In its 31st year of operation, Sydney’s Damien Gerard Studios is still igniting the local scene with rock ‘n’ roll recordings. Over the journey, the now-legendary studio has gone through a number of machinations, eventually leading to its current Balmain address. In this time they have worked with some of the great Australian bands, including the likes of Noiseworks, Hoodoo Gurus and Divinyls in their ‘80s heyday. According to studio owner Marshall Cullen, this distinguished history of recording excellence can be traced back all the way to its early days as a demo studio.
“Because in those days, you know, you couldn’t demo at home like you can now, you had to go to a studio,” says Cullen. “That’s how we kind of got in with knowing all of those level of artists because we did all their demos for them. And then sometimes we’d have to take our tape machines over to 301 or somewhere and transfer it because they couldn’t get the same drum sound or whatever and they wanted to keep some of it. We got to kind of know all the other studios and everyone, A&R guys and everything.”
Over the decades the studio and its engineers have witnessed first-hand the digital evolution, combining analogue expertise and know-how, with new, digital capabilities. “You know Russell Pilling, the main Chief Engineer, he’s been with us I think for 25 years or something like that. He started back in the analogue world and he’s made the transition to ProTools and you know, you can’t beat an experienced engineer really. He can act as a producer these days, and people literally come in there to work with him.”
The benefits of inter-generational experience and longevity extend to the studio’s gear list and setup as well, which is populated by Neve preamps, Urei compressors and old Neumann mics. “We’ve still got a tape machine as well that still gets used, and having that great big analogue console, you know a really big warm sound, everything still runs through that,” says Cullen. “And also having a tuned live room that’s been professionally done so that you can put a drum kit in there and it hasn’t got like, weird overtones and stuff going on in the room that you have to fight with.”
Damien Gerard Studios features two rooms – a main room, and what the studio calls the ‘red stairs’ room. The former has previously catered for 8-piece acts and 12-piece string sections and can meet the demands of a big band. It additionally offers three iso booths for extensive recording versatility, while the ‘red stairs’ room is a control room with a small booth, for mixing and mastering. The vibe of the studio is band-friendly – made to look and feel like a musician’s bedroom. It’s the perfect complement to the studio’s efficient setup and professional drive.
“All the furniture is from Vinnies and stuff like that you know, and the colour scheme’s really warm and friendly,” says Cullen. “And the whole vibe is the work flow as well. So there’s not a lot of mucking around trying to like get a drum sound or anything, like Russ knows, he can pull up a drum sound very quickly, so the work flow is really fast. No ones kind of sitting around getting bored waiting for the engineer to kind of catch up to the band. It’s usually more the other way around.
“So if the band is rehearsed and prepared they can actually get in there and get a lot done quite quickly. We’ll often get say five drum and bass tracks down in a day, you know which is pretty fast... So when we do a five-day EP deal there’s usually more days left at the end for mixing; you’ve got that luxury of time at the end that you can really [use to] nail stuff in the mix. So yeah, there’s no mucking around. It’s a good, fast work flow, but at the same time it’s comfortable.”
One of the studio’s more recent projects was recording Sydney’s Big White, a band clearly on the rise. “They came to us as an independent band and then within about a year – yeah I think we did whatever the first EPs were and then we ended up doing an album – they got signed by Caroline, which is part of Universal,” explains Cullen. “And I think they’ve played at SXSW two years in a row now. They’ve ticked off a few more overseas deals. So that’s probably in the last 18 months, one of the most exciting things, all recorded, mixed, mastered with us and they’re coming in later this year to do another record.”
As long as their doors remain open, Damien Gerard Studios will continue to be an integral part of the local music scene.