Like many musicians, I have what could be described as an ambivalent attitude towards recording studios. On one hand, we have certain images etched on our minds — the sleek rows of gleaming equipment, the flickering VU meters on esoteric vintage units and the elegantly wasted figures hunched over mixing desks or guitars, creating masterpieces in the half-light. On the other hand, we have a more common scenario — an under-rehearsed band in a rundown building on a desolate industrial estate, nervously watching the clock and struggling to get one decent take recorded by an engineer who doesn't like or understand the music. My band, The Workhouse, had been lucky enough to find a place to record that was creative and inspiring whilst remaining accessible and affordable. This was Dungeon Studios, located on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, and run by Richie Haines, a highly talented engineer and producer who really understood what we were trying to do and how to capture our sound.
We had recorded our first two albums with him, and at the beginning of 2009 we were due to start on our third. This was going to be an important album for us. Ostensibly, we had done relatively well since the release of our first single in 1999. Our albums had both sold around 1500 copies, and had been given great reviews in NME, the music paper we had all grown up reading. We'd had a good level of radio play, including recording two Peel Sessions. We'd had some brilliant support slots, most notably with Doves, Explosions in the Sky and Six By Seven, and we'd built up a small but steadily growing fanbase around the world. To cap it all, in 2004 we'd been offered a three-album deal with an American label.
Behind the scenes, things were not so rosy. Physical injuries and family/personal problems had put us out of action for extended periods, often at crucial points. Recording our second album had been extremely difficult. The American label dropped us in 2005 after releasing just one album. There were serious (and worsening) problems with the differing levels of commitment of the individuals in the band. As we planned to start recording our third album, the brutal facts were that despite writing numerous songs, we hadn't recorded and new material since 2005, and in 2008 we had performed one solitary gig. It wasn't that we were chasing massive success — quite the opposite in fact. But I loved writing, playing and recording music, and I wanted to be doing it regularly and consistently rather than letting things grind to a halt. Also, most bands are lucky if they get one good break; we had been given several, and we'd never been able to make the most of them. The fans were still there, and we still had something of a reputation in the post-rock/shoegazing world, but I thought that we would start to fade from people's memories if we didn't release new material soon.
We had a batch of new songs that we had been working on for a while but which still sounded fresh. Putting the difficulties of recording our second album to one side, we booked a weekend's recording at Dungeon. Then, we received the terrible news that Richie was seriously ill. Sadly, he passed away a few months later. We had lost both a collaborator and a friend, someone who had contributed hugely to our music. This left us in something of a quandary. Simply finding another studio didn't seem to be the answer. We'd built up a relationship with Richie over several years, he knew us and our sound, he knew how we worked, and he had been able to get the best out of us and make brilliant records with us. We weren't going to be able to replicate this by putting "recording studios" into Google.
We had occasionally talked about recording...