What started as an off-the-cuff money-saving operation for Spoon drummer Jim Eno has turned into an enduring labor of love. Eno’s Public Hi-Fi studio has existed in a rough state since 1998, when he first vaulted the ceilings of his home’s two-car garage–partly to save money for Spoon’s third record, “Girls Can Tell.” By 2006, Public Hi-Fi was a rebuilt, custom space, with even higher ceilings, which lent itself to the recording of Spoon’s 2006 release, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” Since then, the studio has played host to artists ranging from Arcade Fire to hometown hero Alejandro Escovedo to Justin Timberlake (as co-producer of Matt Morris’ 2010 record, “When Everything Breaks Open”).
Public Hi-Fi’s heart is a Neve console that Eno acquired, in poor condition, in 2003. The nightmarish (and expensive) rebuild turned out to be worth it when he found its serial number, A41, written in pencil on the inside of the armrest, dating it to 1969 or 1970. “It was maybe the 41st console made by Neve, and somebody was going to basically throw this thing out and sell it just for the input modules,” Eno says. “When it became ‘We’re restoring this to actually be usable again, and we’re going to make a ton of great records on it,’ it became more exciting.”
Eno’s clients are often bands he’s met through Spoon, where it’s just, “Hey, we should do some songs,” though working with !!! on its new record, “Thr!!!er,” required a rigorous series of trial sessions. Recently, he has also been curating sessions for Spotify, to take advantage of the bands that come through Austin for South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. They are true recordings, in the tradition of John Peel, with overdubs and multitracking. “The bands really end up feeding off that,” Eno says.
As of April, Public Hi-Fi is also a label: Its first release is “Nuestro Camino” by Austin B3 organ-driven trio Dupree, a record Eno cut live direct to two-track in one day, mixing on the fly depending on which member was soloing. “It’s a natural progression,” he says. “I felt like, ‘This is a record based on sound quality, so let me try to put it out.'” It’s a passion project for Eno, for sure. “Sort of like when I tried to do a business plan for having a studio,” he says. “It never made sense, but then, I’ve had it running for seven years.”