There’s a new recording studio in Berlin, one made for artists by artists, set up by Cameron Laing and Jaime Molleda. First with his bands Quixote and Bunny Suit and now under his own name, Cameron has been active on the Berlin scene since he arrived five years ago. He’s now signed to Universal, but wanted to have a recording space set to his own high standards, a place for artists to come and feel at ease and take the time to produce their best work. We talked to Cameron and co-conspirator Jaime last week.
I was living with my band on a houseboat in London, which was slowly sinking
indieBerlin: So Cameron, what brought you to Berlin?
Cameron Laing: I was living with my band on a houseboat in London, which was slowly sinking…at some point they decided it was too dangerous and sold it, which meant we had to leave. And that was kind of the kick, so we upped and headed off to Paris and landed in this terrible hostel, surrounded by gangs, quite a dangerous place – which is where I met James here.
Jaime Molleda: Yup.
Cameron Laing: And that was six weeks in Paris, quite dodgy, and one day I went down to the bus station, I looked at the bus timetable and I saw a bus going to Berlin, so took it, I turned up and started busking, a guy from a German pop band heard me and asked me to do some vocals for a record he was doing with Universal, and offered me his flat to live in, so it was a bit of a no-brainer. I didn’t like Paris and Berlin seemed different. James came a couple of weeks after me, we stayed, and after having had the experience of working with Universal writers and staying in this flat, it seemed a good idea to get the band over to join me and we resurrected things here and decided to try and make a proper go of the Berlin life.
I mixed and worked on my own music for over ten years and worked with a variety of producers and never was really satisfied with the results
indieBerlin: What made you decide to open a studio?
Cameron Laing: I mixed and worked on my own music for over ten years and worked with a variety of producers and never was really satisfied with the results, working huge projects with hundreds of channels and sending it to a producer and hope that they would understand what all the chaos was meant to be.
And if you’re going to do your own production you have to have your own place to work, so after years of struggling – I mixed one album on a laptop on the dashboard of a bus I was living in next to Checkpoint Charlie – so I was trying to find a place where you could work in a professional way. It took years of searching, and finally I found this place, which is perfect.
You can make noise twenty four hours a day
Jaime Molleda: You have two hundred ateliers mostly for sculptors and artists, so there’s some people in the creative business who are not noisy, and there are a few studios down here, but they’re nicely spread so that no one’s interfering with each other. So you can make noise twenty four hours a day, renovate and build things, no stress, so we could sculpt the room into the room that we want and not receiving interference from any neighbours and stuff.
Cameron Laing: And I realised that with some fairly extensive investment it could be a real recording studio, where I would have access to everything every day, and rent it out to artists at an affordable option for recording professional records.
indieBerlin: What makes this studio different?
Cameron Laing: The main reason that people have been booking the studio is that we’re musicians and songwriters, and composers, and creative producers in the sense of we’re working on things, trying to be original, instead of working to a timeline, while trying to be professional. The experience that we’ve built, and the attitude that we have, it’s for artists by artists. We have maybe a bit more energy and enthusiasm.
We have an old antique pump organ, an old tape-cassette-oriented one too, obivously a piano, a great one, a lot of vintage amps and stuff, lots of extremely good mics and pre-amps
indieBerlin: What kind of servcies can you offer bands?
Cameron Laing: Full body massages, that kind of thing…
Jaime Molleda: Well you can record a drumkit and everything else, drumkits sound great in here. It’s the only studio where we’ve ever used the room mics in the mix, and it just sounds like drumkit in a room, how you’d imagine it.
So we can do full album recording services, multitracking instrument by instrument, we have an old antique pump organ, an old tape-cassette-oriented one too, obivously a piano, a great one, so we offer a range of acoustic instruments, a lot of vintage amps and sutff, so multitracking for a full band production is an obvious one, but we also do a lot of live recording, especially for live videos, because the room is decorated in quite an ambient way.
indieBerlin: Does having been a songwriter yourself – writing both for yourself and others – give you a particular take on the recording process?
