Afterlife Studios Builds on Mushroom Studios’ History
For 40 years, Mushroom Studios in Vancouver developed an international reputation for groundbreaking projects, beautiful acoustics, and a great rock vibe. In the 1970s, Mushroom was associated with seminal recordings by BTO, Heart, Queensryche and others.
In 2006, then studio owner John Wozniak sold the facility and gear to Rob Darch, who operated the facility as Hipposonic West for four years, until he sold the building to investor Jason Goto. Darch moved all of his gear out, and the Vancouver music community sadly assumed that the former Mushroom rooms would be absorbed into some sort of condo or retail development. However, Goto—a musician himself—surprised everyone by keeping the facility intact, under the leadership of producer John Raham, who now operates the rooms under the name Afterlife Studios.
“Jason and I really wanted to keep the classic feel of the room alive, including the three reverb chambers,” says Raham, whose production MO is well-suited to the historic facility: “I started working on this side of the glass when digital made it possible for more people to get into recording, but ever since, I’ve been moving backwards in time to where I now do almost everything through my 16-track, 2-inch Ampex MM1200 tape machine, vintage Neves and my Studer console—all this gear that could be from the heyday of this studio.”
“When people found out that this was a studio again, I got so many thoughtful letters,” Raham continues. “People kept saying, ‘I’m so happy that you’re doing this.’”
Many of Raham’s clients are too young to have memories of Mushroom Studios. Recent projects have included Frazey Ford and UK artist Passenger. However, some are iconic Canadian acts returning to make new albums, such as Barney Bentall, who recorded his debut there in 1987.
“People really love this room for tracking big-sounding drums because of its density. Every sound that’s made, every frequency that’s generated in this room stays in this room,” says Raham, himself a drummer. “This place is built into the side of a mountain, which also makes for an unbelievably low noise floor, allowing me to record extremely quiet things like solo violin or minimalist piano—things I couldn’t do well in my previous studio.”
THE PORTLAND CELLO PROJECT AT JACKPOT!
L-R: Douglas Jenkins, Karen Schulz-Harmon, Diane Chaplin, Collin Oldham
Among the many projects that Jackpot! owner/operator Larry Crane is juggling is a forthcoming album by the Portland Cello Project. Crane has been working with the PCP for more than ten years, tracking and mixing their studio sessions as well as advising founding member Doug Jenkins, who records some of the musicians’ parts in various locations.
The PCP is a versatile group with diverse tastes and collaborators. Their melancholy 2014 album to e.s. pays tribute to the late singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. They rose to Beck’s challenge in 2012, joining with various guest vocalists to create roots-music arrangements on The Portland Cello Project Play Beck Hansen’s Song Reader. Their new album will be a jazz release including appearances by bass player Damian Erskine and drummer Jeff Anthony.
“Many of these records are recorded in parts, though some simpler arrangements are performed as quartets and such,” Crane explains. “Many are tracked by Doug on his own, but complicated stuff I end up doing.”
Crane tracks the PCP to his Pro Tools HD12 system. “A pair of old Gefell M582/M62 small-diaphragm tube mics almost always get used for ensemble recordings,” he says. “So much so that Doug bought a pair, too.”
“It’s become a pretty consistent general philosophy for the tracking,” Jenkins says. “If the arrangement is for just cellos and orchestral instruments, it usually all goes down live. If there are other instruments involved, it goes down in pieces. For solo and lead parts, if it’s really focused-sounding, like Nancy Ives’ Chris Dungey cello, it tends to be whatever ribbon sounds right. If the cello has a looser tone, where the charm is in the overtones—like Diane Chaplin’s 1740 Testore—it usually ends up being whatever U47 or copy that is sounding good.”
“The new record has a number of songs with full rhythm section,” Crane says. “Bass was direct through an A Designs REDDI [direct box] to a Retro 176 [limiter]. Drums: Overheads were a Telefunken M260 pair. Kick was EV RE20, I think. Toms were Shure SM81s. Snare mic—possibly Shure KSM8. Mic choices are incredibly personal to me, and I swap out fast if I hear something I don’t like.
“The basic tracks went down with one cello by Skip von Kuske and two guide cellos in the control room that were replaced later. We wanted to get the drums and bass mostly. Players had charts and it all went down fast. Then we overdubbed a trio of cellos and that was only a few hours. Doug has a lot of overdubs and comping to do!”
