Pachyderm Studio wants to save the world, but can it keep the lights on?

The beleaguered music-maker's Mecca has become the Temple of the White Elephant

Pachyderm has struggled mightily to stop the bleeding. A secondary recording room, Studio B, has been set up in the house itself, offering budget rates to bands unable to meet Studio A's sticker price, and Pachyderm as a whole has switched to an à la carte billing method, where consoles, components, and instruments are painstakingly itemized in an attempt to help bands trim unwanted costs.

Yet Pachyderm's musical output continues its slide into silence, and though the studio still commands respect on the strength of its mythology, big-name producers like Albini have all sought warmer climes, leaving Pachyderm facing an endless winter.

By 2005, the Neve console, the temperamental centerpiece of Studio A, was mouse-eaten and out of commission. By winter 2006, the property was two weeks from foreclosure. Pachyderm needed more than money. Pachyderm needed a savior.

The prophet: Matt Mueller, Pachyderm's current owner, wants to lead the way
Nick Vlcek
The prophet: Matt Mueller, Pachyderm's current owner, wants to lead the way
The disciples: Zap Maya, now in a multi-month residency at Pachyderm, contemplate infinity
Nick Vlcek
The disciples: Zap Maya, now in a multi-month residency at Pachyderm, contemplate infinity

    

MATT MUELLER IS A MAN of slight, stern musculature in a black collared shirt flourished with glinting pinstripes. He is a mortgage broker, talent agent, and real estate magnate. He owns a resort in Jamaica and a nightclub in Madison called the Cardinal Bar. He collects and deals traditional African hand drums called djembes, and manages Les Ballets Africains, a dance troupe that has toured the world since the 1960s. Since 2006, he has also been Pachyderm Studio's owner, coordinator, and spiritual steward. He is 39 years old.

His head is shaved, his eyes fierce and deeply socketed, and he sits in a turquoise chair, his chin perched on his palm. In a downtown Minneapolis law office, two of his recent musical acquisitions are talking about Pachyderm Studio. But they aren't talking live rooms and Neve Consoles. Cobain's name is scarcely raised. In fact, they seem to find Pachyderm's past unsavory. It hardly comes up at all.

Instead, they're talking divinities and the bliss of the spiritual plane. They're talking spectral way lines, sacred names, distant futures, and the fissured state of modern mankind. The talk is lofty and rooted in the future tense. Mueller listens on in a pose of perfect beatitude, all but mute.

"His prayers brought us to Pachyderm," says Acyuta Das. Acyuta is a Krishna, as is his bandmate Jagadeesh, with whom he shares a spiritual surname, and is one-third of the trance-mantra music group Zap Maya. He sits atop a nearby table, his hair pinned back by a blue kerchief, and he speaks of Mueller in the sober, reverent tones of a supplicant. "We believe in the science of spiritual telepathy, where your thoughts bring things into your life. It's a fact. If you close your eyes and you meditate on your favorite place, instantaneously you're there. The speed of the mind is faster than any material calculation. Matt, in his thoughts and prayers, brought us here. He had us change airline tickets telepathically."

Mueller offers a placid chuckle, and doesn't dispute the claim.

Acyuta talks of a spiritual journey, one which brought him from Maui, where he and his bandmate Jagadeesh planned to record chants in a small studio on a pineapple plantation, to Yamanashi and the foot of Mount Fuji, and then westward through India, their spiritual motherland. He talks of an instant kinship with Mueller. He calls him "the missing link." He talks of a future where man is united under music that is spiritually substantive and free. He says he isn't the day-job type. He says that if he needs to eat, he sells his CDs.

"It's a mission, not a business deal," says Acyuta. "All the other subtleties fall into place. Next thing you know, you're living at Pachyderm Studio with one of the coolest studio owners on the planet. We didn't come to Pachyderm; Pachyderm came to us."

"Love at first sight," says Jagadeesh, smiling from beneath a thatch of sandy hair.

Acyuta refines his statement: "We didn't come to Pachyderm," he says. "We came to Matt."

For the first time, Mueller speaks. His optimism is quietly insistent and deferential, and his speech is mannered and temperate, a serene and stately third-person. "These guys are all talking about this person Matt," he says. "It's all cool and groovy. But Matt has nothing to do with this. Matt just gets to be the guy that gets to be there. It has nothing to do with me personally. All I've proven to be is a good pawn at best."

He defers to Zap Maya. "I can pick anybody in this damn city to come give an interview," he says in a concussive burst of resolution. "What you're looking at right now is the foundation of the future. I can promise you that, brother." His composure returns. "Matt is not doing this," he says softly. "Matt isn't going to own this."

    

WHEN ZAP MAYA LEAVES the law office to return to Pachyderm, Mueller's demeanor changes. Where he once sat straight as a martinet, he now slumps. His head cocks, his cheek nearly touching his shoulder. The soft-spoken Mueller who tiptoed around curse words and sat serene as a Buddha is replaced by a fierce-eyed, mercurial orator, whose thinking is frenzied and spiked with resentment.

"Everybody's fucking each other every chance they get," he says. "From the lawyers to the managers to the artists. They're physically screwing each other. It's a big fuck rally. This industry sucks, and I've been fucked every way from Sunday in this industry. I know why it's on its knees."

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