MASTERMINDS: Andy & Tim Patalan

Let's face it: The music industry is a fickle beast not prone to longevity. And local music scenes the world over but especially in an area such as Ann Arbor fed by the constant influx of students. So it stands as a doubly remarkable feat that a little studio built in a rehabbed barn on a family-owned horse farm should be not just a landmark, but a thriving one at that. Yet that's exactly the position Saline's The Loft Recording Studio co-owned by brothers Andy and Tim Patalan -- finds itself in.

Last month, the Loft celebrated 20 years in business making records that to date have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide including among the hundreds of sessions multi-platinum recordings by local rock heroes
Sponge, jams from former reality star Bob "The Bachelor" Guiney and work for pretty much every major record label in the US.

So how'd they pull it off? The old-fashioned way: with no set business plan and a little help from their friends.

"In 1988 I was in a band called Slam Circus and my brother was in a band called Something Wild," recalls Andy Patalan.

"Basically my brother and I started it to record our own bands and then that turned into friend's bands. And it started spreading and grew from there."

The two turned their family's 150 year old oat barn into a secluded recording studio.

"It was never meant to be a business as a model to begin with. I was on the road doing live sound and my brother really started building the studio up. When I came off the road I brought my equipment. It was never 'hey let's build a studio and make a bunch of money.'"

It was a break from one of those bands in what Patalan playfully refers to as "the syndicate" that introduced The Loft to major label brass and, in Patalan's estimation, "really broke it wide open." In 1994, Detroit band Sponge released their major label debut,
Rotting Pinata. It launched two top 10 singles and exposed the Detroit scene to a whole new generation. It came from Tim and Andy Patalan's sonic farm in bucolic Saline.

"I was doing sound for a few of the members from Sponge when they were in a band called Loudhouse," recalls Patalan.

"After that band was done [and Sponge was in its nascent phase] I said 'you have to come to the Loft and record with me and my brother. They came in to do their demos and they got signed off the demos. Some of the demos actually ended up on the album.
Columbia said 'just go and do the rest of the record the same way.'"

From there, the Patalans became in-demand producers, getting work both at the Loft and, in Tim's case, overseas, too.

"Typically a place is more about the people or the gear, so a lot of time people will hire us from the work that we've done," says Patalan of the studio's calling card sound. "We're lucky enough to have a good facility. And rock is our forte."

"We've worked with bands from every single [major] label," he says, referring at least in part to records from such notable locals as the Fags, Hoarse and, more recently, Ann Arbor's Taproot.

But more than anything, it's band-to-band referrals that keeps the lights on and the monitors humming in the Loft. Neither Andy nor Tim have stopped playing in bands. And that has kept them connected enough (i.e. still enjoying the sense of community, especially in Ann Arbor, but in Detroit as well) for their tastes. "The community, the syndicate or the cult is just friends and bands that have been referred or friends of friends' bands," says Patalan.

"We're kind of removed from the city. We're not plugged into the metro Detroit scene. We'll have real successful records but you won't see us in the top studios for the Detroit Music awards. We've had some major successful stuff and been in business for 20 years, but we're not out there seeking the shmooze factor."

As powerful testament to the appeal of the no-nonsense camaraderie the Patalans engender was the jam-packed anniversary celebration in May at
Pontiac's Crofoot Ballroom. It featured 20 "Loft" acts including Sponge, Guiney, Speedball, Taproot, the Motor Dolls, Flickerstick, Calling Marvin and many others who have made a serious name for themselves in the Michigan music scene and, often, well beyond. They all came out to kick out the jams with the Patalan's in a party that was part reunion, part birthday party and all rock.

What's more, the setting of the Loft surely has something to do with a minimal amount of schmooze and a maximum amount of good, productive recording. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic setting (at least in Michigan) within striking distance of a major city, yet offering country quiet in which to make a loud ruckus.

"The ambiance out there, too, is a really nice atmosphere," says Patalan of his joint's appeal. "You don't have the stresses of the city like parking and worrying about your gear. Typically if a band is from out of state or out of the country they'll stay there or get a B&B. It's really comfortable for them."

So what does Patalan envision for The Loft 20 years from now?

"More of the same really. It's been a constant growing thing and as long as we keep adapting to the times and doing fresh music that we enjoy, it's just a no-brainer. It's a job that me and my brother love," he says.

"As soon as we stop loving it we'll start playing a lot more golf."

Chris Handyside is a Detroit-based writer whose work has appeared in Model D and The Metro Times. This is his first article for Concentrate.


Andy Patalan Works the Soundboard at the Loft Studio-Saline

An Exterior Photo of the Loft Studio-Saline

Andy Patalan Focuses on Mastering at the Loft Studio-Saline

Mic Me Up!

Drum Crap at the Loft Studio-Saline

The Serene Recording Space at the Loft Studio-Saline

All Photos by Dave Lewinski

Dave Lewinski is Concentrate's Managing Photographer.  He headed north for the Fourth.