Led Zeppelin went to Headley Grange, an ivy-enveloped 18th-century English workhouse. Sting holed up in a French château. Since musicians met amplifiers, legendary acts have set up their recording gear in locales they sense will inspire their best work. When it does, insiders talk and soon the place is booked solid. From a cramped Detroit basement that churned out Motown’s chart-busters known as Hitsville U.S.A. to the bluesy 1960s sounds that oozed out of Alabama’s own Muscle Shoals, destination recording studios fill the liner notes of rock history.
The music scene’s latest hideout has hatched overnight 144 miles from Hollywood. Pink Satellite Studios sits on 10 private acres of secluded, Joshua tree–studded land. Its open expanse of pristine terrain looks out to Ritz-Carlton–style vistas. The moment your SUV limo chauffeur begins to question the driving directions, a silver bullet trailer glints in the sun and a hot pink house waves hello.
It’s Mad Max meets Abbey Road at this residential recording studio adjacent to a pink, 1960s ranch-style home. The artistic heritage and mind-altering setting of the High Desert is just the right place for a high-tech sound factory and its posh lodging component. Write, jam, and record by day. Don a plush bathrobe to sing songs and sip scotch around the fire pit by night. Tell the chauffeur you’ll see him in a week.
Pink Satellite Studios may be the only professional studio ever to combine dozens of vintage guitars previously owned by musical icons with fluffy white monogrammed towels that hang in the marble master bathroom. The pink thread that spells out “P.S.S.” really says: “Welcome to the next big thing. You bumped along these back roads with purpose. Now let’s go for a ride.”
Co-founder Chris Haines knows all about that. To sit down with this 15-time Baja 1000 champion would be a dream for some. To sit down with counterpart and co-founder Spike Edney, musical director and keyboardist for Queen since 1984, would be a dream for the other half of the world. Two illustrious worlds collide inside their state-of-the-art recording studio. Haines’ museum-quality arsenal of midcentury instruments and cutting-edge equipment inspires artists of every level. Spike’s 40 years of musical prowess and production expertise provide the necessary direction for musicians to cut tracks. On the walls, artwork honors the two friends’ lifelong obsession with The Beatles.
“A whole history of music was produced with what we have up here: great amps and great guitars from the mid-’50s to the early ’70s — the golden period of instruments,” Edney says. “The modern way of making music can bland things out. When you pick up a real guitar, and you put it through a real amp, it takes you somewhere else.”
Adam Lambert’s future is so bright he’s got to wear shades as he takes in the view from the vintage Silver Streak trailer outside Pink Satellite Studios.
Edney met Haines and his wife Karen at Abbey Road Studios in 2008. The off-road legend was strumming a guitar as part of London’s Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp; the rock star popped in and shared a few tales. In 2012, the pair reconnected through a mutual friend in Palm Springs, where they each have a home. Edney and his wife, Kyle Verwers, invited the Haineses up to their Joshua Tree cabin for sunset martinis and a barbecue.
“Chris asked if there was anything for sale nearby and I said, ‘I dunno, maybe the house next door,’ ” Edney says. “When we came back six months later, voilà! It was pink. They just bought it and did it.”
The pristine recording studio sits inside the former garage where Edney and the previous owner, Ray, would swap stories and drink beer. “And I’d watch him make ammunition. Coming from London, I found that very exotic,” he says. “First Chris was thinking about [turning it into] a man cave. Or a rehearsal space where guys could fool around with guitars. Then he got the bit between his teeth. He’s a very passionate man.”
Haines liked the idea of a place to share his extraordinary collection of guitars. “Little did I know the studio would be all-consuming,” he says. That’s coming from someone who has raced the Baja 1000 an impressive 33 times. Haines quickly took the garage to task with built-in humidifiers, internal wiring, insulation, air-conditioning, soundproofing, and acoustic paneling.
“It’s become more and more intriguing as the possibilities reveal themselves to us,” Edney says. “What started as a couple of old guys drinking beer and playing Rolling Stones songs has turned into a much more exciting adventure.”
The four co-founders cover classic hits around the fire pit. From left: Chris, Karen, Kyle, and Spike.
