‘BC Camplight recorded his vocal in the campervan, wearing a cape and carrying a feather duster...’ It goes to show EVE Studios is not your average vicarage.
Stepping off the street and passing through the hall of the Edwardian home – otherwise known as Experimental Vintage Environments – I encounter a Beatles’ era BBC tape recorder from Abbey Road, a discarded diamond-cutting circular saw, several abstract oil paintings of the sea, a septuagenarian cuckoo clock, a restored vibraphone from the 1920s, and a sheep skull.
Reaching the kitchen, some raw punk crackles out from a Mac and a broth simmers on the stove. Catching sight of a couple of jam jars labelled with a skull and cross bones, and the low-calibre rifle mounted above my head, I wonder what the score is here. Martin King, the owner of the studio, lurks in a corner inspecting valves under a magnifying glass.
Henry Broadhead, EVE’s young sound engineer and one half of the machine responsible for the records produced at the studio, introduces me to the producer, who glances up and hurriedly performs the obligatory greetings.
He seems distracted. With a quick turnover of musicians passing through the vicarage doors, the preparation for tomorrow’s band never ceases.
Over spiced tea, Martin, Henry, the photographer and I discuss the band smashing out their angst over the airwaves. Low Culture, Martin informs me, are an as yet unsigned outfit from Grimsby who will be piecing together their EP at the studio tomorrow.
“I want to record his vocal in the bath, actually lying down in the bath, because he’s quite tall and we have a long iron bath and I like the idea that he’s constrained, as if trapped in a coffin and writhing. But he doesn’t know that yet.”
I soon learn that the myriad cultural artefacts and vintage musical equipment housed in the many rooms throughout the house, have been handpicked and distributed by Martin, as: “Effectively, this place is an installation.”
Hanging from a blood-red wall of the control room, the heart of the studio, is a framed sketch of a skeleton raising a tattered Union Jack, an original Alexander McQueen.
Martin tells me this would have once been the servants quarters - as evidence of the wonderfully dark, sardonic sense of humour the pair share – it is quite fitting that now Henry, who was “promoted from tea boy to Doctor of Good Vibrations” spends most of his time there.
Practically every instrument and piece of equipment is vintage. The mixing desk was constructed in the 1970s by Calrec for the eminent critic and classical engineer, Angus Mackenzie. This is surrounded by a number of Neve amps from the same era, chosen not only for their build quality, but because analogue amps have their own distinct sound, ‘like driving a Rolls Royce’, presumably as opposed to driving a Hybrid. The desk is rock and roll, with a warmth and gutsiness that cannot be replicated by digital simulators.
“Old equipment has a character, because of the human error involved, and wear over time. You can’t reduce that down to binary. That" - Martin gestures over to Protools recording software visible on a Mac - "is just a series of ones and zeroes.”
Three years ago, when Martin took over the place, he embraced the existing vicarage and began a process of ‘re-territorialisation’.
Doom groove band BirdPen have worked on their second album Global Lows at EVE on and off for the past year. Singer, Dave Pen said: “I think EVE really has a thing of it’s own going on as it feels like a house that literally has been turned into a fully working vintage studio. Every room seems to have an atmosphere, like the garage and bathroom being used as a reverb…”
Each room has its own colour and acoustic properties, ranging from a cool silver cave to a blood red hothouse.
As a sample, one of the live rooms is kitted out with BBC designed acoustic absorbers from Maida Vale, which run along a home-sprung wiring system for precision sound adjustment. It also possesses a number of keyboards, one of which is a ‘60s model as heard in early Pink Floyd records, and a drum kit with various accoutrements, today, a motorcycle chain rests on the cymbal.
A three-foot long horn protrudes from the back corner which funnels transmissions from the control room, a device Martin wryly terms ‘the voice of God’. This is all set against a backdrop of large windows, high ceilings and modernist décor – the carpet is an original Moro design commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
This live room, as conducive to the whole studio, is a project intended to best inspire and facilitate musicians in their work.
BirdPen were enthused by these rooms: “They bring a nice vibe, being both intimate and the right size. You can be close whilst all playing together.”
This is evident of the studio’s bottom up principal – if it was set up for producers and engineers, it would be far more standard.
It has modular cells that allow every room to be recorded in, which the Philadelphian singer songwriter BC Camplight put to use during one of his many visits to EVE. Taking coffee and cigarettes with Henry in the backyard, surrounded by potted plants, I’m intrigued by the aforementioned van and he tells me: “BC Camplight recorded his vocal in the campervan, wearing a cape and carrying a feather duster. Or inside in complete darkness.”
Seemingly every musician that comes to EVE is taken with how unique it is. Rising Manchester five-piece Dutch Uncles, reluctantly rerecorded Face In, a single off their first album for their management, and had EVE recommended to them by an old production tutor.
Robin Richards, their composer and bassist, said: “The equipment they’ve got there is amazing, like all the analogue synthesizers and the microphones they have there are top notch.
“They had a lot of stuff that we hadn’t been able to experiment with before and the whole way it is set up is quite different.
“It was quite… unusual. But I think that makes it more interesting. I still look back at that weekend fondly, because of the studio, rather than the song itself.”
The band recorded into the early hours before cracking open beers and making use of the pool table in the chill out rooms.
Hip hop big hitter Wiz Khalifa was also welcomed to the studio late night, after playing a show in Manchester earlier this year. He turned the studio green with smoke and recorded until seven in the morning.
In the kitchen, the sounds of a heartrending cover of Gil Scott Heron’s Home Is Where The Hatred Is plays out. It is Jake Mattison, a local lad with a folk and soul style not of this era, recorded a 12-track album one day after he knocked on at the vicarage with his acoustic guitar strung over his shoulder.
Jake described EVE as: “A perfect environment to create real sounding music. It’s a creative and supportive place, how I imagine the residential studios from the 60s and 70s to have been like.
“It just doesn’t feel like a business because of the time and effort put into your music.
“I’m often kicked out because I’m there too long, but you never feel under pressure to finish a project and I don’t know if Martin and Henry ever go home.”
Martin reminisces on the first time Jake arrived at the studio: “It was magical. Unlike a lot of pop music, which is planned, formulaic and overwrought – it just happened, it was honest. That was a nice thing.”
As with Jake, Martin loves having young bands in as: “It’s good being a producer when a young band comes to you, unsure of how exactly they can get the best out of a session. You get to see how they work and they are open and want you to help shape them. And historically music has been about youth, because young bands are hungry.”
Consequently, EVE charges according to means. “We’re an exclusive place but we’d love to hear from young bands that are looking to push their boundaries. They can always get in touch, especially if they come and like the feel of the place…
“Nowadays bands have to take responsibility of their own art. They can’t wait around for a record label to come and finish it off for them. Or give them bags of cash, because labels aren’t putting money out there anymore.
This isn’t a trial run, this is life and this is what you can achieve, so commit. This is it. Do it. Do it for real.”