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Why Kansas City musician recorded an album in a Cold War missile silo

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Russia keeps threatening to use nuclear weapons. The United States, China, North Korea - they're all beefing up their arsenals. Meanwhile, a Kansas City musician set up his pedal steel guitar in a Cold War missile silo to record a hopeful reminder that nuclear war is not inevitable. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Nate Hofer cut his teeth playing pedal steel guitar in country and western bands.

(SOUNDBITE OF REX HOBART AND THE MISERY BOYS SONG, "FOREVER ALWAYS ENDS")

MORRIS: Hofer's first solo record comes from a very different place.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HOFER'S "NOVEMBER-05 HIGGINSVILLE")

MORRIS: Hofer recorded this album in a 60-some-year-old intercontinental ballistic missile silo near Wilson, Kan.

MATTHEW FULKERSON: Are you guys ready to go underground?

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANKING)

FULKERSON: All right, come on down.

MORRIS: Matthew Fulkerson, the guy who owns this decommissioned Atlas F missile base, is giving a tour.

FULKERSON: Yeah. The sign says - what? - warning, 150-foot open silo shaft exists at the end of tunnel beyond this door or something like that. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)

MORRIS: A heavy, corroded door opens on a cavernous underground silo, looking like something out of "Star Wars." Massive, rusty machinery hangs from the walls. Epoxy oozes from the 70-ton blast doors high above. Nate Hofer, a tall, slender guy in a cheery Hiroshima baseball cap, stands at the precipice, enjoying the acoustics.

NATE HOFER: So we'll - I'm going to get loud here for a second just so it can carry. All right. Echo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUT ECHOING)

HOFER: That's a good five seconds, which is amazing to play into - you know, pedal steel guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HOFER'S "ECHO-07 SEDALIA")

MORRIS: Pedal steel guitar is a strange and complicated instrument, typically a shiny, steel table with 20 strings on top, played with metal picks and a metal slide, plus foot and knee pedals to bend notes. Twentieth-century technology came into its own about the same time as nuclear weapons, but the two never gelled until now.

HOFER: The guitar players and pedal steel players have reverb effects pedals that we can use all the time. But for this recording, I didn't do any of that because I knew that this echo here would be even better and be perfect for the recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HOFER'S "ECHO-07 SEDALIA")

MORRIS: Hofer grew up in the 1980s near a sprawling Army ammunition plant. He's been concerned about nuclear war since first grade. His stepdad's attempt at soothing didn't help.

HOFER: He told me not to worry because if World War III were to happen, we would be gone like that.

MORRIS: Hofer's doing what he can to head off nuclear apocalypse. His aerial photography of decommissioned nuclear missile sites in Missouri won a Global Peace Photo award. That's what peace looks like, judges said. He's going for the same vibe with his new record, which is called "Decommissioned," not what you might expect from underground doomsday missile base music.

HOFER: Like, oh, it's going to be dystopian. It's - oh, it's about nuclear war? OK, it's going to be creepy. Like, well, no, actually, it's just the opposite. I want to open people up with this music. I want it to be soothing and relaxing. This album was recorded in a decommissioned missile silo. It's highlighting what's missing. This is an empty nuclear missile silo. Hey, maybe we don't need as many of these as we thought, or maybe we don't need them at all, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HOFER'S "MIKE-11 PITTSVILLE")

MORRIS: Hofer does not expect his new record to stave off nuclear war, but he hopes it'll give listeners the peace of mind to contemplate turning things around.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE HOFER'S "MIKE-11 PITTSVILLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Morris
[Copyright 2024 NPR]