As the tail of Hurricane Ida hit New York last Wednesday evening, water poured through the floors and ceilings of Threshold Recording Studios NYC. The flooding has damaged the historic Hell’s Kitchen sound studio beyond repair.
Twenty-five years ago, James Walsh had a basement rehearsal room across the hall from an artist named Jeff Buckley. “I was just building out my space into a studio and thinking or moving upstairs. Jeff was in his room with some other famous artists. When Jeff died in Memphis in 1997, his manager came to me and asked if I wanted to take over the lease,” recalls Walsh.
Walsh took on the lease for the extra room and stayed in the basement on W41st Street and Dyer Avenue, creating Threshold Studios. “I hand-built the studio myself in the rehearsal room footprint of our dear departed friend Jeff Buckley. Once the studio was built we tuned the speakers in the room to Jeff’s album Grace and sonically we never looked back,” he said while surveying the wreckage of his lifetime’s work.
Buckley died young and only completed one album, Grace, which Rolling Stone described as offering “a tantalizing look at the unfulfilled promise of one of the Nineties’ most striking talents.”
Last week, Walsh was at home in New Jersey when he took a call from his Chief Engineer Derek Rusinek. “Derek was at the studio finishing up a session at the console and water started pouring down. He ran out to the hallway and there was water coming up from the floor too. I get on the remote security camera and I could see the water rising and Derek running around just trying to pick things up,” said Walsh. “We have had leaks before — but this was coming up from below and down from above.”
Walsh said: “At a certain point, I just told Derek to get out. He’d salvaged what he could and documented it on video. I told him to grab his favorite microphone and leave before he got hurt — which he did. Thankfully he is OK, which is a real blessing in all of this.” Walsh tried to drive into the city through the storm — but when a tree fell in front of his car, he decided to return home to safety.
As the tail end of Hurricane Ida hit New York, 18 inches of water came up from the foundations of the building while water rained down from the ceiling, sandwiching all the equipment, wood floors and memorabilia in a blanket of murky wetness. Even the pieces that James has salvaged and cleaned smell of sewage.
“The studios are completely wrecked, the ceilings are falling down and much of the gear has been compromised. I took some bits home to New Jersey — and now my home smells,” he said.
Threshold has played host to artists including Cyndi Lauper, Smokey Robinson, Slash and Mick Fleetwood as well as bands like The Strokes, Interpol and Foreigner. The proximity to Broadway has meant the studio has provided facilities to hundreds of actors. James has made a point of opening the doors to nonprofits — and is especially proud of the studio’s work mentoring at-risk youth with Road Recovery.
The flood waters mean that the facility is not salvageable. James is working with insurers to allow him to start again — but there is little chance of all losses being covered. “We’re hoping to move on to a new location in Hell’s Kitchen and plan to spend another 25 years helping young artists develop and working with our established legacy clients. It’s a bittersweet moment as we look to the future and reflect thankfully for the past,” he said.
We toured the studios this week with James. Even breathing through an industrial mask, the air conditions were awful. “We’ve been up for six days in a salvage operation in some of the grossest conditions we’ve ever experienced. I have had bronchitis and a sinus infection,” said James.
The studio has launched a GoFundMe to help them recover from the disaster. They have currently reached just over $15k of a $75,000 goal.
Threshold Recording Studios NYC is located at 440 W41st Street, New York, NY 10036. thresholdstudios.com