Still of Lana Del Rey in "Burning Desire" Lana Del Rey released an especially…
- Posted on Jan 16th 2013 4:00PM by Cameron Matthews
Cameron Matthews, Gino DePinto
To the average outsider, there's not a whole lot going on here. But hidden in plain sight is one of indie rock's greatest institutions: Daytrotter.
Up three flights of stairs in the unassuming CBS television building next to an equally unassuming pizza place, there sits The Horseshack -- a full-fledged studio that has recorded just about every band you've loved in the last six years.
Musician and internet entrepreneur Sean Moeller sits in his halogen-lit cave in the back. Posters of various "Barnstormer" tours and local showcases line the walls as the guy-behind-it-all steadily answers e-mails.
"It was equal parts arbitrary and calculated. I was writing for the local paper, The Quad City Times, and doing a bunch of freelance writing for magazines and alt weeklies all over the place. While I was out running one day, I just thought, 'hey, this might be an interesting thing to try and mess around with,'" Moeller tells Spinner.
In 2006, Moeller began building the Daytrotter studio with a local gear head. The attic-like space houses vintage tube amps, analog recording equipment and a hell of a lot of history. It's not the prettiest studio you've ever seen, but the sounds they capture are nearly unparalleled when it comes to live sessions.
"I've always been a huge admirer and lover of a song and of a band in its purest form," Moeller says. "I thought it would be great to try and really encapsulate the qualities of a song and of a band in a live setting that I didn't think was really being captured elsewhere -- especially on an Internet that was starting to get a really bad name."
Moeller invited touring bands to visit his ramshackle compound where they record four live cuts and broadcast them online. It didn't take long for word to spread, and music lovers began to flock to the new site for its originality and damn-good recordings.
"I really thought we might be onto something when, within the first few months of doing it, Will Oldham paid us a visit and we heard later he was telling everyone who would listen about us in the green room during a taping of 'Late Night With Conan O'Brien.' That was one of those nice moments."
Moeller isn't alone in his enterprise. Mike Gentry runs the engineering side of Daytrotter, making sure each act sounds their very best. He's "Mr. All-American and he likes his meat about as raw as you can get it." Phil Pracht, Moeller's brother-in-law and right-hand man, handles a lot of the business end, while local artist Johnnie Cluney makes the trademark colorful illustrations for each Daytrotter act.
The four-man operation runs on coffee and fumes. They've hit roadblocks and milestones at the same exact rate, and Moeller admits that sometimes Daytrotter has proved to be an immense challenge. In 2008, private music venture Wolfgang's Vault bought a majority stake in the company, and the site has since switched to a "freemium" model. Visitors can listen to all the sessions they want as they are recorded live, but will need to pay $24 for an all-access yearlong pass. It's cheaper than just about every other streaming site (Rhapsody, Spotify, etc.) but Daytrotter gives you something totally unavailable on the rest of the net -- exclusivity to original content.
Over the years, the gentlemen have welcomed musical stalwarts across the spectrum. Fleet Foxes and the National made their earliest web buzz in The Horseshack, while regulars like Nathaniel Rateliff cut their teeth in the dimly lit studio. They can still book one some of the world's biggest acts including Mumford & Sons, and they've even recorded legends like Glen Campell.
"When he started playing, it was magical," Moeller says of Campbell. "He was sharp. It means a ton to record someone like him. Any chance you have to witness a legend that close up and then be able to share them to an audience like ours that may not be completely familiar with his or her work is especially gratifying.
"There are so many greats that I hope we get to work with before they aren't here any more. I'm so grateful we got to work with Charlie Louvin before he passed. I mean, that's just hard to even comprehend, but hopefully because we did, there are a bunch of 20-somethings who bought some of the great recordings that Charlie and Ira made."
The future of Daytrotter is bright. With the music industry heading towards a stream-only model, it's easy to see the tiny Midwestern studio grow by leaps and bounds.
"I don't see much changing and I see a ton changing. It's just all about being nimble and rolling with the waves. I know we'll still be here capturing and chronicling great modern artists just as we're doing now. We'll still be working ourselves happily to the bone to make music lovers happy and help these great musicians get their records in people's hands and get them out to their live shows."
Check out photos from The Horseshack below, and head over to Daytrotter for the great tunes.