Their one-stop shop makes a person regret quitting piano lessons. The room blends the qualities of a gentlemen’s lounge, an intimate performance venue, and a top-dollar studio. Soft spotlights cast a glow over each piece of equipment on a platform dressed in leopard-print carpet. A pair of brown leather tufted Chesterfield sofas are grouped around a low table. The bar against the wall is handy for a quick cocktail between takes. Every detail draws the eye. This is no ordinary den of cables and duct tape and shaky partitions, with old chewing gum left to decorate the bottom of the keyboard stand.
Haines’ instruments, now available to visiting recording artists, span rock history. Sounds from the past rise from his nearly 40 rare and vintage guitars. An original John Lennon Short Scale Rickenbacker and a 1953 Fender Telecaster join an Eric Clapton Strat, SG special. There is also a 1959 Jimmy Page Les Paul, considered the Holy Grail of guitars. An array of vintage Epiphone, Taylor, Martin, and Gretsch guitars hang like Picassos across one wall. Top keyboards from Korg and Spike’s private collection complement a vintage Hohner Clavinet (the beauty responsible for Stevie Wonder’s distinct sound), a vintage Hammond B3 with a ’60s Leslie cabinet, and a VOX Continental Organ. The drum kit is a Ludwig 100th Anniversary Ringo Starr set with Zildjian cymbals. Throw in the full grand piano, electric piano, basses, and amps and one thing is certain: It might get loud.
The magic happens on a 32-channel board with a capacity for digital recording. There’s also a vintage 1-inch analog tape machine. Some artists use both for a varied sound. Bands can run up to 16 microphones simultaneously. “One mic is the same model used by Sinatra and Elvis,” Haines says. “We have vintage German-made models and new-wave VMS. Our engineer can emulate 20 different vintage mics electronically.”
This High Desert recording experience is proof that Joshua Tree’s underground music scene is not that far underground. “Coachella is expanding into Desert Trip and more things are coincidentally part of the whole High Desert musical thing,” Edney says. “More people are coming from L.A. to be part of it. Pappy & Harriet’s is jamming. We used to walk up there anytime we wanted to. Now you have to book three weeks in advance and still wait.”
They often frequent other live venues such as Bobby Furst’s Furst World. “He’s a sculptor who wanted to encourage his musical friends. So he’s put a space together and we’ve been up there and seen some amazing things. Unusual things,” Edney says. “It got me salivating to think these people are waiting to be recorded. We might have another Leonard Cohen sitting out here.”
Keyboards, Edney’s instrument of choice, round out the studio’s bevy of professional and collectible instruments.
Each Abbey Road warrior is accomplished in his or her own right. Karen Haines is founder and CEO of Spa Girl Cocktails, her award-winning vodka martinis in a bottle. She is also the visionary behind Pink Satellite Studios’ sensational décor. Kyle coordinates bookings. Chris juggles at least three endeavors. They swear he doesn’t sleep. “There’s a saying: If you really want to get something done, ask somebody that’s busy,” he laughs. The Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee and his wife are also founding members of the Desert X art exhibition and are passionate art collectors.
All parties agree: Chris Haines drives Pink Satellite. “My background from a very young age was racing. I’ve run that whole thing from start to finish, literally. Every race, every new machine you built, there was something to learn. Every time you line up at the start, it’s a new challenge to get faster and better. You have to evolve and reinvent yourself all the time. Music is the same way.”
Karen loves the collaborative dynamic. “We have two brilliant men, each experts in their fields, who have come together to build this studio. Chris will research something down to the final screw. Then Spike will look at it and go, ‘But how does it sound?’ And here we are.”
Busy schedules have been shuffled to host nights of music, food, and friendship with a view. “Nobody has room in their life to do something like this,” Edney says. “It’s that big unexpected thing that turns up. You make room for it because you realize it’s worthwhile.”
The studio appeals to the owners’ individual characters and strengths. Each of the four contributes effort and know-how. “We all have different roles and that makes it fun,” Karen says.
During Desert Trip last fall the owners held a soft launch. A few backline guys from the Rolling Stones took the gear for a spin. Edney assembled a group for the opening night. Friends in town from Nashville, L.A., and London converged on Pink Satellite to make merry and shout out song titles. The bash marked the studio’s first recording.
