Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chemical Sound Radio Special & Show # 423

When talking of albums that were made at Chemical Sound, Sloan’s Navy Blues usually comes to mind. The album was released in 1998 and was the album to feature their breakthrough Canadian hit “Money City Maniacs”, but there were so many factors that added to the studios dynamics and to why people liked it so much. Chemical Sound was known for its vintage sounds and analogue gear and this spoke to artists that wanted to record there. The studio had its beginnings in 1992 with Daryl Smith who worked closely with Ian Blurton, who is a producer/musician, as was Daryl. Ian has been involved in the studios development since its early beginnings, he has recorded numerous albums there with the bands he has been involved with C’MON, Blurtonia, Change of Heart. The two built up not only an array of quality vintage equipment, but also the reputation of the studio. Chemical Sound has produced many albums by artists to name a few Sloan’s Navy Blues, Death From Above 1979’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

The second set of owners of the studio were Rudy Rempel and James Heidebrecht, who produced recordings by The Constantines, and Royal City, and in 2006, Dean Marino and Jay Sadlowski took over as owners and operators of the Chemical Sound facility. The studio also moved locations in 2006, the original site of the studio was torn down in order to make way for condominiums. Relocated in Riverdale, Toronto Dean and Jay would produce recordings by artists such as Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, an i-tunes session for The Black Keys, The Schoemberg Fair, C’MON and many others. When they announced they were closing their doors in 2012 this message appeared on their website:

Chemical Sound has been in business for 20 years. Over the years the studio has played host to many important Canadian and International recording artists. Since 2006 Dean and Jay have worked with great bands like The Black Keys, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, C'MON, Sweet Thing, The Elwins, EIMIC, Attack in Black and many many more.

We want to thank everyone who has supported us over the years.

One of the last recordings recorded at Chemical Sound was the Inferior Ghost EP by Papermaps. The EP was recorded at Chemical, but also parts of it were done at Vespa Studios and mixed in what is now Central Audio, a new name for the space that used to be Chemical Sound. The EP represents perseverance through difficult times. Many reasons have been thrown around as to why the studio closed its doors, one being it not being economically viable, but the truth is all things must come to an end at some point. Chemical Sound retired while people still had an interest in it, and at a time where music recording is in a state of transition, the EP literally represents this, it was recorded at two places, one of them being Chemical Sound. It is a rather poignant and fitting release if you consider the EP in that respect.

It is nearly impossible to sum up a studio that for twenty years (from 1992-2012) has had produced so many recordings in a few odd paragraphs. You could say so many things, but the biggest factor that made people return to the studio was the fact that Chemical Sound was always devoted to quality, regardless of the genre of music or band that was recording there and the products spoke for themselves. So when you’re looking through an album and check out to see where it was recorded you can be sure that if it says Chemical Sound, something interesting was done there. I can’t help but return to Sloan’s Navy Blues, which is an album that showed off a different yet exciting side of the band which brought them new successes. But the band also recorded their next album Between The Bridges there as well (it was mixed elsewhere) a fact that few people know without checking out the linear notes, but you can hear it in the sound of the drums on that record. The drum sounds at Chemical were always something of note when considering the studio, they were often referred to as getting really good, if not some of the best drum sounds in Toronto and when you listen to a song such as “Money City Maniacs”, “She Says What She Means”, or even songs by C’MON, Godspeed! You Black Emperor or from any of the albums recorded there, you can hear the room, you can hear the sound of a band playing in that moment when the sound of a band/making music was all that mattered and that’s what you got from Chemical Sound a moment captured and what a great moment it was.

The following interview was done between myself (Dave Konstantino host of Revolution Rock) and Dean Marino and Jay Sadlowski musicians and the owners/operators of Chemical Sound from 2006-2012. We talk of recordings made there, a bit of its history and more.

RR: When did you first hear of Chemical Sound and what was it that interested the both of you about the studio?

D - I was a client. I made my first professional recording there in 2000. I heard that Sloan's Navy Blues was recorded there.

J - I knew about the music that came from the studio, but didn't know about the studio itself till I started talking to Dean about it.

RR: How, why and when did you guys become involved with the recording aspects of Chemical Sound?

