Straw bales sounded good

| 04 Jan 2017 | 11:56

The No Parking Studio got its name because its original location was in the police station parking lot and Dean Jones, the musician who owned it, had to constantly tell people not to park there. The Grammy-winning children’s singer-songwriter has kept the name, but his new recording studio is very, very different.

Jones, lead man of the kids’ band Dog on Fleas, got curious about a straw bale studio after working with another local band made good, the Felice Brothers. They had a small studio built in a barn, with straw bales to create rooms. The idea appealed to him, not only for its sound prospects but also low heating costs.

While building with straw bales costs about as much as conventional construction, it maintains temperature for longer and takes less energy to heat.

Jones didn’t have a lot of money for a big studio, so he looked online and found studios in Wales and in the western U.S. made entirely of straw bales. He reached out to Ben Simpson, a sustainable builder also based in Rosendale, NY, who’s been constructing straw bale homes for 20 years. Simpson had an architect draw up simple plans for a 500-square-foot structure, and they got to work.

Because of regional weather, they had to frame the building, add a roof and a cement slab foundation to protect the bales from rain and moisture. Once the slab was in place, they began chain sawing the bales to square them for a more concise fit. They mixed clay, lime, straw dust and water into a gooey paste that they slopped into cracks between the bales to seal the surface. The second coat reinforced the first, and the third coat they smoothed to an adobe-like finish on the inside. The outside has conventional siding.

Jones and Simpson did most of the work, but musician friends bartered for studio time. A neighbor helped until an accident disabled him; then he hobbled over on crutches with African Gunpowder Tea to energize workers – earning himself studio time.

While most studios are windowless to block outside noise, Jones says his two-foot thick walls (the width of a straw bale) insulate perfectly. Windows allow for light to come in, and inserts can be stuffed into the window spaces when necessary. Unlike traditional recording studios, where musicians are separated from sound engineers by glass barriers, all are in one big room here, allowing Jones to prop up someone’s ear phones if they begin slipping off.

Dog on Fleas has been in the new studio five years now, and in that time they’ve discovered that they’re part of a natural building movement in Ulster County, populated by folks building straw bale yurts and cob houses.

Oh, and did we mention there’s no plumbing? The twin-seater composting outhouse doubles as an isolation booth. The first person to record there was a German woman who called it a “Plumpsklo,” which is allegedly German for double outhouse.

Cost: $30,000 - $40,000

Vicki Botta