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Ninkasi Desert Sessions

Oct 26, 2015 Comments (1) Ninkasi Desert Sessions

ICYMI: Ninkasi has its very own recording studio at the brewery.

Ninkasi Studios has let us deepen our support for partner artists with music production, engineering and recording, album pressing sponsorships, assistance in tours and bookings, and opportunities to showcase their music at Ninkasi signature events. Plus, it’s allowed us to release our first-ever original album: Dawn of the Red Compilation EP (which you should immediately make the soundtrack for your Halloween by downloading it for free!).


Earlier this month, Ninkasi Studios took its show on the road to visit Joshua Tree for the Ninkasi Desert Sessions, where a group of our partner artists joined us at Rancho De La Luna Studios.

A close friend of the brewery, who owns and lives at Rancho De La Luna, kindly invited James Book, our musical mastermind and recording guru, to bring these artists down as a way to get one-of-kind creative inspiration and “the desert sound” onto existing and new recordings.

We checked in with James to find out more about the trip.

What was the inspiration behind Ninkasi Studio’s trip to Joshua Tree?

JB: As part of the support we provide to our partner artists, I’ve played the role of the music producer and/or audio engineer to create new master recordings and pressings. This lets our artists sell copies on the road to help sustain their touring efforts. We’re basically operating similarly to a record label but without selling our partners’ music for profit to Ninkasi. This unique support lets us develop close creative ties and friendships with our artists.

James is the one flexing his "muscles", next to all of his friends from Vokab Kompany. Photo: Vokab Kompany

Through my past (and current) music industry ties (editor’s note: James was a very successful musician himself before he joined the brewery), I have been fortunate enough to build a significant network of industry friends that sometimes lets Ninkasi pass along unique creative opportunities to our artists –The Ninkasi Desert Sessions at Rancho De La Luna Studios, which is a private residence of a close friend, is a prime example.

Photo: Vokab Kompany.

Working on existing and new material with each of our three bands in the desert was a lot of fun and the unique studio environment pushed each band farther musically than they would have done on their own, which is the producer’s role.

Like the Joshua Tree itself, a tree that exists nowhere else on the planet, our shared musical and social experiences during our time in the desert together were one-of-a-kind and won’t soon be forgotten. The music made will be testament to the experience.  

Which Ninkasi partner artists joined the group?

JB: Haunted Summer from Los Angeles, Vokab Kompany and Gayle Skidmore from San Diego. Our Artist in Residence Neal Williams also joined us for the trip. 

(Editor’s note: Neal has many close ties to music himself as he both plays in the band Gazelle(s) and has illustrated gig posters for clients including Queens of the Stone Age (who have done a lot of groundbreaking work at the Rancho themselves!), Dave Matthews Band, Interpol, The Head and The Heart, Andrew Bird, Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr., Low, Russian Circles, and Neurosis. So it was fitting he was able to join and document the trip with his freehand illustrations, enhanced by his own rock and roll perspective and personal connection to the place.)

Art and photo from Neal. 

We were graced by super-producer and pioneer of the desert sound, Chris Goss and by Rancho resident and steward Dave Catching from Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal.

Gayle Skidmore and Dave Catching. Photo: Gayle Skidmore

(At one point Dave had to drive into LA to play on Jimmy Kimmel during our stay--we were honored that both played on our tracks!)

Give us a quick rundown of what it’s like at Rancho De La Luna.

JB: The Rancho is relaxed-except for the occasional tourist trying to sneak a peek of the Rancho, which has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways.

Photo: Gayle Skidmore

Each wall in every room of the Rancho is covered in rare and vintage instruments from floor to ceiling–if you are a musician there is no way to stand within any part of the studio without your muse escaping through one of them.  The place is alive with history, musical legacy and undeniable desert energy. There is an outpost of Hollywood escapees in Joshua Tree so the artistic vibe is thick in general –think Warhol meets Mad Max except instead of gas, everyone is fighting for artistic and off-the-grid freedom.

What kind of projects were the artists all working on in the desert? New albums, new songs, collaborations, recording, writing? Fill us in!

JB: Haunted Summer continued the work they’ve been doing for their new record at Ninkasi Studios in Eugene. We used their Rancho session to record a new song appropriately titled “Spirit Guide” that will also appear on this upcoming album.

Vokab Kompany stopped through on tour to push the limits of their hip hop/electronic dance music sound. Since the Rancho and the whole desert vibe is quite art-rock centered, we had no idea what we’d come up with –but what we got was organic instrumentation and desert-inspired performances that we will now take further in the electronic production realm –the results should be groundbreaking!

Gayle Skidmore started recording her 20th album at Ninkasi Studios in September. After a month of tracking at our studio in Eugene, it was time to take the sessions to a deeper place and Joshua Tree was a perfect setting for this.

Photo: Gayle Skidmore

The three bands, our documentary filmmaker Aaron Marineau, and our Artist in Residence Neal Williams all stayed the week in the Ninkasi House right at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. Between that setting, a live gig at the Joshua Tree Saloon and full days and nights at the Rancho, creative content was bubbling up from the sand and we captured it all for our documentary that we hope to complete by December.

What was the preferred beer for the recording studio?

JB: Dawn of the Red, Total Domination, Lux, and Maiden the Shade.

What did you all do to kill time in the desert when you weren’t recording?

JB: I worked seven 14-hour days (then drove home for 25 more straight hours) so I wasn’t doing much that wasn’t either eating, sleeping or producing. Our artists enjoyed BBQs, the Draconid Meteor Shower and hiking, camping and biking in Joshua Tree National Park. We also shared many meals and soirees at neighboring desert compounds. 

Photo courtesy of our bike-loving Artist in Residence

Hospitality is flowing in the desert!

Was Ninkasi Desert Sessions a success?

JB: Overwhelmingly. Can’t wait to share the new music and our film with the world.

When can we feast our ears on some of the great music from Joshua Tree?

JB: We hope to have some of it completed as backdrop for the documentary late in 2015, otherwise new music from Haunted Summer, Vokab Kompany and Gayle Skidmore that will be released in 2016 will include the work from Rancho.

Comments (1)

  1. James Book:
    Sep 19, 2016 at 11:50 AM

    Here is the documentary film short from The Ninkasi Desert Sessions (shot and edited by Aaron Marineau (

    -James / Ninkasi

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