Inside Scotland’s Gorgeous Retro-Futuristic @tapestudio
What a song we’d hear if these walls could sing.
In bygone times, they housed a brothel, a cork factory and a whisky bond, and now they’re home to Edinburgh’s Tape Recording Studio (@tapestudio) –– a warm and bright digital / analog haven whose vintage sonic arsenal has ties to Pink Floyd, ABC, Fleetwood Mac, the Kinks, Marilyn Manson and ABBA.
Studio director Fiona McNab and record producer Stephen Watkins launched Tape in December 2013, as an antidote to the dingy squalor of many male-dominated recording studios. The stunningly renovated 19th century warehouse is embedded in musical history from its (floating) foundations up, as Stephen –– part steampunk pin-up, part encyclopedic pop tour guide –– explains as we explore the building.
It’s welcoming and retro-futuristic –– from the brilliant-white fabric walls (the guys who fitted them had just finished working on the home studio of David Gilmour, from Pink Floyd) through the neon glow in Tape’s impressive double-height live space (“It’s like Blade Runner in here at nighttime”), to an archaic-looking giant beast –– part-wooden tomb, part-submarine –– that transpires to be a 1960s plate reverb. (“We bought that from the Kinks’ Ray Davies. It sounds like old Fleetwood Mac records.”)
And then there’s Archie, the studio dog, whose squeaky-bone chewing and scampering paws play out like friendly metronomes.
Every corner of the building has a purpose –– a vocal booth here, an echo chamber there –– not to mention rooms and shelves heaving with kaleidoscopic audio-visual treats that range from the 1940s to the present day. These include myriad analog recorders, boom boxes, effects pedals, instruments, all manner of reverb systems (“That’s like the one ABC used on The Lexicon of Love”) and tube limiters (“You’ll hear something like that on Marilyn Manson and Weezer records”).
There are cozy sofas and home comforts, lava lamps and diamante dinosaurs, ornamental cheetahs, glam-rock My Little Ponies, a wall-mounted stag’s head and a blood-red hand idly flicking the Vs.
Both Stephen and Fiona talk engagingly about the theater of the studio, as an instrument and as a living, breathing organism – and clearly these philosophies are integral to the Tape ethos. “We want the studio experience to be tangible and exciting – and inspiring,” offers Fiona.
“Music should be a union of equipment, technology, techniques, ideas, songs and the ambience that’s captured in a building,” Stephen adds. Fiona offers a case in point. “I think a good example of what Stephen’s talking about is TeenCanteen, who’ve just been in recording,” she suggests. The Glasgow indie-pop four-piece have released a couple of well-received singles and worked with the Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly, BMX Bandits and Bill Ryder-Jones, but this sounds like a step up.
“When you hear the new songs they’ve done with Stephen, it’s quite a departure,” says Fiona. Stephen plays us the tracks they’ve been working on and, true to this, TeenCanteen appear to be morphing from twee-pop rabble to dramatic, Ronettes-era girl group, reinforced by killer strings. “That’s Stephen’s strength,” Fiona offers. “Bringing a band in and working with them from the ground up, to develop what’s in their heads.”
“I think TeenCanteen are the best new band in Scotland,” says Stephen. “Carla [Easton, singer-songwriter] has really clear ideas. They’re all about being a girl group and being feminists. Their influences are quite 1960s – harmonies, Phil Spector, Wall of Sound.” Stephen’s studio aesthetic and TeenCanteen’s pop ethos make for a righteous match. “They want things widescreen and orchestrated over-the-top – and, of course, if you look around the studio, you can see that’s totally my thing too,” he laughs.
It sounds like a singular labor of love. The same could be said for Tape Studio.
–– Nicola Meighan for Instagram @music