Published Apr 01, 2019From the outside, Tape Studio looks like an unassuming grey garage behind Adam Bentley's house on the edge of Hamilton's Corktown neighbourhood. Inside, it's an enchanting blend of rustic wood, vintage synths and the mark of any modern-day studio setup — an iMac.
Bentley and his creative collaborator Jordan Mitchell have known each other since high school and spent a decade together in Canadian indie rock band the Rest. Now, Bentley works full-time from home as a publicist and the head of Auteur Research, while Mitchell works at a couple of local restaurants, but the studio remains the pair's passion project.
They've recorded with the Dirty Nil, Single Mothers and Basement Revolver, but that was never the intention. After the Rest broke up, Bentley and Mitchell vowed to create music together with only one stipulation — no guitars. The studio was designed as a space for the duo to explore a new experimental electronic-leaning project.
As such, they weren't (and still aren't) looking to turn it into a 24/7 rock'n'roll recording operation. They'll make time for stuff that's the right fit, but they had to get selective fast.
"We took a couple projects on, and we quickly learned that it's gotta be worth the time to do," Mitchell says. "If it isn't fun, then it's probably better for us to not do it."
Amongst the projects that helped them learn that hard lesson was an ensemble that Bentley and Mitchell will only refer to as "Christian Pet Sounds."
Initially, Bentley and Mitchell started recording their own work inside the house, but later decided to fix up the dilapidated coach house in the backyard — a task that snowballed into a crash course on DIY construction and animal control.
"It was dangerous," Bentley remembers. "There were raccoons, possums — like lots. Lots."
As Bentley puts it, when his dad finally yanked off the door to the coach house: "There was just animal feces."
They determined it would be "impossible" to simply touch up the place.
In 2014, Bentley and Mitchell ripped the old structure to the ground and started to rebuild with their own hands and barely any experience. Bentley freely admits, "I worked at a hardware store for eight years, and basically my best quality was not being seen."
They had to bring in help for the framing, the spray foam insulation and electrical (installed by Tristan Miller from fellow Hamilton studio Catherine North), but the rest of it was a labour of love whenever the friends had the spare time to devote.
"It was an airplane that was being built in the air," Mitchell says.
It now stands a handsome 22 x 24 feet, with a ceiling that peaks at 13 feet. Three of the four walls are covered with wood planks atop six layers of insulating material, save for an imperceptibly small window on one side. The fourth wall is a marvel of stacked wood bits, jutting out like meticulously placed Jenga pieces (and thankfully, a lot more stable).
"This wall helps, it's a diffuser wall that basically gives the best sound reflections," Bentley explains. "It's built out blocks of the old building. It's not perfect in terms of its execution" — Mitchell laughs — "because it was horrendous to make and occasionally we'd be like 'I don't have a block this exact size to make it work, so this is good enough.'"
That laidback approach carries over into Bentley and Mitchell's recording style.
While their current musical project falls into the realm of "super meticulous weird electronic pop stuff" that's been in the works for five years now, they still appreciate the simplicity and spontaneity of finishing a rock band project in a couple of days.
Bentley and Mitchell remember the time they sent Single Mothers what they thought was a first mix and the band put it up online the next day. The Dirty Nil pulled a similar move with a quick-release Van Halen cover.
"You'll drive yourself crazy if you get too deep into that kind of music, where you're listening to a snare over and over and lose perspective on everything," Mitchell muses. "So you want to get it in that sweet spot. The Single Mothers thing, it was over before anyone could make any dumb decisions."
Plus, it's never boring when the Nil are in the studio.
"Luke [Bentham] is still doing leg-kicks and blowing bubbles and you're like 'What the fuck?'" says Bentley. "But then you listen to the tapes and they're perfect. That's just how he plays guitar. He would be playing his guitar in his bedroom the exact same way."
When the rock bands leave and the guitars get unplugged, though, Bentley and Mitchell are free to return to their knobs and buttons and electronic implements; the studio becomes their creative haven once again.
"I like this out here because of the day job. It keeps me grounded in terms of 'Oh, this is what it's still about,'" Bentley says. "It's gotta be about the music or why the hell are we doing any of this?"