The nondescript bungalows along Glencoe Avenue have become a hotbed for musical creativity
By Michael Aushenker
Call it the home of MdR‘n’R…
Within a compound of former warehouse garages on Glencoe Avenue lies Hen House Studios, where veteran producer Harlan Steinberger recorded Michael C. Ford’s latest album.
“It’s such a great space, I’m so emotionally attached to it,” Steinberger said of his recording space of 13 years.
Just across from Hen House is Rich Uncle Studios, where 20-somethings Josh Wiener and Ethan Pilch jam in their rehearsal room.
Welcome to Marina del Rey: an unlikely but burgeoning mecca for recording artists.
Between these studios and recording houses in neighboring Venice, including Mophonics and Beacon Avenue Studios, the Westside percolates with creative activity.
In January, Wiener and Pilch opened Rich Uncle, where they create music under the moniker Pearls and Laser (a play on their respective middle names, Earl and Eliazar). They launched the studio a few months prior to Wiener’s April departure from his gig as booking agent at Santa Monica’s TRiP, a concert venue committed to showcasing live entertainment seven nights a week.
“Over the years, I was in contact with literally thousands of bands,” said Wiener, a Venice resident.
Some of those TRiP acts, including Jonny Come Lately and Almost Classy, wound up on Wiener and Pilch’s production schedule. For local singer Summerset Ray, the pair is devising “a beachy indie pop sound,” Wiener said.
“Our formula for whatever we do is to give the song a strong backbone of bass and rhythm,” Pilch said.
Wiener and Pilch met while briefly members of blues rockers The Jents (both men played guitar). Their production company’s name was inspired by the uncle of a drummer from another short-lived band they played with who held band meetings at what Pilch calls “a luxurious Pasadena estate.”
With capital largely coming in from Pilch’s vintage music instruments business, Wiener and Pilch set up Rich Uncle within 1,000 square feet of converted warehouse space on Glencoe. Their mission: producing music to license for movies, TV and video games.
Wiener and Pilch appear to be zeroing in on their goal. With singer Sophie Holt, who divides her time between Venice Beach and Ojai, Wiener and Pilch concocted the sultry “Kiss The Ground,” which could easily run during an episode of “Arrow,” as might “She’s Alright,” featuring Jonny Come Lately singer Izzy Loya. They also crafted the funk-soul instrumental “Coming in Hot” — pure ‘70s cop-show fizz — and the slow-burning “Tell Me I’m Yours,” featuring vocalist Nina Rose Carlin. Two Pearls and Laser albums fuse Hendrixian rock and funk.
The duo draws much inspiration from neighbor Steinberger, a 30-year industry vet who founded his studio in 2001 to house his independent music label Hen House Records. Within its first five years, Steinberger recorded and filmed nearly 200 bands there for free in exchange for the film rights.
“I was looking around for something affordable,” said Steinberger, who appreciates the fact that his studio is located “far off the road, very quiet, away from rumbling trucks.”
Steinberger calls his studio’s exact location “a mystery” because, according to the post office, he’s located in Venice while his gas bill says Marina del Rey and electric bill claims Mar Vista.
“This area used to be very industrial. Where Costco is today used to be McDonnell-Douglas,” he said. In fact, his venue used to be an actual henhouse, behind aircraft storage, hangars and other remnants of McConnell-Douglas’ past.
Over the past decade, the environs have been overhauled to include malls, multiplexes and fast food chains.
A classically trained percussionist, Steinberger established his studio when “the Internet started to happen and there was a sense with indie labels that we can compete.”
At Hen House, the Santa Monica resident has worked with two legendary area musicians: Robby Krieger and John Densmore of The Doors.
“We’ve done some side projects. They have golden ears, golden experience,” Steinberger said.
Shortly before Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s death in 2013, all three surviving Doors backed Ford at Steinberger’s studio for an album.
“He’s brilliant!” Steinberger said of Manzarek as if he were still alive. “I was told you have to be really prepared. Anything he laid down was great and you had to make sure that you captured it correctly. To have him do it again was a supreme waste of time. I was ready and he really appreciated that.”
As for the cool cat whose first song ever written was the immortal “Light My Fire,” “Robby Krieger is one of the best guitarists ever,” Steinberger said.
Another iconic L.A. band Steinberger captured at Hen House for a 2001 album is the South Central punk-funk collective Fishbone, led by eccentric frontman Angelo Moore.
“He definitely has his own identity as a singer. He also is an incredible character singer. His palette is huge! He comes completely prepared. He already had visualized in his head,” Steinberger said.
He believes “super-talented musicians,” such as his Rich Uncle Records neighbors, are what the Westside’s music scene needs.
“They remind me a lot of myself at my age. They’re serious. They want to work every day and every night. You know, with that kind of talent, they’re on their way.”
In two months, Steinberger completes work on a second studio in Venice, yet he does not want to abandon Glencoe, enjoying the budding sense of community and camaraderie he has found there with Wiener and Pilch.
I’m hoping in the future that there’s going to be some synergy between what they’re doing and what I’m doing,” he said.