D - Both Jay and myself have been recording since we were teenagers (we were in a high school band together). We would rent / steal and borrow equipment to make cassette recordings in our basements or in the music room at school - eventually we graduated from 4-track tape machines to semi pro and then fully pro stuff. After being a client at Chemical for a few years I built up the nerve to ask to intern there. I interned for a few months before they started paying me - all that high school tom foolery and experimentation paid off. I started at the studio in 2003, bought the gear and name in 2005 and we closed in 2012.

RR: Chemical Sound is known for their vintage gear and analog recording techniques, when was Chemical Sound first established as a recording studio and why do you think that the studio put this recording mandate in place to begin with?

D - The studio was established by Daryl Smith in 1992, when analog recording was really the only option - I guess ADATs had been around or a few years, but they were considered sub-standard. The studio just stuck to what worked. They didn't acquire a ProTools rig until 2004! Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, Blurtonia, C'MON) had a lot to do with the gear selection because he was/is heavily into the classic heavy rock sound - he knew what kind of gear works best for that sound. He's the one who tracked down the API console.

J - Yeah, Daryl and Ian really shaped it based on their love of classic records. It's cool. At the time, the 80's, they were really going against the grain in terms of popular sound. A lot of records then were thin and very clean sounding, meanwhile they were building this classic, gritty distorted sound.

RR: Chemical Sound was originally located elsewhere in Toronto for many years. When and why did Chemical Sound switch locations?

D - The location change happened late 2005 early 2006. The original location is now a swank condo.

RR: What are some of your favourite recordings that have come out of Chemical Sound? More specifically, out of all the recordings that you both have worked on which ones are some of your favourites?

D - Black Keys iTunes Session - because it was done so purely, quickly and sounds so good. EIMIC's (Everything is Made in China) first two records, because Jay and myself had full creative production and Tokyo Police Club's Elephant Shell because I made some life-long friends on that gig.

J - Yeah. I like most of the records that came out of Chemical. For sure everything Dean has mentioned. There's really too much to even list, Ruby Coast, Born Ruffians, The Elwins, Dilly Dally... I love all of them! It's been great to be so proud of it. And we've totally made new friends.

RR: Could you both describe a positive recording experience that you have both had during your time working at Chemical Sound?

D - Most of them are positive because you get to witness and aid in someone's creative child being birthed. It's a nice feeling. I really enjoyed meeting and working with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - they were some of the nicest people.

J - I liked working with a lot of people: Graham Wright, EIMIC, Eight Bit Tiger, Ian Blurton, Mike Rocha, The Elwins, etc. too many to mention.

RR: Alternatively, do you have any stranger moments that have occurred during your time at Chemical Sound that you remember fondly?

D - Yes, but why name names?

J - There were many strange moments; band members fighting, laughing etc. We once recorded a karaoke version of an opera song in return for some architecture work!.

RR: What do you remember of the first recordings that the both of you have worked on, whether it was in the producing or engineering role?

D - Jay and I made 3 records together with our high school bands. Then we didn't see each other until after university - we just ran into each other randomly. We reconnected and then when I thought about buying the studio I asked Jay to help me out with some sessions. We did our first proper record together, as a team, at old Chemical I think it was Tugnut's album Ode to Pete. Or it could have been a Magneta Lane track.

J - Yeah, either Magneta Lane or Tugnut was the first time we worked together in Chemical. They were both awesome sessions actually. We did do a lot of stuff before that too.

RR: When and why did you guys take over operations at Chemical Sound? Was owning and operating a recording studio something that you both wanted to do?

D - I've always dreamed of doing that - working in a studio. When I was a kid and I listened to records, I would imagine a studio scene, not a concert scene - if you get what I mean.

J - We took over around 2005 - 6. A combination of factors lead to this. The old space was being sold, the owners were making life changes, Dean was working there, we were both recording a lot.

RR: In February 2012, it was announced that Chemical Sound would be closing for good and retiring their name, what was it that led to this decision and now that Chemical Sound is over with do you plan to continue recording bands?

D - I will always produce records (be them my own or with artists I really like). I've got a new studio setup which I'm keeping private. I'm keeping the location a secret because I'm not in the "commercial studio" game anymore. No phones - no website. My new studio is smaller, with a much smaller overhead, but still quite substantial - for example, the live room is 400 sq ft with 12 foot ceilings and I can still record whole bands live off the floor. I share the space with two other bands I'm involved in. My goal is to cherry pick my clients from now on. If people want to work with me, they can write me.

