Studio Profile: Chale Abbey

Just two hours from London via boat or hovercraft, UK festival island the Isle of Wight has added a new studio to its thriving music scene.

Located at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight is Chale Abbey Studios, one of the best-equipped recording spaces south of London. Nestled on the downs just two minutes from the coast, this residential facility, which was only completed in summer 2013, has already recorded a number of projects including Michael Kiwanuka’s new album and Bernhoft’s album Islander.

The studio is built around the live room, a stone barn that dates back to the 1500s. “When we initially saw the barn, as a working farm building, we were blown away with the natural acoustics and feel of the space,” says recording engineer David Granshaw.

A decision was made to keep as many of the original features as possible including the oak trusses and stone walls. “The old stone walls provide brilliant diffusion, there’s such a nice ambience.” A solid oak floor has been added to enhance the acoustics, along with a new upgraded roof.

“I love the ambient miking,” adds resident producer Paul Butler; also of Isle of Wight and Brighton band The Bees, “having the option of doing a tambourine take 10 metres away from the microphone so you can layer up a wall of sound in essence. You can use the whole space and we do it all the time and it’s beautiful. You don’t have to EQ or effect anything and it can just sit at the back of the mix because it is naturally recorded at the back of the mix. It’s amazing. Same with backing vocals or effects, big stomps on the floor or something like that just to have that big impact.”

Heavy wool serge curtains allow a range of acoustic options. In addition, acoustic panels up in the eaves have tamed some of the low frequencies. A moveable booth option is being considered, though at the moment Taytrix gobos in combination with rugs are used to enclose the drums and amps for a tighter sound.

Adjacent to the live room are the fully isolated control room and a smaller live room, both designed from the ground up by White Mark.

Granshaw: “This room has been working really well for vocals and upright piano. It’s very useful as a contrast to the big room and allows us to record live with complete separation. We also occasionally use the hallways and cupboards for guitar amps, or the Leslie cabinet.”

The control room, which has soffit-mounted ATC SCM150 ASL main monitors and Adam Audio S3-A nearfields, is centred around an SSL 4000G+ console. Butler adds: “This board is a beautiful thing to have in the studio for both mixing and for all its routing options, and it’s just a nice thing to sit at.” Large windows to both live rooms allow for good communication, as well as letting in plenty of natural light.

The studio has an eclectic range of outboard from Universal Audio, Thermionic Culture, Focusrite, Emperical Labs, and E.A.R. The Pro Tools HDX system also features a large number of plug-ins from Sonnox, Waves, Altiverb, and UAD.

As well as the natural live room chamber, reverb options at the studio include an EMT 240 gold foil plate, Bricasti M7, and a Space Echo RE-201. Two other interesting elements that the studio is going to develop are a World War II bomb shelter and underground concrete tanks, which will be used as echo chambers. “The bomb shelter is built into a hill on the property so it has great isolation. It also sounds mad and wonderful so we thought it’d be great fun to stick a mic and a speaker in there and experiment!” adds Granshaw.

 Butler’s collection includes a wide selection of Fender gear

Nice and close

Butler was set on going anywhere in the world to get a residency in a big place, and then Chale Abbey Studios turned up five minutes down the road. His Ventnor-based The Steam Rooms studio was a “semi-smelly basement”, and he missed working in big places. Butler: “I’d like to record with space from now on. I’m going to have my own little mix room at home, but as far as recording a band goes, I like space, so this place works great.”

Butler has built-up a collection of instruments playing with The Bees, a whole load of which are at Chale Abbey Studios. Between Butler and the studio, Chale Abbey Studios is full of interesting toys. Granshaw: “As well as the Bechstein grand and upright pianos, we’ve got a wide range of vintage instruments including a Hammond L100 with Leslie 145, a Fender Rhodes, and a Philicorder. We’ve also got an old ’69 Rogers kit and he’s got a nice ’60’s Ludwig, they’re interchangeable.”

Butler also has lots of “really cool, old, wonky sounding stuff ”, and loads of Fender silverface gear including a whole range of Twins, Bassman heads, and different sized cabs. “That coupled with our backline of new and old amps and drums gives us lots of options.”

The mic cupboard is already well stocked with several Coles 4038s, Neumann U87s, Neumann KM 184s a Soundelux E251, a vintage AKG D25, and STC ball and biscuit to name a few. “We are always on the lookout for nice vintage mics. You can’t have enough and they provide such a natural EQ.”