Seattle Musician Couple Builds Gothic Looking Recording Studio and Writes Songs About Death, Darkness, and the Duality of Existence
By Jennifer L. Jacobson
Seattle musician couple Joe and Karyn Reineke have something really special; a 16th-century themed Gothic cathedral-esque recording studio in their backyard. Their band, Society of the Silver Cross, features dark, meditative hypnotic-goth songs about life, death and the nature of existence. Their music has been described as yogic metal and George Harrison driving a hearse. If any Seattle band was ever ready for Halloween, it’s them.
Joe Reineke, formerly of San Francisco’s The Meices, and Seattle’s Alien Crime Syndicate, had been signed to major labels three times in his career, and started the now renowned Orbit Audio, a legacy Seattle studio (20 years ago). They have worked with Mackelmore, Andre 3000, and Beyoncé, as well as many up-and-coming artists. Joe and Karyn are also founders of Seattle Recording Arts, which they founded to help future music producers get real-world experience in the industry. The couple has dedicated themselves to music and making music.
But during the pandemic lockdown, Joe and Karyn felt especially drawn to a special, magical wooded place in their backyard. Three years later, they opened Temple of the Trees, which has been called Seattle’s most unique recording studio. Now they’re ready to share it with like-minded musicians.
The story of how this band and studio came to be is filled with coincidence, curiosity, and the occasional portal to another realm. But then again, isn’t every good Halloween story?
How Did You Two Meet?
Joe: In retrospect it feels like fate. Karyn and I met thirteen years ago at a Christmas dinner party hosted by my best friend. I had brought a mac and cheese dish from the famous Threadgill’s restaurant cookbook and it turned out to be the only vegetarian dish there. Since Karyn was a vegetarian, it was the only thing she could eat.
Karyn: I almost didn’t even go to that party. Normally, I spent Christmas with my family, but since my mom was out of town, I was planning to stay home. But my friend called and said, “Put your party clothes on,” and she drug me out to this dinner party. I was looking at the food and every single dish had some kind of meat in it; the vegetables, even the salad! So the mac and cheese saved me, and I ended up sitting next to Joe. We had a lot in common, we were both musicians, and we just hit it off. We started hanging out and eventually Joe came over to my house and never left.
Joe: In a weird way, the concept of soap is something that kind of connected us. Karyn happened to have a business making high-end soaps and perfume. And my first band, The Meices, had a song called Don’t Let the Soap Run Out. That song played a big role in getting The Meices signed in 1993. So from writing a song about soap, to meeting this woman who made soap-it was kind of a full-circle moment for me.
When Did You Start Making Music Together?
Karyn: We didn’t set out to form a band, it just evolved by circumstance. In 2015 Joe was starting a new solo project and planning some shows in Europe. He asked if I wanted to accompany him. As a lifelong singer and musician who plays the piano, guitar, and harmonium, I said yes. We ended up writing our first song together and included it in the set list on tour. That solo project evolved into a completely different entity. Different places on tour would inspire us and we started writing more songs together and realized we were on to something. It was really organic.
Joe: We were touring under my name, but as things evolved, we wanted to call this new entity something else. We found the band name in an art museum in Amsterdam. There was this 14th century work featuring a Dutch-Army-medic-Santa-looking character. We were both drawn to it. Since music has a healing aspect, we named the band after the painting, Society of the Silver Cross.
You Built a Recording Studio in Your Backyard. How Did That Happen?
Karyn: Our backyard has always been a special place, it has these big maple trees and this really grounding sense of calm. It very much feels like there’s a conscious presence there that connects you with another realm, like a portal. While we have another recording studio, Orbit Audio, in downtown Seattle, we also wanted to make something that was really unique and personal, with a very intentional aesthetic, where we could be inspired to make our music. When the pandemic started and everyone was confined to their homes, the idea hit me out of nowhere one day. I heard an unmistakable voice inside say, “you need to build this!” I told Joe and he agreed. At the time, we didn’t realize the amount of work we were signing up for, but intuitively, we knew it was the right thing to do.
Joe: Always listen to your wife! Karyn was absolutely right about this. It took three years and tons of work, and we did most of the work ourselves, wearing out several pairs of pants and work shirts. At times it felt like a never-ending project, but things always worked out. Permits, finding the right artisans, finding the right materials, it all just fell into place once piece at a time. We sourced much of the studio’s interior wood from the very trees that grew where the studio stands now. I had this amazing three hundred year old Gothic cathedral door from England I’d collected and kept for over two decades waiting for just the right project. It’s now the front door of the studio.
Karyn: There are some places on Earth that have a very specific feeling, like, you go there and you’re on another plane of existence. This is one of those places, and now the trees are living on in a new form. Before we even started, we talked to the land, to the space – tuning into what it wanted to be. It really seems to have its own consciousness! Ultimately, it is here to offer artists a transportive experience, like stepping inside a magical dimension that is fully supportive of the creative process.
Joe: Every square inch inside and out was thoughtfully cared for down to the smallest details. When we milled the wood from the trees, dried it, planed and stained it, it revealed this beautiful interior, with unique lines, marbling and knots, that would otherwise never be seen. Now those planks adorn our Live Room’s twenty-foot walls and people are really wowed by it. I feel like that’s what music does, it exposes who we are on the inside. It tunes us into another frequency altogether.
How Would You Describe Your Music and Creative Process?
Karyn: Our themes tend to be meditative and of a spiritual nature, influenced largely by Eastern wisdom, and going beyond the physical plane’s duality of darkness and light. Our music focuses a lot on death, which people often interpret as macabre, but it’s such a beautiful part of life; without death, there wouldn’t be life. There’s a universal connection to darkness; everyone experiences loss and sorrow, but we want to help people put their sorrows to rest at a funeral, so to speak. In letting go, there is permission to live life more fully. Our song, The Mighty Factory of Death, is about the gift of death. As one cycle ends, it brings respite followed by rebirth. In a sense, we live this out each day as we begin again. Playing with concepts of life and death, and not taking it all so seriously helps us look beyond the material world and keep things in perspective. It’s a common theme we like to explore, but from a light hearted and curious perspective rather than gloom and doom.
Joe: We hope our music draws listeners in and invites them to experience something. Our songs are like meditations; they bring up an idea and then just go with it. In songwriting, if your idea is too literal or specific, it’s hard for people to connect with and it’s like a constantly moving target. So we make our music more contemplative and ethereal. Art comes from the person witnessing it, rather than the art itself. When we witness art, it’s something in our minds and no longer just the thing that was created.
Would You Say This Is a Good Time for Music?
Joe: Music unlocks things in your mind, in your soul, in a really unique way, so I believe it’s ALWAYS an exciting time for music, because people are naturally drawn to it. Sure, there are people in the world that boo everything and keep going on about how everything sucks, but I think it’s always an exciting time for music and it always has been. I also think finding great music and music that resonates is, and has always been, challenging. It was never easy, and I don’t think it should be. It’s highly personal. It’s how we connect, it’s how we celebrate. Hey, a party isn’t a party without music!
Karyn: It’s a wonderful time to be creative and the world really needs it. The earth has been here for 4.5 billion years and the universe for about 13 billion years, and we’re here for what, eighty years or so, if we’re lucky? In a hundred years, most likely no one will remember you. The here and now is such a gift – so use it. Death has a number for us all and we won’t outrun it, so it’s important to remember how short and precious our time here is. When you honor that death is coming, you appreciate what you have in front of you. It helps you focus on joy, purpose and to be grateful for everything, no matter what it is, no matter the labels. It keeps you grateful that you are here to simply witness and dance with life in all its catastrophic glory.