J - There are many reasons why we closed; we just both agreed it was time for us to try other things. We are already working with other projects. Both Dean and I have been recording forever, I don't think that we will ever stop.

RR: What was the last recording to be officially made at Chemical Sound? When was it and what do you remember of that last recording session?

D - I want to say it's the forthcoming Papermaps EP, Inferior Ghost. Most of it was done at Chemical (with the exception of 3 bed tracks) and I mixed it in what used to be the Chemical Sound control room (Now Central Audio). It was strange to work in that room, not being the owner and not using the API console, which was sold to Rogue Studios.

J - Truth is, it took us a while to move out of the space and in that time we did as much recording as we could, so it really depends on what you count as the end.

RR: Chemical Sound is often referred to as a legendary studio from Toronto with a unique no frills recording approach. Do you agree with that statement and what do you think it was that appealed to so many bands to record their music at Chemical Sound?

D - Yes. I agree. Our rates were incredibly inexpensive for what you got in terms of equipment and especially in terms of service. No we were not posh - we had a very "workshop" or "garage" vibe going and we liked it that way. Graham Wright once told me he liked working with us because he didn't feel inhibited, he liked how we didn't scold him for touching the Hammond organ or playing around with gear - we/are were easy-going.

J - We tried to build the studio to be a comfortable place for artists to work. I think most musicians recognized that we were focused on making the best records we could. We built it knowing what it's like as the person being recorded.

RR: Both of you make music on your own and have lots of recording experience, what are your plans for the future, whether that is in music, recording or both?

D - I plan to concentrate on my band, PAPERMAPS and my songwriting and I would like to produce a few records and EP's each year by bands that I admire and respect.

J - I have a new "Jay Sad" record that Dean produced, recorded on tape at Chemical. It's mixed already, and I'm hoping to release it soon. I also have plans to mix and produce a few records. I recently did the music for a web animation for Amnesty International, and I'm working on a record with James Hicken (Wallscenery Demos).

Chemical Sound Play List:

1. Sloan – C’Mon C’Mon (We're Gonna Get Started) - Navy Blues (1998)
2. Invasions – Atlantic Blvd - Magic EP (2009)
3. C'MON – The Messenger – Midnight Is The Answer (2004)
4. Tokyo Police Club – Nursery Academy - Elephant Shell (2008)
5. Born Ruffians – Hummingbird – Red Yellow & Blue (2008)
6. Everything Made In China – 4 – 4 (2007)
7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Storm - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
8. Jay Sad & Dean Marino - Best Friend - Chemical Demo (2009)
9. EX~PO – Remember (Live At Chemical Sound April 12, 2008) - Central Meaner Street (Bonus Track) (2008)
10. Jay Sad – Krazy – Krazy (2009)
11. The Superfriendz – Absurd Without It – Slide Show (1996)
12. The Inbreds – T.S. Elliot (Youth Mix) – Hilario (1993)
13. Tricky Woo – Fly The Orient – Sometimes I Cry (1999)
14. Death From Above 1979 - Cold War - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine (2004)
15. Orphan Choir - Burning Ash Again- Unwelcome Guests/Orphan Choir split 7 Inch (2008)
16. The Schomberg Fair – Can’t Go Home - Gospel (2009)
17. Graham Wright – No Hard Feelings – Shirts Vs. Skins (2011)
18. Tin Star Orphans – Let You Down – Yonder (2009)
19. The Black Keys – Chop & Change - i-Tunes Session (2010)
20. Suckerpunch – Let’s Get Evil – Carrots From The Canyon (1995)
21. Jay Sad & Dean Marino - Waiting For The Man - Chemical Outtake/Demo (2007)
22. Ride Theory - Dead Radio, Love - In This City (2005)
23. Papermaps – There Are Wolves - Inferior Ghost EP (2012)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for September 25. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.


Jeremiah Gibson said...

Songs involving chemical sound are a definite hit as they make the voice and music combine perfectly taking it to a whole new level
Toronto Recording Studio

Dave said...

I agree, thanks for the comment Jeremiah, hope you liked this post/podcast.