Un-rock Star

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Things went so well that Abbruzzese decided to set up a residence in the Dallas area to be closer to the other members. With a band name now, Green Romance Orchestra (taken from the title for a chintzy souvenir diorama of frogs holding musical instruments), he and his new bandmates envisioned a fully equipped retreat where they could conveniently continue with their late-night sessions.

Slavens scouted out a property for conversion into a "studio retreat." He discovered a 6,000-square-foot house, situated in the midst of 600 acres on the outskirts of Denton. The only access to it is a narrow gravel road. Castell moved into the "ranch"--as Abbruzzese and his colleagues call it--and combined his and Abbruzzese's recording equipment to build an elaborate studio.

The house itself is less in the traditional Texas ranch style than what could be termed more accurately "institutional hell." Wood paneling covers most of its interior walls. Hallways are long, wide, and dimly lit and have low ceilings. Bathrooms feel like public restrooms with baths. The kitchen has a restaurant vibe, an area where massive amounts of food might be prepared. The color scheme is faux woodgrain.

As Abbruzzese observes, the building's feng shui is way off. As it turns out, the building had at one time been converted to serve as a facility for mentally disabled youth.

Now, the compoundlike house has been transformed into a sprawling, state-of-the-art recording studio. One of the large rooms is cluttered with the inventory of a small music instrument shop--electric guitars, keyboards, and mikes, and plenty of electric cables snaking all over the floor.

In an adjoining large room, Abbruzzese's drums, including the white set he used while touring with Pearl Jam, are set up, ready for immediate use.

Recording command central has been established in the master bedroom across the hall where the temperature runs nearly 10 degrees higher because of heat generated by the recording and computer equipment. Sitting in front of the red and green lights of the mixing board, and swiveling in his chair to computer monitors, Castell looks like a propulsion engineer monitoring a rocket launch.

During recording sessions, Slavens often spends his time in confinement. He and his instrument--his singing voice--get shut in a tiny room that might have been the laundry or a walk-in closet.

Even though every imaginable piece of equipment and necessary amenity has been brought in to build this ideal musicians' retreat, the building's lousy feng shui may have ultimately reigned supreme. Abbruzzese feels the band's initial jam sessions in its new creative environment have resulted in a darker sound than that on the first CD.

Since April, the musicians have amassed hundreds of recorded hours of music. Every sound made near a live microphone--no matter how insignificant, silly, or bad--has been recorded, logged, and saved. Six months later, Abbruzzese and Castell are wrapping up final mixes for songs to be selected for a second CD. This will be GRO's first official album, to be released and distributed by the New York-based Madison label.

"Granted, I definitely know a lot of it is due to the fact I was in that huge band," Abbruzzese says. "But I'm not stupid enough not to take advantage of it--to not know that something really good can come out of those years."

The freight train has passed, and the group returns to the ranch house. Asked what he meant when he made his announcement to his fellow Green Romance Orchestra members that he was "freed" from Pearl Jam, Abbruzzese will only breeze over the general facts: The details of a settlement and legally binding agreement with Pearl Jam were hammered out. For two years, these matters had been lingering and weren't resolved until that day.

So Abbruzzese seems even more jazzed than usual. It's more than a sense of relief; it's a major step toward putting the recent past behind him.

He talks of plans to move out of his home in Seattle, a "crow's nest" high above the city. He and his girlfriend are looking for property in a close-knit island community near Seattle--a charming place where residents give you extra raspberries they've picked. He hopes they'll find a home with pleasing, inspiring architecture and build a quaint, little fence around the yard. Abbruzzese, who has always lived for the moment, is finally thinking about the future.

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Howard Wen