Cameron Laing: Definitely. Of course the more you work for other people and the more different genres that you work in the more experience you get and the more you learn, and it also takes you out of your comfort zone. So you can’t just keep repeating the one thing, the same little set of tricks, it forces you to think outside the box, so yeah, it’s definitely a huge learning curve. It’s taught me a lot about arrangements as well, focusing less on how big the arrangements can get but more on how beautiful the individual components can be.
Jaime Molleda: With different people coming in every day you get a lot of chances to try out different mic combinations and so on and see what works best for the individual situation.
indieBerlin: If someone comes in with, say a 95 % finished thing, do you offer something like where you help put it in a certain direction or….?
Cameron Laing: Yeah, of course. Most people actually come here with the foundation of a song and want us to actually do an arrangement for them. So it’s often we take the bare bones of a song and try and get inside their heads as much as possible, and spend time listening to everything they’ve been listening to recently and try to reabsorb everything that inspired them, and find our own way of translating that into something that is going to be within their taste but a little bit special.
indieBerlin: So it’s not like a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.
Cameron Laing: No, it’s completely a bespoke thing. But back to the question of working as a songwriter, it’s also the other way around of course, being an artist inspired the idea of setting up a studio. When I was younger and going to studios and booking three days and having an engineer, there’s a lot time pressure.
You know that okay, on the third day I need to do the vocals, and you’re tired from working and sleeping in the studio for three days and being involved in every process, you’re maybe not in the mood to sing and you’re physically exhausted and your voice is maybe not at its best, you know that you’ve got eight hours to get it done, three takes and that’s it, gotta move on, gotta move on….
It was much more enjoyable to work in this other studio in Wedding, we had a day each week so we could say, okay, if it’s not working today then we can do it next week, take a walk and clear your head instead. And that’s why here, we offer artists open-ended days where we can be as flexible as we possibly can. As long as we’re still standing and our objectivity is still there we can 14 hour days if we need to and offer the artist a much more comfortable experience.
indieBerlin: So: Why the weird name? What’s the story behind it?
Cameron Laing: Well…my dad died recently and left me this (points to the gold watch on his wrist). It never works properly although I didn’t know that when I took it, for a while it was getting slower by five minutes each day, which after five or six days is quite a big difference, but it happens slowly so you don’t realise it.
Which resulted in more than one experience of coming extremely close to missing planes. When you’ve been drinking all night in London and you wake up hungover and have to run back to the pub to pick up your suitcase and run in a total panic through the streets, and suddenly you realise that it’s not the time you thought it was and actually you’re much later than you thought you were…
The watch was also stolen by a group of guys in Berlin at the Mayday Carnival, they’d approached me trying to sell me coke and then noticed the watch and popped it off my wrist as they segregated off my friends. I went to the police, because obviously it’s very personal to me, and I didn’t want to lose it. but they refused to help, and said I’d have to go and file a report, even though you could more or less see the guys who stole it just across the road…
I was with Jaime, and he’d had a lot of experience with pick pockets and thieving bastards in Paris, so he just went over to the group of guys and got it back without any fuss. As soon as they saw him they recognized he was part of my group and for them, giving it back is much easier than the hassle it causes them if the police actually did get involved, so they just handed it over. Obviously I was extremely grateful and figured later the idea kinda popped into my head that the watch was a nice tribute both to my Dad, and something relevant to James and I, without being too obvious or too cheesy.
Having this kind of Fantastic Mr. Fox inspired name also appealed
Cameron Laing: Yeah, It was one of those ridiculous moments, I thought I’d lost my dad’s watch, obvoiusly it’s a very personal memento, it had a lot of importance for me. So when we came to the name we wanted something that had some significance for us both, and not just call it like Hedgehog Studios or whatever…
Anyway. When we came to build the studio…while I designed it, James did all the construction, and it has a slightly fairytale vibe to it. And having this kind of Fantastic Mr. Fox inspired name also appealed. And so we thought, rather than going so personal that it’s a bit obvious, it’s a nice tribute to my father, and to James, and also to me, and calling it The Famous Gold Watch – which everyone calls it, rather than the official name, The Curious Story of the Famous Gold Watch made it sound a bit more fairy tale…
indieBerlin: Yeah, I find it really cool because it’s such an unusual name for a studio. Should stick in people’s minds…
Cameron Laing: Yeah, they probably won’t remember all the words but like….hmmm…something about a gold watch or something…and then it’s easy to find.