The founders’ enthusiasm for local music has them looking for ways to fuel the fire. Last year Edney served as a judge of the Tachevah Music Showcase. Part of the prize was recording two tracks with Edney as producer.
Pink Satellite gives emerging performers a break. “The buzz you get when a bunch of guys are in a room together making music is something a whole swath of younger musicians haven’t experienced. And would never probably be able to afford,” he says. Established musicians pay their way at Pink Satellite. Unsigned talent may be able to earn their way in. “We’re going to do a two-tier thing so musicians have a chance to do something I took for granted. My generation grew up with Abbey Road around the corner.”
In another effort to help launch budding careers, the foursome plans to record and produce a series of compilation albums on vinyl called Sounds of Joshua Tree. Each track will capture the atmospheric desert sound. “It reminds me of our visit to Sun Studios in Memphis,” Kyle says, recalling the haunt that Elvis and Johnny Cash put on the map. “Their history is all about people who came out of the woodwork to play together without a structured recording session. And look what it produced. I’m hoping Pink Satellite becomes that kind of place. What’s going to be great is what we discover.”
Edney’s projects include forming his own all-stars group and preparing for the upcoming Queen and Adam Lambert tour. Fronted by Lambert, the American Idol front-runner-turned-platinum-artist, their summer tours have sold out arenas worldwide the last two years. Edney emailed his Queen bandmates from his Joshua Tree cabin the moment he saw Lambert on Idol. As a solo artist, Lambert is writing and recording for his fourth album. (The remote location goes hand in hand with Lambert’s aptly titled smash single “Ghost Town” on his latest album The Original High.) The new studio and the natural setting of the desert getaway were good medicine for a touring megastar and a muse for his new material.
Inquiries for studio use are steady, from L.A. acts to a European classical pianist. Vinyl is back. Classic rock is acceptably cool again. Even millennials have decided it’s OK to leave their bedrooms, stop making music on their computers, and come play on vintage strings.
“You want your instruments to have heritage. You want amplifiers to be old. But you want your equipment to be modern because you don’t want it breaking down,” Edney says. “We have the best of both worlds.”
A vintage Gibson takes a well-deserved breather.
Karen’s role enables artists to crash at Pink Satellite after a long day in the studio. Her interior design background washes across its rock-glam interior. The walls of three bedrooms are swathed in electric color. A full kitchen can accommodate a catering team or Karen’s addictive Spa Girl cocktails and munchies. Out back, the 1976 Silver Streak trailer hides another bedroom and kitchenette. Neighboring cabins and Airstreams are also available.
“I turned professional in 1970. I’ve spent all my life in studios. The last thing I ever wanted to own is a studio,” Edney says. He and Kyle adopted Joshua Tree for its peace and quiet. “There’s something about this place. Everybody says so. One of our guests just said, ‘When you look out the window and see that view, you can believe anything is possible.’ The desert instills something in you and makes you feel good about your life. It wipes the slate clean.” Edney says the studio has opened up a world of potential. “Maybe the universe knows when it’s time to give you something. It presented us with this opportunity by Chris buying this place and talking about a man cave. And I think that this has been given to me at a time when I can actually do something proper and productive and not lie in my hammock all day and drink martinis. I’ll save that for the weekends.”
Meantime, the studio is predicated on passion — not profit. “If we were trying to make money we wouldn’t be doing this,” says Haines. “We’re all here because life’s too short. At the end of the day you never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse, have you?”
A betting man might put his Benjis on a Pink Satellite record label, a new High Desert Coachella-style fest, and a pink landing strip — all with four friends behind it. But a betting man might not have taken 12 right turns to find the Silver Streak trailer, tray of pear martinis, and Eric Clapton’s touring guitars. If Robert Plant penned some lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” in one day inside a drafty Hampshire poorhouse, a gambler might start pushing his tall stack of chips over to this swanky pink house in the High Desert.
The Pink Satellite in all its Pepto-Bizmo-hued glory as evening falls and instruments are tuned for some night sessions.