L-R: Ron Bennett, Will Parks, John Parks, office manager Joe Nipp and assistant engineer Stephen “Rosco” Weber
photo: Stephen “Rosco” Weber
In the studio business, it's not surprising to hear colleagues say that their co-workers are “like family,” but at the four-months-new Saint Claire Recording (www.saint-claire.com) in the rolling hills of Lexington, Ky., the feeling is palpable. The staff members welcome clients to their state-of-the-art studio, and to their hometown, with a generous spirit. “When someone walks into my control room,” explains studio owner John Parks, “I want them to be impressed and say, ‘Wow, this is great. Let's get down to work.’ But what I want them to walk away saying is, ‘The staff really took care of us.’ I need to do whatever needs to be done to make sure that person is comfortable.”
It's not too difficult to make visitors feel at home in this richly colored, Pilchner-Schoustal — designed facility complete with four on-site luxury suites. The look of the place is a successful meshing of rock ‘n’ roll and deluxe hotel — like many surfaces at Saint Claire, those acoustical ceiling clouds are covered with red velvet.
“John wanted to have a no-compromise recording studio with all of the amenities to make it a full retreat experience,” says Martin Pilchner. His firm designed this facility from the ground up, from the exterior walls (thick enough to soundproof against a nearby railroad crossing) to the floating walls and floors of the studio, to the complex infrastructure of the SSL J Series — equipped, 5.1 surround control room — one of the biggest control rooms in the business, much less Kentucky. “We started with a simple shell,” Pilchner says, “rectangular in shape, into which we placed the complex geometry of our control room. The isolation booths and the main studio envelop the control room in a way that optimizes visual communication.”
“Aside from sounding great, the control room is very ergonomic,” studio manager Ron Bennett says. “I love the placement of the gear and the patchbay, and the iso booths that flank the sides of the studio. You can work within this large space and nobody feels cramped. Or there's room for people who aren't directly involved in recording at any given time to go away and relax. We have a game room, a movie room with surround sound, a hot tub — things that help you recharge.”
Bennett left Music City after running The Salt Mine and October studios, as well as working as a freelance engineer/producer, to join Parks' team. “Having worked in Nashville and then seeing the scope of this studio, I was blown away,” Bennett says. “It doesn't get much better than this!”
Parks did consider opening a studio in Nashville. The Full Sail grad is a Kentucky native who worked as an intern at The Castle before starting to build an engineering career. “But Nashville's overcrowded,” he says. “There are too many great artists, too many great engineers, too many great producers, too many great studios — and only so much money. I toyed with the idea of putting my own little room together with a Pro Tools rig, but I couldn't find any good land or any good buildings to renovate. So I moved back, and not even five minutes' drive away from my house we found 14 beautiful acres.”
Parks built the studio with the support of his father, Will Parks, a Kentucky banker/entrepreneur. “It's been almost four years now,” Will Parks says, “since we started planning this facility. We've worked side by side, nights and weekends, together as father and son, and I'll always cherish that. I've watched my son pick out every detail, from the hardwood to the technical equipment to the wall colors, and I keep telling people, ‘For a young man that never built a tree house as a child, to embark on something like this’ — what he has accomplished just makes you proud as a father.”
Parks says he spec'd equipment that would be a balance of perennial favorites (SSL console, UREI 1176, Neve 1073, Genelec near-fields, big mic cabinet, etc.) and his own favorite toys, like the Kurzweil KSP8. (“It's an amazing modular effects unit inside a box,” Parks says.) The 5.1 monitoring is a Pilchner-Schoustal — designed MAXelle Q8 system with matching subwoofers, powered by MC2 amps.
Since opening last summer, Saint Claire has hosted the band Tantric recording a single with engineer Elliott Blakey, Ronan Chris Murphy and the King Crimson rhythm section engineered by Bennett, regional act 8 Count and Kentucky-born artist Amber Rhodes recording with remixer/engineer/producer Axel Niehaus (The Roots, Faith Evans, Puff Daddy).
“For me, the biggest highlight after having opened Saint Claire,” says Parks, “is that since Amber is from here, she was able to invite all her family to listen. All the people who meant the most to her — her mother, her father, her aunts, all of the [Straydog Productions] team that worked on it — and it was so cool to see her sitting right in the center section, elbows up on the console, just smiling away listening to her songs. I had my wife on one side and my mother on the other, and my father was sitting on the back couch, and we're all just sitting there grinning like fools, thinking, ‘This is what it's all about.’”
Barbara Schultz is a Mix assistant editor.