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Five Survival Tips for Making a Record in Ladysmith

TYEE LIST #6: Punk rock lives at a small town BC studio. But musicians, be prepared.

Geoff Dembicki 17 Mar 2012TheTyee.ca

When he's not wailing on a drum kit, Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.

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Noise Studio's zen garden. A place of charming paradox.

A lot has changed in the hometown of Pamela Anderson since my band Peace recorded its debut LP there a year and half ago. 

For those unaware, this pastel-coloured town is named Ladysmith, and it's about a 10 minute drive south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The first thing the four of us noticed upon returning this spring to record our second album is that drivers no longer slow down their pick-up trucks so that the guy in the passenger seat can give us the finger. There was also no stumbling unshaven man shouting unprintable insults at us from across the road.

I can report that we were pleased to see a new sushi spot in business, "Mr. Teriyaki and Ms. Sushi," but unhappy about the closing of "Bucktooth Betty's," a dank pub on the downtown strip whose slogan, "Bad Teeth, Good Times" was actually a pretty solid description of the clientele. Yes, this was a much more welcoming Ladysmith than we remembered, one where local cafe owners now referred to us as "the musicians."

Full credit goes to former Vancouver art punk visionaries Jordan Koop and Terry Stewart, who've run one of the best recording studios in B.C. since July 2010. The Noise Floor is somewhat of a musicians' retreat, housed in an old converted cafe with bunk-beds for the night and a lush green garden out back (much nicer, Peace agreed, than the second-hand crack smoke and black mould of our East Hastings jam-space in Vancouver). This place is no longer a secret either, as more and more bands from across the Island and Lower Mainland book studio time each year. So with this in mind, I offer up the following survival tips: five things every musician -- or curious onlooker -- must know before recording at the Noise Floor in Ladysmith. 

1) A bidet is not a toy.

Without going into the unsavoury details I will report that a) the Noise Floor has one; and b) initially there was some fooling around with it. This is probably a fairly reasonable reaction for four 20-something guys who've only really ever dealt with double-ply tissue their whole lives. But it might be worth mentioning here an anecdote told to me by a former Tyee colleague, one who'd once discussed bidets with a European traveller. This traveller apparently couldn't fathom the North American fixation with toilet paper. Imagine, he explained, you were to trip on your shoelaces and fall face-first into a pile of dog poop. Would you quickly rinse yourself off with a hose, the traveller asked, or dab your face with a piece of paper towel? Probably best just to move right along to the next survival tip...

2) 7-11 nachos are not a balanced dinner.

And neither is a cream cheese and jalapeno taquito, stuffed inside a hotdog bun, and smothered with processed liquid cheddar and house-brand chilli. (This, when I requested it, was referred to by the clerk as a "local specialty.") But if you're recording late into the evening at the Noise Floor, you might as well accept that some of your meals will come cheap and dirty from the 7-11 only half a block away. In fact, Peace's guitar player Mike ate so many nachos the first time we recorded, the band has since nicknamed the back lane leading to the 7-11 "nacho alley." Other 7-11 favourites include five-cent candies, various brands of Doritos, and, if you're up for it, the microwaveable egg and sausage sandwich. Whatever you do though, do not order the pepperoni pizza.    

3) Cute little dogs can be just as ferocious as big ones.

One of the lesser-known facts about recording an album is that it can be quite boring. Aside from the few hours you're actually playing your songs, most of the time is spent tuning instruments, waiting for mics to be set up, listening to other people do their tracks or trying to figure out where that low buzzing sound in the headphones is coming from. Fortunately, Jordan and Terry have a small white dog named Mozzer which loves to chase a deflated soccer ball. Here's the rub: this dog has some sort of injury to its back leg, one that makes it extremely grumpy, so if you so much as put your hand near its head, it will snap at you with a ferocity that causes everyone in the room to flinch. That said, the rare times Mozzer lets you scratch her behind the ears are truly to be savoured.     

4) Laura Palmer is a fictional TV character, not Jordan's girlfriend. 

In one of those weird little coincidences, we'd actually talked during the drive into Ladysmith about how much the foggy countryside reminded us of David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks, only to find a framed picture of Laura Palmer inside the Noise Floor. For those who haven't yet watched and made conversational reference to both seasons obsessively, Ms. Palmer is the haunting teenage beauty whose murder more or less sets the series' plot in motion. She has never dated the studio's owner, Jordan. This point must be stressed. Apparently one of the bands Jordan recorded before us, not having ever seen the show, asked if the portrait of Laura was an old girlfriend. We laugh, but in some ways that band was better off than we were, because they never had to imagine Bob attacking them in the darkness after Jordan and Terry went to sleep upstairs.

5) Thunder can come from a plastic tube.

Yes, not only from the sky. I can report that Peace used the "thunder-tube" on our upcoming album, a hollow plastic cylinder with a sort of thin metal slinky thing dangling from the bottom. The way it works is you hold onto the top and start shaking the apparatus in circles, faster and faster, until a loud roar comes out the top. (The physics of it all are quite complicated and confusing.) When recorded, it makes your song sound about 100 times more ominous. This probably explains why the "thunder tube" is among the most popular items from Jordan's auxiliary percussion collection. It goes without saying that if you decide to make artificial thunder anywhere near Mozzer, her ears go back and she gets a hunted look in her eyes.    [Tyee]

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