Lisa Harmon of The Sweet Goodbyes
EMPTY SEA, SEATTLE
Michael Thomas Connolly has operated Empty Sea Studios for about nine years. His studio is built into a 1913 craftsman house in a residential neighborhood. “The house was a retail store for years before I moved in, so some walls were knocked down internally already,” Connolly says. “I built a stage and put in a P.A. and lighting for live shows [capacity 40], and we’ve hosted around 300 of those over the years. But the bread and butter is making records.”
Connolly, a musician as well as an engineer and producer, plays a variety of string instruments and keyboards, and often plays on the sessions he engineers and produces. “We recently had The Sweet Goodbyes here, as I produced their first full-length album. Amber Darland and Lisa Harmon both have great voices and powerful songwriting, and wanted to make an album that showcased those elements with some supportive backing instruments.”
Connolly, a longtime Digital Performer user, mixes on an SSL AWS 900+SE analog console. “For vocals, Amber’s focused tone with minimal air was a great match for the Lauten Oceanus [microphone], which seems to add ‘wool’ to any source while remaining tonally balanced. For Lisa, I was totally surprised that the Chameleon TS-1 with a large-diaphragm capsule won the mic shootout for her vocals—just one of those serendipitous pairings.”
FLORA RECORDING & PLAYBACK, PORTLAND
Tucker Martine hosted Sweden’s First Aid Kit in his Flora Recording & Playback Studio. Martine produced and mixed the sessions for bandmates and sisters Klara (vocals/guitar) and Johanna (vocals/keyboards/bass) Söderberg. The producer hand-picked a band for the sessions, including Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. Also at Flora, Martine recorded and mixed his wife, Laura Veirs’, latest album, The Lookout.
AVAST STUDIOS, SEATTLE
Recent sessions at Avast include Grouplove recording and mixing with producer Phil Ek. Kesha worked on new material with producer/engineer Ryan Lewis. Fleet Foxes were in session for their album Crack Up with engineer Adam Burd, and Sylvia Massy taught a rock ’n’ roll tracking class with Thunderpussy for Creative Live. The studio has also added new gear, including Burl Mothership converters in both control rooms, and two pairs of Pultec EQPM-1S3 and MEQM-5 Mastering Equalizers.
Producer Kaj Falch-Nielsen with Anna Katarina (left) and Aline Daigle of Rumour Mill
BLUE LIGHT STUDIO, VANCOUVER
At Blue Light Studio, Rumour Mill band was in recording their debut album with producer Kaj Falch-Nielsen. Vocalist Harrison Brome was working in Studio A, recording vocals with engineer Kenny Gourmet. And Vancouver noise-rock outfit American Space Monkey were in with engineer/producer Kyle Anderson, working on their latest album, Crash Landing.
Billal in session with engineer Vince Renaud
CREW STUDIOS, VANCOUVER
Singer/songwriter/producer Bilal visited Crew Studios with backing band The Modelos and engineer Vince Renaud. Andy Warren and Meagan Carsience assisted on the session. Bilal recorded the theme song for upcoming film In God I Trust, written by Paul St. Amand, and produced by Amand and Maja Zdanowski. Also at Crew, Flavia Nascimento and Itamar Erez recorded original duets.
NETTLEINGHAM AUDIO, VANCOUVER, WASH.
In addition to serving as studio manager of Jackpot! in Portland, Ore., Gus Berry produces and engineers his own projects out of Nettleingham Audio. His recent sessions include mixing an Elmore James tribute in mono for producer Marco Giovino; artists include Patty Griffin, Tom Jones, Jamey Johnson, Billy Gibbons and others.
KOKO PRODUCTIONS, VANCOUVER
KOKO Productions serves regional and international ad agencies, film companies and animation studios. One of the studio’s recent productions was audio for Beat Bugs, an animated children’s television series for Netflix, inspired by music of the Beatles. The program features 53 versions of Beatles’ songs, performed by Eddie Vedder, Pink and Sia, among others. KOKO head animation engineer Wes Swales recorded the series.
It Gets Worse
MIRROR SOUND RECORDING, SEATTLE
Ska band It Gets Worse was in Mirror Sound Recording Studio, tracking and mixing their upcoming album via the studio’s brand-new API 1608 console. Producers James Sweazea and Eric Stallard worked with their four-piece horn section. The sessions were tracked and mixed by engineer Ken Fordyce with assistance from Matt Loewen.