Matt, like me, is a writer with one published novel, and both he and his brother have staff jobs in the Department of Neurobiology at Duke. We moved to North Carolina from Boston in 1998 largely because Nate--who bought his first four-track at 13 and an eight track reel-to-reel at 19--was about to graduate from UNC. Matt and I searched for a house in the country with space to record--one of the advantages to living in the country being that neighbors either don't hear your noise, or don't want to walk all the way over to complain. Matt's first question to the bewildered real estate agents was always, "Is there an outbuilding?"
What is now their studio used to be a workshop, built by our house's former owner with whatever spare pieces he could find. There are entire trees, still with their original bark, in the walls, and a tin roof that squirrels like to nest in--on some songs, you can hear the faint thrumming of rain against the tin. A sliding glass door has been turned on its side and lifted up to serve as a window. One Thanksgiving, my father-in-law helped Matt and Nate convert part of the building into a control room and put up insulation and dry wall for sound separation. The squirrels like the insulation too, so sometimes great pink tufts float down from the rafters. The studio is also home to a variety of spiders, some with bodies the size of a walnut, and long, hairy legs. When Matt and Nate spot a particularly impressive one, I'm summoned from the house to admire it.
Over the years Matt and Nate have picked up an assortment of keyboards, all with at least one key that doesn't work. They've got the piano from their childhood living room, a toy piano perched atop it. There's a large pegboard on one wall, hung with instrument cords, headphones and a big rubber bat that can fly with the aid of a rubber band. Musical items aside, the studio has become the repository for all the things we no longer want to keep in the house: my mother's old couch, a ping-pong table, folded up during recording hours, all of Matt's baseball books, Phillies cards, and trophies from high school Math League. There's also a neon Dos Equis sign my own brother acquired when he was a bartender in Chapel Hill. Matt and Nate turn it on when they're working, so that looking out the window from the house I see an aura of eerie pink light.
Almost every night Matt and Nate walk down that path to do something they love. I sit in my study, trying to write, listening to the music coming up through the woods.
(Editor's note: For an interview with local novelist Leah Stewart, turn to the LitLocal column on page 49.)