In the first half of the last decade Neenah's Justin Perkins made his name as a member of Yesterday's Kids and The Obsoletes.
But at the same time, first in his 8-track home studio, then at a Green Bay place and then landing a gig at Madison's legendary Smart Studios, Perkins has become even more influential in Wisconsin music as a producer and engineer.
Perkins opened his own The Mystery Room Mastering and Recording Company in Bay View last month, next door to Howl Street Recording, a studio owned by Call Me Lightning's Shane Hochstetler.
Relocating to Milwaukee two years ago, Perkins had continued working, but mostly at home and a bit at other studios, like Howl Street Recordings.
So, when one of the two main mastering engineers in Milwaukee -- Trevor Sadler -- moved south ("I can't do the winters anymore," Sadler told me), Perkins jumped at the chance to take over the space, which is in a building that Sadler still owns.
"I figured I rented out Shane's studio enough to cover the rent alone, I was easily over there five to 10 days (a month)," says Perkins.
"The bands that I worked with were renting his studio and paying me separately, I could probably just do the sessions over here, aside from the drums, to cover the rent, so that kind of sealed the deal. Then, with Trevor being gone, I figured I'd get a bit more mastering work."
With home recording technology improving every day and the economy in a tailspin, Perkins admits that opening a studio right now isn't a sure-fire winner of an idea. And, in fact, the long-lived Smart -- which has an international reputation as home to Garbage and the studio where Nirvana recorded parts of "Nevermind" -- is closing.
"Yeah, it's really not a good time. Well, for me it is, but in general it didn't seem like the right time to be opening a studio," he says. "I still don't know how it's going to go, but I definitely have a lot of people calling for mastering."
Bear or boom economy -- and home recording -- be damned, Perkins is flush with business. And that likely comes in part to word of mouth and in part to his solid reputation in the Wisconsin music community and beyond.
"Justin is an amazing engineer," says Sadler from his new home, Charlotte, N.C. "I'm really glad he's made that space his. Him and Shane do great work; there's nobody I'd rather have in that building."
"I think I was lucky in that I had a lot of clients. I can't remember when I didn't have something to work on," says Perkins, who thinks the move to Milwaukee was a good decision, too.
"I had recorded a lot of Milwaukee bands already, so that helped, and it put me closer to Chicago. A few bands come up. I have a pretty big backlog of projects that need to be done, so I'd be fine if nobody called me until late summer. I just have so much stuff to mix.
"I kind of used December to get this place up and running. I was actually in Madison a lot doing a project that I booked before I even knew I had this place, so I had to do that, and then got this place in order."
In recent months, Perkins has all but finished the new Jaill disc -- due to be delivered to Sub Pop in March, before the start of South by Southwest -- and has been working with Cory Chisel, Trapper Schoepp and the Shades, The Riverdales, Tim Schweiger, Quinn Scharber, Jonathan Burks, Sharking Hour and Archie Powell and the Exports (featuring members of the Box Social), among others.
Perkins has also been playing bass in veteran punk band Screeching Weasel and that connection -- forged during Perkins' stint in Madison -- has provided business, too.
"They have a lot of recording needs, too," says Perkins. "Ben (Weasel), the singer, has been reissuing a lot of albums so I do a lot of remastering for them and I'm remixing an album for them."
Mystery Room is smaller than what many people expect from a recording studio. There's an expansive, comfortable and attractive control room and a nice lounge, but just a single, small recording booth that is too small for recording drums, but is perfect for overdubs.
"I decided to not make it an all-out studio," Perkins says, "because there's a lot of really great drum studios around. When I built this I didn't know Smart was closing. That was always an option, but there's still other options.
"I just went for an overdub room, because I wanted to do more mastering, but I wanted the option to at least overdub (here). Anything beyond drums I'm pretty happy recording in this room."
Having Howl Street -- which was originally home to the third incarnation of Citizen King's Bionic Studios -- on the other side of his wall creates good synergy for both Perkins and Hochstetler.
"Shane and I have known each other for a while so, we help each other out. We help each other out borrowing stuff."