With no traffic, Montauk is only a little more than a two-hour drive from New York City, two-forty-five if you take the Long Island Jitney. That’s the time domain. In the frequency domain, and every other domain out there, it might as well be on another planet, or at least the last exit at the end of the world.
Last October, longtime friend and longtime audio industry PR maven Howard Sherman drove me out to his place near Montauk following four days at the AES Show in Manhattan. He said it was in “the Hamptons,” and I thought to myself before setting off, “The Hamptons? Howard, you make far more money than I thought!” But this wasn’t the Hamptons of legend, or at least the way the rest of the country thinks of far-east Long Island. I never saw an estate, a McMansion, a 200-foot yacht, or even a helicopter that wasn’t military. I saw wide-open fields, beautiful pastures, tree farms, and off to the right, the rolling Atlantic Ocean. It’s a beautiful piece of America.
While there, we stopped in at Carter Burwell’s stunning new WSDG-designed studio in his stunning, relatively new, Maziar Behrooz-designed home. It sits on a dune overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with nothing but some scrub grass and sand between his writing room and the waves. From his living room and from his writing room, each dominated by clean lines, bold whites and lots and lots of glass, the sightlines extend to infinity.
Burwell bought the home 10 years ago and began an extensive renovation, the final piece being Encore, his studio, which officially opened late last year. On the drive out, I remember thinking, “But he’s a lifetime New Yorker, a punk rocker at heart. What’s he doing out here?” Now I know why, and after spending a few hours at his home, it all makes sense.
“Before I was married, before I had kids, I lived a fairly itinerant life, as musicians do,” Burwell says. “And I would go back and forth between Manhattan and Big Sur out in Central California. I had rented a house in Big Sur for about 10 years. It was completely off grid, so it had a very primitive solar panel, no telephone, no TV reception or radio. I loved it, and I felt like Manhattan and Big Sur made a really good balance—both sort of on the edge of something. And they both attract people who are a little bit edgy, a little bit off, non-mainstream. I really liked that balance between the urban environment and one that is, you know, extremely non-urban.
“But once you have kids, you kind of have to settle in one place,” he continues. “At the same time, about 10 years ago New York started to really get on my nerves when I had to be there basically every day for a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York; I had lived there the past 30 years. But out here at the end of Long Island, it’s close enough to the City, and there are enough people that we know who come out here, at least in the summer. So that’s how we ended up here.”
One of the attractions Burwell found when he first started looking for a place to relocate is that Montauk is still largely agricultural, to the tune that 70 percent of the land is protected. It cannot be built on anymore. “That completely shifted my thoughts about the area,” Burwell says. “Until then, I thought that when people say the Hamptons you think of big mansions and overstatements. In fact, it’s this rare natural environment that has been protected by law.”
It’s also about raising kids, taking them to school and becoming part of a community. Much of Montauk is made up of second homes, for people visiting in the summer. But Burwell didn’t want a second home; he wanted a community that he could be a part of, something strangely missing in Manhattan, where anonymity in a swirl of 8 million people is normal. And neighbors don’t know their neighbors.
“I’m not the visiting entertainment industry person who is spending a summer here,” he concludes. “You take your kids to school here, meet the other parents. And I really did want to jump into the community. So did the whole family. We try to do what we can to participate. And it’s been wonderful.”
To that end, besides shopping in the local market, knowing his neighbors and bringing a sense of calm to his personal life, Burwell has become a member of the volunteer Fire Department. And at a recent July Fourth town celebration, when asked if he would perform a song or two, he jumped on stage and played the “Star Spangled Banner” on accordion. How punk is that?