Ed Ackerson on Flowers Studio: We let stuff come to us
|Photo by Emily Utne|
|Ed Ackerson's band, BNLX|
GN: How did you turn a flower shop into a recording studio?
We worked with Dave Ahl, who is an acoustic contractor. I really wanted a high ceiling, after talking to mentors like my friend Paul Kolderie, who lives in Boston and works at Apache Studio, and Glyn Johns. Their advice was to create a high ceiling and get a lot of light, to make a place with some expanse to it. So we knocked out the second floor in the back half of the building to get the twenty-foot ceiling and have a real drum room.
The studio is deliberately designed so we can track live music. I really like setting up everybody in a room and having them play together, in the old school way of collaborative live music tracking, although many projects we do are isolated and multi-tracked in the modern way.
I wanted a room that was large enough and had the sight lines so we could set up a band like we did with the Replacements or in the Jayhawks' sessions. You can't beat the energy of setting up a bunch of people in a big studio, putting mikes on it and letting them go and that was on one of the main motivations between the design of the space.
I asked Glyn Johns what to do when I knock out the second floor and I have the high ceiling, because I'm not going to have the budget I need. He told me this story of a doing a remote recording for the rolling stones in this warehouse. The ceiling was too reflective so they went to a military surplus place and bought a bunch of parachutes and hung them from the ceiling filled with fiberglass insulation. So we bought some fabric and insulation and we love the sound. I swear it's the best sounding acoustic cloud I've ever heard.
That's one of those things you get with access to these old wizard dudes who have the tricks. That was our good fortune. The control room is the Fort Apache control room where they mixed the first two Pixies albums in there, and Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. and records that were iconic to me when I was a kid. I did a bunch of work there and loved that room, so I asked if they still had the blueprints. I was able to take those to Dave Ahl and shoehorn their control room into our building.
If you don't have an accurate sounding control room you do mixes and then you put them in your car and it sounds all weird, or give them to your friends, and they say it's got to much bass or its too bright. Having a control room with known sonic characteristics let us start running immediately with good results.
GN: Have you become one of those old wizards? Is anyone asking for your help to recreate Flowers?
There's not that many large-scale pro studios being made anymore. There was a time when major labels wer supporting projects with high budgets, but you don't see $100,000 albums anymore. Most of what we do now is for indie labels and is self-financed.
GN: Are professional recording studios endangered?
Well, we can do things here you can't do in a basement. We can set up eight people playing rock and roll 24 hours a day and it sounds awesome. There's a lot of gear here, and a lot of expertise.
Some pressures exist. The old model is not there anymore. People sell a quarter as many records as they used to. You can't spend a ton of money on a record anymore because you're not going to make it back.
Combine that with forces in real estate markets where a lot of big old warehouse spaces where studios used to be are being turned into condos. In New York, LA, and London, old studio spaces are going away because you cant have a 5,000 square foot place in Midtown anymore. Having a studio that can charge $2,000 a day seems like a lot of money but not when you can turn it into five condos that can sell for millions apiece.
A terrible example is Olympic Studios in London, where many of my favorite '60s and '70s albums were done -- Who's Next?, the Small Faces records, Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed and that whole arc of Stones albums. They kind of invented modern production there, along with Abbey Road and a few studios in the States. At one time they were even talking about Abbey Road being sold because the property is worth a fortune.
Recording is a funny thing because there are genius DIY people without any background doing awesome stuff. When I was in high school I got my first four-track recorder and that changed my life in a means of production, socialistic way. I had been a passive consumer of music and all of a sudden I had the ability to generate product. It's democratizing to be able to create your own content.
I come from punk rock and I take the attitude that everyone should take a swing at it. Sometimes the best stuff comes when you don't expect it. That said, there's value to having 25 years experience and doing a ton of work. You get good at it. You have worked with so many people you know how to steer the ship, and how to work with people to understand their goals. You have a vocabulary that's developed from translating so many different things, and your equipped to help people.
We do a lot of experimenting here but there's not a lot of wheel spinning. The thing I'm interested in is what's on the artist's mind, and how to get it on tape. I hate technical stuff that becomes a hurdle, it's tedium and all footnote stuff. The important thing is the artist trying to get imagination into reality. I'm interested in that, not in the transducer.
Somebody has an orchestra in their head and they're standing there with a Telecaster. How do we get that orchestra out?