Madison’s music studio hosted legendary artists gets a makeover

MADISON, Wis. – A historic Wisconsin music studio gets a makeover, becoming a home and Airbnb.

The Smart Studios building, on the corner of East Washington and Baldwin

Kenosha native Neka Allen was living in Los Angeles when the pandemic hit. This allowed her to work remotely, so she could live wherever she wanted. She started looking at real estate back home in Wisconsin.

Allen came across a building at the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Baldwin Street.

The day after she saw this list, she couldn’t get it out of her head.

“I loved it right away. It looked like it needed some work,” she laughed. “I just had a vision of what it could be.”

His vision was to turn the top floor into his home and the ground floor into an Airbnb for guests.

She texted her dad, expecting him to talk her out of buying it.

“I said, ‘Dad, tell me about this third life crisis to buy this building,'” she said. “He said something like, ‘That’s crazy. But that’s awesome, so do it.

This building houses decades of music history, though most would probably never know it from the outside.

Wisconsin musicians Butch Vig and Steve Marker, later members of the band Garbage, opened Smart Studios in 1983. It moved to Allen’s building in 1987.

Studio A, where the musicians were playing. It is now converted into a living space

“It’s Studio A here,” Allen said as he walked through a space now set up as a living room. “This room would have been where they settled as the soundboard, the mixing desks. Then we have the big glass window so they can communicate with the musicians in that other room.

Legendary music has been recorded in this space. Most notable is probably Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. It was the first draft of the most famous grunge album in the world. Only one track from the Smart sessions made it to the final cut, “Polly”.

The guest bedroom, which incorporates the perfect shade of Nirvana yellow. The poster on the wall is the first thing Allen bought for her new home, even before she moved in. A copy of Dave Grohl’s book is on the bedside table.

However, everything was first recorded in Madison.

The upper level is Allen’s house, with more concert posters and a guitar-shaped cat scratcher for Garfunkel, his new pet.

Allen paid tribute to the group at home. The iconic yellow Nirvana smiley face is featured throughout, with accents of yellow in most rooms.

Luckily, it’s her favorite color.

Nirvana wasn’t the only big band to record there. Of course, a lot of Garbage music has found its way to Smart Studios. Other great records recorded there include “Gish” by the Smashing Pumpkins, “Take This To Your Grave” by Fall Out Boy and “Plans” by Death Cab For Cutie.

The list goes on to include Everclear, Jimmy Eat World, Hawthorne Heights and Tegan & Sara.

Upon entering the old Studio A, the acoustics change so drastically that it feels like the air has changed.

Allen points to music posters on the wall of bands that have recorded in the studio.

“We’re right on East Washington, but you can’t hear outside at all,” Allen said.

She said she slept like a baby in her upstairs bedroom, which was Studio B, still fitted with soundproofing fabric on the walls.

The former Studio A control room on the ground floor now serves as a dining room and living room.

The great acoustics come in handy upstairs, in the old Studio B. This is now Allen’s bedroom. It’s super quiet there too.

“I sleep so soundly,” she said.

There are remnants of the building’s history throughout: old exit signs, full-length interior windows, and audio ports built into the walls.

Allen did most of the work herself. She documented it along the way on social media.

Allen said she hopes the lower tier will be up and running as an Airbnb this summer.

Allen’s bedroom upstairs, which used to be Studio B.

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