The normally spacious live room at Type Foundry Studios is a mess. Audio equipment, instruments, shelving units, and chairs are strewn about, much of it ready to be hauled away by prospective buyers or the three men—Adam Selzer, Jason Powers, and Dylan Magierek—taking stock of it all as they get ready to close up shop after 22 years of service.
“It’s sad but it also feels like the right time,” Selzer says.
“Change is hard, but I’m also a firm believer that things should end,” says Powers. “Nothing needs to go on forever. Things should end when the timing is appropriate and I feel like all the signs have been pointing to us that the timing [for us] is appropriate.”
For better or worse, Type Foundry helped codify the sound of the city, with dozens of artists lining up to make use of the natural reverb that the all-wood interior of the studio’s North Portland location. Or trusted their albums and singles to the careful hands and ears of those three men (or former studio partner Jeremy Romagna) for mixing and mastering. Even a quick scan of the client list on the Type Foundry website reads like a who’s who of the last two decades of indie music: the Decemberists, Y La Bamba, Blind Pilot, Red Fang, Alela Diane, M. Ward.
“Type Foundry was this great hub of friends and musicians,” says Ward, who recorded pieces of many of his solo albums and his work with She & Him, his duo with actor Zooey Deschanel, at the studio. “One of the great memories I have of working there was the unique drum sounds we were able to get, especially with the dual percussionists that we used a lot on Post-War. I will definitely miss having it there in Portland.”
The history and fate of Type Foundry is a microcosm of what has befallen the recording industry and the city as a whole. When Selzer opened the doors on the studio’s first location in 1998, in a cozy, two-room spot on Southeast 18th, right across from the Mad Greek Deli, he was able to fill a needed niche in the flourishing music community of Portland.
“At the time,” Selzer remembers, “there weren’t very many studios in town, especially a smaller, affordable space. When we opened, it was, I think, $15 an hour to record. Portland, at that time, was an affordable place for young, creative people to move to and start creative lives. So already having your foot in the door made it possible to evolve and upgrade and still be affordable.”
During that time, Selzer helped record M. Ward’s breakthrough album Duet For Guitars #2, indie pop group Boy Crazy, and his own project, Norfolk & Western. As word spread and he started to get busier, Selzer welcomed in Powers, who was moving to Portland after logging time at studios in and around Olympia, Washington. Soon, though, the pair were forced to move as their landlords sold the building Type Foundry was in, leaving them adrift for a few months before finally finding their final home, just off North Interstate.
“We actually passed it up at first,” Powers says. “We were like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to work. We’d have to do a lot of building in here.’ We looked at a bunch of other spaces and came back to it and the woman who was managing the property was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad you guys came back.’ We never left our number or anything and left under the guise that it was too expensive. She’s like, ‘How about $700 [a month]?’ For 2,800 square feet? Where do we sign?”
From there, the studio, as Selzer put it, “cruised for 10 or 15 years after that.” With Romagna coming on board in 2002, and Magierek joining the fold four years later after moving here from San Francisco, Type Foundry’s sonic remit grew wider and wider, capturing the sound of the local metal scene (Witch Mountain, Bell Witch) and the rising tide of synthpop (Starfucker, Lovers) and roots-rock (the Builders and the Butchers, Laura Gibson). And they started to work with instantly recognizable names like R.E.M., the Breeders, and Spoon.
But as recording technology became more compact, digitized, and affordable, and more studios started to pop up throughout the city, Type Foundry started to field fewer calls for full-bore recording projects or for freelancer engineers to rent the space. Artists may pop in for a day to lay down some overdubs or call on one of the engineers to help with mixing some music, but the days of a band blocking out a full week to track an album were clearly coming to an end.
The changes in the city as a whole started to bear down on the studio as well. Their rent went up steadily over the years, and is now three times what it was when they moved in. And the once-isolated space has been surrounded by new buildings and real estate development spilling over from the Mississippi District.
“It’s still fairly isolated for Portland standards,” says Selzer, “but it’s only a matter of time. Depending on how the zoning laws change, eventually this will be a condo in about 10, 15 years. Guaranteed.”
For now, the space will remain a recording studio with engineers Henry Betz Brown and Bronson Tew taking it over and renaming it Sleeper’s Mountain. As for the Type Foundry crew, they may be splitting up, but they have no plans to stop recording or working with musicians anytime soon. Selzer and Powers both have home studios up and running, and Magierek will happily bounce around town, freelancing and scouting bands for his long-running label Badman Recording Co.
“Basically, we won’t have any of the responsibilities we had before,” says Magierek. “Any of the liabilities we had before.”
“I’ve been telling people, ‘Great, now I don’t have to worry about accounting and cleaning the bathrooms or freelancers saying that this input doesn’t work,” says Powers. “Now it’s that person’s problem. Now I can just go freelance in somebody else’s studio and bitch about them not maintaining their gear.”
The Type Foundry Crew Pick Their Favorite Projects Recorded at the Studio
Selzer: Just because it was from the very beginning, it was working on all the M. Ward records. They were always really fun. Sometimes it’d be a full band in the studio, but most of the time it would be just the two of us. Through the whole history of the studio, he’s been a mainstay here.
Magierek: Some of my favorite times were working with Lovers. That was a great band that really let me get my hands all over and be a producer as well as an engineer. I think we made some great records here.
Powers: The two records that came immediately to mind are the Grails records I did here. They were all done on tape, which is very uncommon now. That’s all we did then. Mixed with all the hands on the board.