NorCal’s magic kingdom
Thom Monahan has mad Sac love
It’s a quiet and gray rainy morning, and producer Thom Monahan has the entire Hangar studio nearly all to himself. Somewhere, an engineer is holed up in a back room while Fujiya & Miyagi keyboard player Steve Lewis has temporarily disappeared into the building’s drafty depths to make a phone call.
“Sometimes I mix here, and it’s just me sitting here in the building,” Monahan says, sitting in the tiny control room that overlooks a small downtown park. “It’s just me and the ghosts of C Street.”
Monahan, a New England native who now lives in Los Angeles, doesn’t mind hanging out alone in the rambling, renowned Sacramento recording studio, where he’s made records with the likes of Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Alela Diane and Fujiya & Miyagi.
The producer’s adventures in Sacramento started in 2005 after he met Hangar owner John Baccigaluppi through a friend. Monahan, who previously played bass with the Pernice Brothers, as well as his own ’90s-era Monsterland, had shifted into a career behind the sound board and needed a place to work. He’d hit it off immediately with Baccigaluppi, a fellow vintage gearhead, so when it came time to meet Banhart’s request that they mix Cripple Crow anywhere but Los Angeles, the Hangar seemed like a natural fit.
The pair finished the project in just two weeks, and Monahan got more than a completed album out of the expedition—he found a new recording home.
In the months and years following, Monahan brought in more artists, first just to mix but then, intrigued by the Hangar’s cache of equipment, to record as well. At one point Monahan estimates he spent two weeks out of every month at the Hangar, recording during the day, sleeping on a studio couch at night.
But why here instead of a Los Angeles studio or his own home set-up?
Simple, Monahan explains. Between Baccigaluppi’s ever-growing supply of gear and resident technical whiz kid Bryce Gonzales, the Hangar is an impossible-to-resist magical musical kingdom.
“Some studios just stay in a state of stasis, and certain things fall by the wayside and the owners don’t really care about that—or maybe it’s just that they care more about the lounge instead of the gear,” Monahan says.
“The Hangar is constantly evolving with more instruments and the care that goes into taking care of them.”
Factor in the warehouse’s trademark skateboard ramp and its scruffy, “horrible color scheme,” Monahan adds, and result is “rough around the edges” environment that is inviting and never antiseptic.
Baccigaluppi considers Monahan as a sort of global ambassador for the studio.
“He brings in so many people from all over the country and the world,” he says. “It’s gratifying to know that the studio is helping to make music that’s reaching people all over the world in a positive way.”
Monahan remembers an all-nighter with the San Francisco-based band Tussle. The four-piece started with a simple recording setup, but in a matter of just hours, the instruments seemed to multiply like sonic-fed Tribbles.
“We had equipment out there, and then this room was packed with keyboards all the way around, lining the walls and stacked up. We just sat and played—it turned into a late-night synth jam,” Monahan says.
“It was just crazy—you can do that here.”
Monahan still spends much of his time recording at the Hangar, though he’s graduated from crashing on the studio couch to renting a house near Midtown.
Future projects include recording singer-songwriter Neal Casal’s latest album and, he says, the possibilities are endless.
“Every time I come up here, I just try to dream up something crazier to do, because I can,” he says.
“There’s always ‘What are we going to do now?’ There’s always ‘What happens next?’”