, um, and in Seattle I was doing mostly theater stuff. I was working on productions all the time. And I was working for an audio company out there. Um, so maybe at most, I would record, maybe two, maybe three records a year. You know here, its a lot more. Um, but you would go to a website where, that was just dedicated to recording studios in Seattle and there was hundreds of them, you know. Um, so, uh, i guess i guess what I’m saying there is uh, I didn’t really feel a huge need to stay there, I’ve always been really good at getting myself involved in
something and when we moved here I thought well I’ll just get myself involved with
something you know. You know I had no fear about it you know. Um, we didn’t know
that, this was happening in Eau Claire. Uh, what is happening in Eau Claire and so it was
a welcomed prize to, to get here and find out that oh my gosh this place is exploding with
music. And, uh, there was a need for a recording studio. Um, you know I’d go out to open mics and meet musicians and hang out and um, it seemed like everybody I talked to was like well I’d love to start recording and so, sort of, step one to having a business is finding a need a fill it so I thought well, at this point, people need me to, help them make records, so that's what I’ll do. Um, and so, yeah, it’s worked out really great, you know, um, I still do some theater stuff, um probably four to five times a year, I play a lot of music, recorded a lot of stuff, and uh, and we love it here, its great.

AB: Describe a day in the live of running a recording studio. Like what your typical day
is like.

EM: A typical day, typically starts off with fielding some emails of some sort, um, and that can be following up with an artist that has some changes that needs to be made to some mixes, it could be fielding some incoming artists that wanna make a record, um, it could be emails about you know going off on tour somewhere for live sound stuff, it could you know, there's, anything in the morning of emails kinda go well this is in its good. Um, and then, uh, a typical day, like a typical recording day would be, um roll out here at like 8:30, maybe 8AM depending on the session, and get everything set up, make sure everything’s working right, this time of year turn the heater on, turn all the lights on, um, and get myself in a spot that I can separate from the world as best as i can so you know, make sure emails are good, band shows up around 10, and we start in, and it can go for 8 hours, um, and uh, all the things can happen in a recording session and do, and then 8 hours later, 10 hours later, whatever it might be, turn all the lights off and go in and hang out, its a pretty normal work day experience, get up in the morning, have some coffee, go to work, go inside at night and have a couple beers, (laughs) go to bed. Uh, yeah so that's uh, then there’s, there’s days where artists won’t be out here but we’ll be doing uh, um, mixing or corrections to mixes, uh, one, a little one off things here and there, uh, but you know for, for all intents and purposes, you know we’re, we’re operating every day out here, in some, some capacity, something is always going on.

DC: Lets see, so now, were gonna just talk more about like the Eau Claire music scene and your involvement in it, um so how are you involved in the Eau Claire music scene?

EM: Well both on the capturing side of things, recording, and also on the performing side of things. I play in a number of bands and then the studio has been a home to a lot of artists out of Eau Claire. I do a lot of work around town, I help out the University with the Jazz program quite a bit, we’ve got the jazz fest coming up which I mix every year. I’m just kind of here to contribute to the scene as best as I can and it’s been through capturing it and performing to it.

DC: You mention you play in groups as well as record, which specific groups do you play in?

EM: I play in a band called Laska, I play in a band called Dames, and I play with Michael
Perry and the Longbeds. In all three of those groups I handle some form of management
as well. With Laska, it’s management and booking doing all the stuff to make things
happen. With Michael Perry and the Longbeds I do booking and and production
management which means making sure all the blank is in line and everything is ready to
go. With Dames, it[s a fun band to be a part of. I handle a little bit of booking with them
and of course in those three bands, Pine Hollow is our home base for recording and we do all of our records here. Then it kind of gets into if I play on someone’s record I’ll play
with them when they’re around so one example of that is a band called ByWays which is
a really, really great band and I’ll play guitar with them. Let’s see, Rachel Hansen, she’s
based out of the cities we’ve been working on her record here for a while now. It’s one of
those things where you know she’ll give me a shout and say “Hey are you busy?” If you’re not come out and join us we’re playing down here this night.” I think that that’s it, I think that might be it right now.

DC: So more on the production side of things, what Eau Claire groups have you produced?

EM: Oh my gosh.

DC: If you can list them all!

