I’ve been to a few destination studios over the years, from upstate New York to just outside of El Paso, with stops in Mesa, Ariz., and a small town outside of Louisville in between. I’ve arrived by plane for an overnight visit, and I’ve driven in by automobile to stay the week. I figured that to honor the late, great John Candy and the crazy-talented musician-comedian-author Steve Martin, it was time to take the train. So I did.
Two-and-a-half hours out of Penn Station, on the Amtrak line to Boston, the train stops in New London, Conn., in the southeastern part of the state. Boston is about two hours further on, and Providence, R.I., is a short, one-hour drive to the northeast. It’s October 2017, and Power Station New England, celebrating 23 years by initiating a massive overhaul of its technical backbone, is having an “opening” party. It’s about 10 minutes away by car, after a stop at the nearby hotel in Waterford. So smooth and simple. I could smell the wind from the sea; even the landscape felt relaxing after a week in the city. It almost made me want to turn off my phone.
Then, a short time later, we walk into the studio, and ... Damn! It just feels good. There’s a magic, a sense of vibe that makes you want to sit down on the couch in the big room, or maybe hop on the piano or drums in one of the iso booths, and just hang out. Music is playing, a band is set up. It’s a party, in a studio, and a lot of creative people are bumping elbows and having martinis. A young Bulgarian woman, at the prompting of her manager, sings to me in the hallway. I meet Alfonso Valdez, who a few weeks later will bring his four-piece group up from Brooklyn to record, looking for that band-in-a-room sound. When the party is all over, Eric Torillo, one of the vice presidents, drives me back to the hotel. That type of thing doesn’t often happen. Of course I went back, less than two months later. Now they’re on the cover.
The studio itself is located near the entrance to a small campus of buildings that appears as a cross between suburban industrial park and mini-Hollywood lot. It feels modern, fresh and discrete. A large soundstage, one of five, is fitted with lighting rigs, a motion capture system and extensive green screen and sits off in a building to the left, along with a separate, all-new SSL 4064 G-Plus mix room.
In the buildings beyond, a lot of high-level acoustic research and lab work takes place alongside animation, graphics and everything else needed for high-end audio/video production. Sonalysts, the parent company, is a prosperous, well-established government contractor specializing in underwater acoustic research, training and simulation.
Sonalysts Media, which has dabbled in Oscar-winning films and hosted television series, among countless other projects, has been reinvented under the direction of Torillo as a destination facility for all types of high-end entertainment. That includes world-class audio, whether for records, commercial work or virtual reality, out of a replica of one of the world’s most famous studios, with a meticulously restored and recently installed Neve 8068 console. Producer/engineer Evan Bakke came onboard in August to serve as its champion. Everything is set.
It hit me on the train back to New York that PSNE is a shining example of “the new destination studio.” Built in 1995, in a completely different era of the recording industry, it never really saw the two-month bookings or the band locked out for two weeks. But it has the room. And the room is the new destination. In the new recording world, which has seen the disappearance of many large facilities, it’s the room that matters, not so much the mountains of Colorado or the woods of New Hampshire. The way music is made now, a lot can get done in a few long days or an extended week, with perhaps some B-roll video thrown in, a couple days of tour rehearsal or even a livestream of an intimate performance for fans, to close out the recording of a few tracks.
Related: Billy Gilman Records at Power Station New England, Mix, Jan. 16, 2018
Power Station New England Celebrates Grand Rebirth, Mix, Dec. 12, 2017
The possibilities are endless when you have the full means of production all around you. And it doesn’t hurt if your destination is a world-class room, surrounded by a bunch of cool, creative folks who just want to make music.