Barrelhouse Music’s unique Pilsen recording studio

When composer / producer / engineer Joe Hurt and his partner, singer/songwriter Grant DeNapoli, decided to open their Barrelhouse Music recording studio last year, rather than going downtown they opted for an address in the heart of Pilsen.

Their unique, two-story, 2,000-sq. ft. studio at 1711 S. Halsted, with 1,000-sq. ft. on each floor, “makes you feel like you’re walking into a light and bright studio in Venice, California, instead of Chicago,” says Hurt.

On the first floor is the open space live room, where any genre of sound they’re going for can be recorded. It has hardwood floors, a grand piano, a 1965 Zenith record player and a modern kitchen.

The recording studio with one vocal booth is on the second floor. There’s an assortment of software — ProTools, Logic and Abelton, the latest in top-line microphones, and what Hurt calls “a massive sound library of instrumentals.”

Mixed with the modern look are 1920s-1960s aesthetics, such as Hurt’s desk — a 1920’s Chickering upright piano that the partners converted into a desk by removing the hammers in the middle of the piano.

Barrelhouse is part recording for commercials and other visual media, and part a production studio for artists to use, describes Hurt.

He is a pianist who was playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio when he was 16 and in high school. He was barely older at 19 when Spank Music hired him in 1999 to write and produce film scores. His first scoring job was a 2000 film for Off The Street Club.

DeNapoli, a guitar player and singer/songwriter, attended Berklee College of Music but didn’t go into the music business after Berklee and a year at Columbia College. Instead, he began a job at the Chicago Board of Trade as a commodities trader by day, while continuing to write and perform music at night. He left LaSalle Street in 2012 to focus on his music career.

The two musicians decided to team up in 2015 when Hurt got a job scoring a Subaru spot via music supervisors The Cutting Edge Group of LA, while he was living in Nice, France and freelance-composing for Chicago music houses. He continues to travel between the US and Europe, producing artists globally mainly for licensing and commercials.

In Chicago, DeNapoli wrote the lyrics and sent Hurt an audio file of him singing and playing the guitar, which Hurt turned into a full band score.

Upon Hurt’s return to Chicago shortly thereafter, the two composers opened Barrelhouse in 2016 with Hurt doing some of the sound design/engineering and DeNapoli producing and serving as business manager.

Some of their clients to date have been the score and sound design for the opening titles of the video game “Watch Dogs 2” for famous Ubisoft gaming company of Montreal, in collaboration with MK12 animation company of Kansas City.

Barrelhouse also provided the music for an SC Johnson Glade experiential event, “The Autumn Nights,” held at the Regal Theatre and scored Morton Salt’s web series, “The Next Door Chef.”