EM: Let’s see, Boats and Bridges. Man I don’t know, let’s see what bands have I
produced? Well, they’re all up on the wall. Not all of them, I don’t know I’ll rattle some off here. So going back, Letters from Earth was a band that was around for a spell when we first kind of moved here. The Mike Rambo Project, he’s heading up The Collective Choir right now. Kate Leary was based out of the cities but now she’s down in Nashville. Acoustic Who is one of Sue Orfield’s mini bands. We’ve got some great jazz records up there from former UWEC students. Let’s see here, Adam Schneider, he’s a really talented singer/songwriter, he’s kind of based all over the place. Brian Bethke, I’m sure everyone in Eau Claire knows Brian he’s been performing out here for years and years. Let’s see here, there’s a lot of them. A lot of the UWEC jazz ensemble recordings I’ll help out on. Granite Rose, I don’t think they’re a band anymore. Nick Anderson was their lead singer, he’s a town fellow from the area here. Jeff White, he’s been a main stay in Eau Claire for a really long time now, really great country singer/songwriter. Eggplant Heroes I’m sure listeners will have heard and/or seen their name. Yeah I think that Alex Clay, that was a fun one. Lizzie Diane, she hasn’t been terribly active but she’s incredibly talented and has made two really cool records here. Let’s see here, who else? That’s all I can look at right now. Oh and Them Cooley Boys! I gotta mention Them Cooley Boys, the Rattlenecks. They’re two of my favorite bands and group of human beings on the planet. I think I’m missing a whole bunch.


AB: In your opinion what do you think makes the Eau Claire Music scene unique?

EM: I think what makes it unique is the diversity of it. There’s a lot of different genres in this, you know there’s not just one. There’s a great hip-hop scene, there’s a great Heavy Rock scene, of course there’s a great folk scene, indie scene, and jazz obviously. I appreciate that because I like to be tested almost on a daily basis. So I love it when a jazz combo comes in and then we handle that one way and then a hip-hop group will come in or rock. Let’s see, this last weekend we had this straight up country band come in, it was great. I think, not to sidestep your question, but I think that what’s fun for me is every genre of music has its soul, its heart. It’s fun for me to latch onto and figure out what it is that those artists are going for and exist in that genre and exist as a team member with that group for that duration of time. I think the other thing that makes really unique is the University. There’s a high turn around of students every year and every year I hear of
really great bands starting up, you go out and you see them and it doesn’t get stale there’s a lot of turn over in bands. Which means that a lot of bands are created and then every year bands kind of splinter and split up but that’s the game we play. But it keeps it fresh and it seems to me like the music scene here has their finger on the pulse of what is fresh and new out in the world, which is great. I think social media is large to give credit to for that and streaming music. You can exist in a small city like this and still compete with Nashville and New York and L.A. and all that stuff it’s great.

DC: Do you think that this expansion or this pulse that you explained, do you think this will continue to grow?

EM: I think so, yeah. I don’t see why not. It seems like there’s a lot of really cool things
happening right now in Eau Claire that one motivates the other and it just keeps this
creative growth happening.

DC: Well one more question, especially this is interesting to me, I find it really cool that
there’s such a big music scene in a town with so, well, little people comparatively to
Minneapolis. How do musicians, such as yourself and other musicians, how do they make
it possible to make a living in a city with only 75,000 people?


EM: Well I mean, I think that that’s a great question. I don’t know how many musicians are actually making a living in Eau Claire. That opens up the door to another side of the
community that I think does need a lot of work which is ultimately financial support from the community. The sort of “free pandemic” is hitting hardcore here which is things that artists are doing for free. There’s a lot of those things going on and you can’t make a
living off of not getting paid and so I think that there’s a lot of artists here that are active,
obviously very active but it’s not the only thing that they’re doing and if businesses and
venues in the community can hop on board with paying a cover charge or paying what
the musician is actually worth for two hours of their time, three hours of their time and that’s just performing. Then it would be a lot better place to carve out a creative
existence. I’m doing this professionally, I’m certainly comfortable with what I make it’s
not a heck of a lot of money but it’s really great supplemental income for my wife and I.
But it’s a grind every single day. Especially owning your own business, there’s the
stresses of that and keeping all that afloat and continuing to invest in and get a return on
that investment. It’s a lot of hard work, which I appreciate and really enjoy. I think some
really great examples of musicians that are making a living in the area are Sue Orfield,
she plays shows all the time and she just got back from Europe I think and so she’s
touring around she plays in a million bands and it’s that thing where she’s a really
wonderful definition of a professional, working musician. That’s what she does and that’s the only thing she’s done if I’m correct. I believe she said that’s the only job she’s ever had is a professional musician which that’s commendable right? But there aren’t a whole lot of other musicians that are doing that in this area. I think that one thing Eau Claire really could work on is continuing to understand that musicians need to make money and it is a business. If you go out and you play, what you do is a business. You wouldn’t just have somebody come and cater your party for absolutely free for the exposure to people and your cooking skills. Likewise, musicians have to be paid. Then we’ll see an even better growth in this area.

DC: Well I think that’s all we got, thank you so much.

EM: Yeah! Thank you, guys. That was painless.

DC: It was painless.

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