In an unassuming building in London’s SoHo neighbourhood, big things are happening.
Simon Larochette has been producing well-known records for nearly seven years at The Sugar Shack studio on Wellington Street, though you wouldn’t even know it existed if you walked past.
No sooner do you enter the door than you’re in command central. At the centre of it all is a computer surrounded by monitors, compressors, EQs, and several small statues of Buddha. Clusters of vintage amplifiers adorn the recording floor, together with a drum kit and isolation booth for vocals.
Up above, in the studio’s loft space, drum hardware takes up one half, with air mattresses at the ready for artists who need to crash during recording on the other. A ramshackle kitchen completes the space.
Watching over it all is Winston – a white and grey striped cat who was initially brought on board to handle pest control.
Larochette has been producing and engineering music for about 10 years – the past seven at his current location.
An open approach
The studio philosophy is simple – find what’s best and go with it.
The typical studio power imbalance is as old as recorded music. Producers and engineers desire technically sound, modern recordings. Artists’ desire impulse and inspiration.
At Sugar Shack, Larochette tries to find the balance between the two.
“I try not to make it me against you,” he said. “I try to make it a team effort.”
Each artist brings a different style of not only music, but recording to Sugar Shack. As an example, Larochette said he recently had a bluegrass group that recorded everything live off the floor, choosing takes based on ‘feel’ rather than technical performance.
Compare that to a rock or punk group that is all about tight transitions and punch.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
There is a certain philosophy to recording, he explained. While the desire is always there to put something out that’s digestible, new and modern, sometimes you just have to embrace the vision of the artist and go with it.
When he first got The Sugar Shack up and running, Larochette said he would record anything and everything that came his way.
Success has afforded him the opportunity to be more selective in who and what he records. It’s a difficult balance though. While he said he doesn’t like to turn down work, being able to pursue projects he’s excited about has definitely made a difference with the albums he’s recorded.
“It’s a great place to be,” he said. “I have preferences and now I can actually work through my preferences.”
Rather than specialize in one particular genre, he said he finds it far more rewarding to work with a variety of artists and styles.
Pressed for vinyl
Vinyl is all the rage these days, and local artists are embracing it fully. When it comes to recording for turntable, Larochette said there is no special setting to make vinyl ‘pop’.
“You can make considerations and it may help down the line,” he said. “For the most part, there is a little at the very end, and that’s typically in mastering.”
If you make all of those considerations or none of those considerations, you’ll likely still be fine, he said.
Dozens of records, some 12-inch, some six, adorn the studio walls. The artwork is a who’s-who of London music, and a living history of The Sugar Shack. Johnny Terrien and the Bad Lieutenants, Broomsticks and Hammers, Hiroshima Hearts, Wasted Potential and Heart Attack Kids… Fuse readers will recognize many of the albums that were born on Wellington Street.
Spreading the word
Word of mouth is a big part of his business. Social media – for all its instant communication glory – is a distraction, Larochette said. Do a good enough job and band-to-band referrals will come.
Sometimes, he said, groups will approach him based on a band’s recommendation without ever hearing a Sugar Shack record.
Bucking the trends
Trends happen. It’s inevitable in music.
But, Larochette said, if you’re already noticing them on a grand scale, that peak has passed.
“They come and go too fast now with the internet,” he said. “In Canada we’re not really at the forefront of any of that.”
Rather, the focus at The Sugar Shack isn’t chasing down the next big thing. It’s about putting out quality music with bands that are as invested in the finished product as Larochette himself.
He’s already got a full slate of artists to record at The Sugar Shack this summer, and unless you were staking them out, you’d never know it all took place just a few feet from the sidewalk on Wellington Street.
Check out Sugar Shack on Facebook right here.