Neighborhood Studios lives up to its name

Until recently, the recording facility at 920 1/2 Mass. was the home of two similar businesses with very different clientele.

Colin Mahoney’s z’gwon,th studios had carved a niche by specializing in band recordings that catered more to the rock crowd. Next door, the 5150/Lock-N-Load Records production team of Keith Loneker, Anthony “Tone” Wisdom and Will Wilson had started to make a name in various urban genres of music.

Now those separate entities have combined, added a third partner and created Neighborhood Studios.

“Coming up in the football thing, I wanted to be part of something  a team,” says Loneker, a former KU football standout and NFL player. “So we thought up the idea of Neighborhood Studios. Then instead of it being A-studio and B-studio, we’ll have the Lock-N-Load room and the z’gwon,th rooms. Colin pretty much does all the live recordings, acoustic instruments and all that. We do all the rap, hip-hop and R&B.”

With Mercy Studio closing in the summer, and Red House Studio relocating to Eudora a few years back, Lawrence faced the plight of not having an active recording studio for the first time since the late 1980s.

“One of the reasons we came up with Neighborhood Studios is that it’s a community response, because Lawrence is a music town,” says co-owner Jerry Johnson. “And Lawrence without a recording studio wouldn’t be right.

Johnson owns Frederic, a line of renowned custom guitar amplifiers. Conveniently, his shop sits right down the hall from the downtown studio complex  and he owns the lease on the building.

“I really want to expand my custom amp business to custom audio, and this provides me with an environment where I can test all that stuff,” he explains.

That word “environment” is key, because the people behind this experimental collective believe appealing to a patchwork of music styles is what gives Neighborhood its charm.

“You can come in here on a Friday night and there will be a couple R&B guys over there practicing some harmonies and stuff,” Johnson relates. “You’ll have a couple rappers trying to write a hook. You’ll have some hippie rock guys sitting on the couch going, ‘That’s cool, try this.’ It really is the colliding of the worlds.”

Loneker adds, “We’ve got rappers who sit here writing, and they’ll hear music coming out of there and say, ‘Man, what’s that instrument?’

“It’s like when Kirk Rundstrom (of alt-country act Split Lip Rayfield) was here, he was playing this fast mandolin song … We kept saying we gotta get him on a track, like on some acid-techno stuff. So he’s in here playing along with some beats. That’s the kind of stuff that comes together.”

Additionally, Neighborhood gains its strength from the actual neighborhood of downtown Lawrence.

“We’ve done things before where we’ve needed a crowd,” Loneker remembers. “We’ve gone downstairs and we’ve said to people on the street, ‘Can you and you and you come upstairs?’ And we’ll get them in the booth.”

Neighborhood hopes to greet a few more unfamiliar faces this weekend. On Saturday at 7 p.m., the studio will hold a grand opening. The community is invited to check out the facilities and enjoy a little food, beer and wine in the process.

“It’s been running this way since August, but nobody really knows that yet,” says Loneker. “We got our first piece of mail for Neighborhood Studios last week.”