From Arlington to Nirvana
Music producer Barrett Jones got his start recording punk bands in Arlington. Now his discography includes some of the biggest names in rock, grunge and folk.
Barrett Jones will never forget the day the hyperactive but talented 14-year-old guitarist entered the recording studio Jones had built in the laundry room of his childhood home near Lorcom Lane. The guitarist’s band was called Freak Baby, and they’d come to record the kind of blistering punk rock that dominated Washington, D.C.’s underground music scene in the 1980s. That same kid returned to record with Jones a few months later, but this time, he had switched to the drums. His name was Dave Grohl.
“I remember just being blown away by how fast he played,” says Jones, who was only in his late teens himself. “People often say he was like Animal from the Muppets, and he was. It was just total energy.”
Thus began an enduring friendship and creative partnership. Born and raised in Arlington, Jones is the founder of Seattle’s Laundry Room Studio—named for the first place he recorded music. He relocated to Seattle in 1991, soon after Grohl became the drummer for Nirvana. In addition to recording solo work from Grohl (some of which became songs for Grohl’s current band, Foo Fighters), Jones produced three Nirvana tracks (“Return of the Rat,” “Oh, the Guilt” and “Curmudgeon”), as well as music from Melvins, Jimmy Eat World, and members of Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Jones was a musical kid, taking piano lessons and playing guitar with his brother. After transferring from Washington-Lee High School (now Washington-Liberty) to H-B Woodlawn in 10th grade, he became the lead singer and guitarist in a cover band called the Survivors. He was around 16 when he began recording his own music using a portable cassette recorder and an entry-level mixer. “I like to figure things out, and I’ve always been technically minded,” he says. “Producing felt like a natural progression.”
In the punk underground of the ’80s, distributing your own music was the norm, so Jones’ skills put him in high demand. After high school, he moved to a group house near Route 50, another near Wilson Boulevard, and then another on North Upland Street, setting up increasingly professional recording equipment and mixing boards. He began producing music for local bands such as Velocity Girl and labels like Dischord, founded by D.C. punk legend Ian MacKaye. Later, Jones toured as a sound engineer with the D.C. band Scream (after Grohl became their drummer) and then with Nirvana as Grohl’s drum tech.
Jones has fond memories of his formative years in Arlington. “It was a flophouse for wayward teenagers, basically,” he says of his Route 50 house. “We recorded whenever we wanted and had a really good time.”