Secret Studio is ready to let people in

Following three years of pandemic-driven challenges, the Franklinton space dreamed up by engineer Keith Hanlon and poet Amy Turn Sharp is moving closer to its creators’ original vision.
Secret Studio founders Amy Turn Sharp and Keith Hanlon
Secret Studio founders Amy Turn Sharp and Keith HanlonCourtesy Amy Turn Sharp

Secret Studio closed the day it opened.

Following months of planning, fundraising and construction, the Franklinton recording studio and art gallery – a brainchild of its cofounders, engineer Keith Hanlon and poet Amy Turn Sharp – planned an epic opening weekend that included a live performance from Lydia Loveless, who had just completed work on their album Daughter.

The date of that grand opening? March 13, 2020.

A quick summary of what happened next: The gallery announced it was closing amid a newly emerging coronavirus pandemic and the Loveless show shifted to another venue. After a prolonged shutdown, Secret Studio gradually opened its doors for socially distanced art shows, leaning hard into the gallery end of operations as a means of sustaining itself, crediting neighbors like Roy G Biv and the Vanderelli Room with helping it navigate the art world. The construction of an outdoor stage for concerts and festivals followed, along with the introduction of songwriting workshops, the initial vision for the multifaceted space slowly coming into focus.

Recently, Secret Studio took even larger steps toward fulfilling these initial goals, first bringing Loveless in as a recording engineer, and then more recently adding Caeleigh Featherstone (Mukiss, Saintseneca), who, along with Hanlon, will give the studio a formidable trio of engineers.

“Basically, I feel like the ship has all of the people it needs now to sail it,” Turn Sharp said during an early December interview at the space, joined by Hanlon, Loveless and fellow musician Sam Corlett. “Now we just need the world to start acting right.”

Initially, this piece was going to operate, in part, as a preview of a trio of intimate Secret Studio shows headlined by Columbus expat Dane Terry and featuring Loveless and Corlett, who will perform alongside the West Ghost. In a repeat of March 2020, however, COVID had other ideas. In a Facebook message sent to me this morning (Friday, Dec. 16), Turn Sharp relayed that she, Hanlon and Loveless had all been struck by COVID, though the Terry shows would still take place this weekend absent the founders and with Nikki Wonder and Scott Gorsuch stepping in for Loveless. 

But where the 2020 cancellation felt like stepping into an abyss, this particular shakeup feels like little more than a temporary blip for a space that is rapidly building its own tight-knit community within Franklinton. 

“Now, we’re reaching a point where it’s like, ‘This is what we wanted to do in the beginning,’” Turn Sharp said. “We still want to do art, and we still want to do workshops and other things, but we want to have music, and Keith really wanted to have female engineers. Also, I’m more confident in this business now, and the sense of what I want to bring to this community. It feels so much like home, and family.”

Lydia Loveless
Lydia LovelessAmy Turn Sharp

This growing familial vibe revealed itself in Loveless’ history with the space, which they credited with helping them regain their footing following a rocky personal stretch. During the height of COVID, the Columbus native, who had relocated to North Carolina with their then-partner, moved back home, initially settling a stone’s throw from Secret Studio.

“My relationship was about to tank, so I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I should just move back to Columbus and start helping out [at Secret Studio] as much as I can,” said Loveless, who wrote the bulk of their next album hanging out in the space, sleeping on Turn Sharp’s couch and watching Hanlon engineer sessions. “At the time, I just felt like a loser who was bumming around and taking up studio time. Now, looking back, I have a much rosier view of things.”

Loveless said their still-to-be-announced new album – their first since Daughter surfaced in September 2020 – is simpler and “less wordy” than its predecessors. “It was the first time I was writing songs where … I wasn’t trying to get so complicated,” they said. “I think this is probably the most punch I’ve packed into my lyrics, and without being so verbose, and I think that was probably a product of being alone so much and being alone in here (Secret Studio).”

Corlett, who has recorded a series of recent singles with Hanlon, recalled having early conversations with the engineer about plans for the studio, which consists of spaces that reflect the sensibilities of both founders. “It’s been really amazing to see their vision come to reality,” said Corlett, who described Secret Studio’s recording space as reflective of Hanlon’s welcoming approach to music-making. “For me, what stood out is that he was facilitating, and asking me what I wanted to do [in sessions], to where I very much felt like a producer of my own song.”

Sam Corlett
Sam CorlettKate Sweeney

Corlett and Loveless said the living area, outfitted with colorfully patterned couches and unique design touches, reflects Turn Sharp’s similarly colorful, inviting personality.

“It’s very much like hanging out at your cool parents’ house,” Loveless said, and laughed, “which probably doesn’t sound very nice, but…”

As if on cue, Turn Sharp passed through around this time in the interview, dropping a load of snacks off on the table and quickly exiting.

“I’ve taught a couple of workshops here, and helped Amy with hers, too, and this is very much a chill area,” Loveless said. “I’m basically making people read diary entries, so I was glad that relaxed vibe comes across in this room, where it’s not like you’re sitting in a conference room.”

While the studio's most recent bout with COVID has served as a reminder that bouncing back from the pandemic is going to be a process, the founders expressed confidence at the strong footing developed over these challenging three years.

“It’s not gonna be overnight, and it might take a little while longer,” Hanlon said of Secret Studio stepping into the fully realized version of itself first hatched years ago in conversations with Turn Sharp. “We’ve had a lot of plans and now we’re finally able to do it. And it’s awesome.”

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