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Northern Michigan musicians find outlet in the studio during the pandemic

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Brian Chamberlain
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The past six months have been tough for northern Michigan musicians. Bans on large gatherings have meant fewer opportunities to get in front of a crowd, and lost revenue for artists and concert venues.

 

But as the pandemic marches on, some artists are finding new channels for their creativity in the recording studio.

 

For seven years, Brian Chamberlain has run Studio Anatomy out of a downtown basement space on Front Street in Traverse City. There’s a record store, a concert venue and a full recording studio.

“It’s been a really tough year for everyone, including myself,” says Chamberlain.

The concert venue is shuttered and the only light in the darkened space flickers from Chamberlain’s huge mixing board in the recording studio. 

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Credit Brian Chamberlain
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Little Graves guitarist Zack Brooks

Chamberlain really misses their regular Friday night concerts. He says Studio Anatomy is one of the few places around where bands can come and showcase their original material, but it’s been empty all summer.

“Just a couple of months ago, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue,” says Chamberlain. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was still obligated to pay rent and … my bills and everything at the studio, and I wasn’t able to generate any money.”

Fortunately, since the state slowly started to reopen in June, Chamberlain has seen an influx of musicians looking to record.

In August the Traverse City indie rock band Little Graves was hard at work in Studio Anatomy, recording its first full-length album.

Singer Morgan Arrowood says the pandemic has contributed to the band’s newfound “heavy energy.” 

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Credit Brian Chamberlain
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Little Graves singer/keyboardist Morgan Arrowood

  “There’s a lot of dark negative emotions that were put into it, to sort of … a cathartic thing, lyrically, for me at least,” says Arrowood.

For the first couple months of the pandemic, Little Graves couldn’t even get together to practice. There was also, of course, the sudden end to live concerts. 

Arrowood says the inability to play shows has hurt the band’s already meager pocketbook. They decided to scrape together whatever they had to pay for their recording time. 

“This entire album … a chunk of that money is just from playing shows over the last couple of years, that we’ve saved in this crumpled little envelope,” she says. “And I think you just have to make an investment. Obviously, you’re ballin’ on a budget and you do a lot of DIY stuff but that’s part of the territory, too.”

The band’s not expecting a windfall from the release of the new album, which is tentatively titled “Rituals.” They’d be happy just to recoup the cost of recording it.

But Bass player Vincent Grimaldi says there’s no replacement for live shows. 

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Credit Brian Chamberlain
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LIttle Graves bassist Vincent Grimaldi

  “It’s probably my favorite part of doing this is … getting on stage,” says Grimaldi. “You know, dingy, sweaty environments and … bodies colliding.”

Brian Chamberlain says plenty of bands are writing new music.

 

“They’re not really able to leave their homes, or they haven’t been able to, and they want to start putting that stuff down,” says Chamberlain.

He says the recording studio is saving his business right now. He’s booked solid for the next couple of months, recording local musicians with a lot of pent-up creativity to express. 

And the emotional darkness found on Little Graves’ new album? Chamberlain says to expect more of that from other artists, as well.

“All the stuff that’s happening in the world, and in this country and in politics. There’s a lot to write about,” he says. “There’s a lot of scary things happening right now.”