Small Green Door presents Tiny Shed, a creative laboratory where things fall apart and people come together. Step into the carpentry shed and discover the magic.
BY EMILY LAUTCH
I shimmy through the narrow opening of Small Green Door’s carpentry shed and timidly navigate around the sound equipment strewn about the space. I am intimidated by the prospect of talking to musicians. I am intimidated by high fidelity audio technology and the accompanying lingo I do not understand. Musicians have always struck me as the most serious artists, the most protective and esoteric with regards to their craft. I can’t help but feel as though I’m encroaching. I think about the music theory class I failed in 8th grade.
A head pops up from behind a stack of boxes. I’m greeted by Henry Tull, Small Green Door’s composer and sound engineer extraordinaire. He’s friendly and warm, wears a shirt that says “JAZZ,” and entirely lacks pretention. He walks with a bounce - as if moving through the world to invisible music. “One thing that’s really cool about this set-up is that we’re designing it so that it’s modular,” he tells me, unpacking microphones. “Paneling wise—if we get a rock band, a jazz band, an acoustic guitar player, anyone—we can transform to capture their specific sound as best we can.” Frank Valenzuela, one of the curators of the project, helps Henry unpack boxes; they are setting up for Tiny Shed, Small Green Door’s new multi-media musical incubator, a nod to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.
For the next hour, phrases entirely new to me whir through the air. The gentrification of music. Artistic integrity. Genuosity—my personal favorite—Frank’s hybrid of “genuine” and “generosity.” A word we don’t know; a concept we don’t know how badly we need. As photoshoots and brand meetings go on inside the studio space of Small Green Door, outback, in the carpentry shed, a music laboratory is being born. Leo Estevez, Small Green Door’s co-founder, is in charge of design. With Leo, everything is a metaphor. The use of a work shed turned modular music space is intentional. He stands next to me, wearing his signature knowing smile, as we watch a guest musician tune his guitar. “That’s the beauty of the studio,” he tells me, “things fall apart. You’re building something as you go, as moments are crumbling and disordering—that’s how you stumble upon the moment where you know it works.”
Intentionally or not, Music is something we consume every day. While streaming an artist’s latest single from Spotify, we don’t picture them in the studio plucking away and attempting failed chord progressions or breaking strings and fighting frustration. We receive a packaged finished product and expend no energy envisioning the process. Artists may say that blood, sweat, and tears went into an album or a film—but we don’t see that—and we know at the end of the day an artist’s job is to make things look as effortless as possible. As if they were struck by divine inspiration and out came a song. As a result, we have a legion of artists paralyzed by the mystification of the process, myself included. Where to begin and how to proceed.
There are some brave people out there interested in pulling the curtain aside—the Tiny Shed team being some of the best. They are interested in the process from start to finish. Trying to figure out how to exist in the world as an artist can feel like sitting at the bottom of a long and perilous staircase, obscured by shadows. How does one begin to climb when it seems so daunting? How to be genuine along the way? How to surmount the slippery steps of networking perils? How to jump through the hoops of shameless self-promotion that feel icky and unavoidable to many? How are careers built? Small Green Door’s Tiny Shed seeks to bridge the gap as best they can. Beyond providing multi-media marketing materials and potential performance opportunities for artists, this team is here to de-mystify the business aspect and give as much or as little creative input as artists desire.
Leo is a peddler of inspiration. I said this at lunch one day in jest—but as soon as it came out of my mouth it felt more like truth than a joke. He is peddling inspiration. To attract artists, he’s invested in materials and therefore the community. This is not a few mics in a shed, this is high-fidelity audio equipment juxtaposed against the backdrop of an unrefined workspace. I ask him what success would mean for this project: “It will be a success if musicians want to come.” The purpose is neither product nor profit—but rather a safe space for artists to create and a vast compendium of undiscovered art.
Art is, at its core, play. And there are startlingly few spaces in which we get to see artists jam without judgment and play without fear. It takes deliberate effort on a community level to create such a space. Small Green Door is looking to deliver more exposure to up-and-coming artists who are passionate and dedicated to their craft.
I spent the next few weeks as a fly on the wall of various Tiny Shed sessions, watching the late afternoon light dance over the shimmering faces of warm-hearted, radiant performers. I watched strangers become friends; in the time it took to load film into my camera a band had formed outside. No introductions necessary, only exchanges of “What do you play?” I met Michael Keehan—listened to his soul fly out, filling the room as his bluesy voice wailed. Tucked away with my notebook behind Dominique Carrieri, Tiny Shed’s project manager, as she mounted the camera for an intimate single shot, it was hard not to fall in love with everyone in the room. Michael’s laugh filled the shed, I couldn’t help but sway to his deep, gravelly voice. I frantically took down every word of his mystical story about stumbling upon a Tom Waits record in a gutter on a rainy night in San Francisco. The shed was really taking on a character of its own; they were looking for more artists. I had someone in mind—one of my dearest and most dedicated friends, musician Dani Hobbs.
I could tell they were nervous; it had been five years since they’d picked up a guitar. Life had gotten in the way. Admittedly, it is a strange invitation to be cordially invited to perform in a carpentry shed. As they were tuning their guitar, a string snapped. Leo stepped in, graciously offering his personal guitar for the afternoon. As Dani played I saw their confidence budding and sprouting anew. Years of pressure placed on a seed that just needed to be planted in more fertile soil. They were pushing upwards that day.
Performances are accompanied intermittently with kind and stimulating questions from Frank and Dominique. We chatted with Michael about eras long gone and the concert of his dreams; he said the shed felt homey, that it “reminded him of messing around in the living room with friends; that’s the sweet spot.” I learned new things about one of my closest friends as Dani opened up about their break from music: “I buckled under the weight of other people’s ideas about what I should sound like, or what was popular. Maybe I needed the break to be able to stand on my own and advocate for myself and my art.”
Whether Tiny Shed is a space to experiment for an afternoon, a step on the journey, or a catalyst for a fresh start—it’s so much more than a carpentry shed. There’s nothing more intimate. It’s a safe space to find the right riff or chord progression and to talk about gender and sexuality; it’s a safe place to be yourself—a space that gives the artistic process back to the artist. At the end of Dani’s session Dominique gently cut in, “It is our job to help you bridge the gap between your music and your community. Please let us know any way that we can help you do that.” Dani leaned back in their seat, eyes widening and wetting. “Wow. I hope you know what a big deal that is…” They exhaled.
“That is a gift.”