But I’m not trying to create a typical studio that looks and sounds like a typical studio…but a creative workspace. We’re doing it so that the prices are affordable.
There’ve been people that came thinking they wanted to take one or two days but then took a few extra days…or wanted to come in a couple of days before to sit and finish writing the song….sit on the sofa, lie on the floor, listen to some records….It means they can be inspired and not walk in and go, right, take one, take two, let’s go…It’s an artistic space and not just a functional space.
indieBerlin: So you haven’t done any advertising yet but you’ve had some people in already….
Cameron Laing: Yeah, just through word of mouth. A few people came in and then recommended it to their friend. We’ve had one client here who recommended it to the boss of a record shop that she knows and works with, so now he’s taken two days every month…the video shoot with James Clayton, that came through Ben (Wuyts, who has also recorded here)…so far it’s pretty much all word of mouth. Queax Queax Jones recorded a live session here, which should be available as a video hopefully next month.
indieBerlin: Why Weissensee?
Cameron Laing: Well – I’ve been in Berlin for six years, Jame as well, here and back in the UK and now here again, and so I do spend a lot of my time away, I’m not here as a proper Berlin resident but I’ve lived in Kreuzberg, I’ve lived in Lichtenberg, Prenzlauer Berg, and there just comes a point when I’m old enough now to feel like I can take a train if I want to go drinking and go to a party zone, but to live and work in a quieter area every day is nice. This building (European Creative City) is amazing….We have a farm…
In the hof, there are sheep, goats, peacocks, rabbits, chickens…
indieBerlin: A farm?
Jaime Molleda: Yeah, in this place, in the hof, there are sheep, goats, peacocks, rabbits, chickens…and there’s lakes and forests all around, and here there’s a private cafe, beach area to chill out and make bonfires. It’s just funny to go to the garden and take a lunch break and be headbutted by a goat…
indieBerlin: Yeah, firstly it must be good to be just a little bit out, so it’s not just noisy outside, and the temptation of things going on the whole time. And I mean you have farm animals outside and everything but you’re still right in the city…
Cameron Laing: That’s the thing, people always think Weissensee is far out but it’s 15 minutes to Alexanderplatz, on a bike it’s 20, Prenzlauerberg is the next district, it’s actually not far at all, so you’re out of the hustle and bustle and can have a space like this but you’re still close to your big artist network, plus huge garden…
indieBerlin: And plentiful parking outside…
Cameron Laing: Exactly! Not so usual for Berlin, plenty of parking in the hof…
indieBerlin: Special pieces of equipment?
Cameron Laing: We have a lot of lovely lamps…there’s the lightsabre mic….I think the wallpaper’s quite special…the piano’s being restored but it’s really amazing, sounds magnificent…there’s also this lovely old vintage guitar amp made by a company called Akoustic who were famous for making bass amps essentially, but in a nice way, which is great.
But, also microphones and preamps…we have the Neve 1073s…which is the preamp in history…I mean there’s millions of preamps but the Neve 1073 is the one that’s been copied a million times, and we’re lucky enough to have the original here. Mics: We have the ribbon Royer 121, the lightsaber, sounds fantastic, and the Neumanns sound fantastic, it’s a really nice, small but really nice collection…
indieBerlin: And how does the work balance break down between you and James?
it’s a nice balance having had experience with working with studios and good mics and orchestras and drumkits or whatever and then having someone who has such a good ear for the fine details.
Jaime Molleda: Well, we both do almost everything, but I think I contribute more to the acoustic side of things, I’ve been an acoustic musician all my life..
Cameron Laing: Yeah, before we started the studio I had heard some of James’ acoustic recordings, flutes, acoustic guitars, violins, what have you, and he always got an extraordinary sound with very basic equipment, just like an SM57 and a cheap soundcard, mic going straight in with no preamps and still making the thing sound amazing, you know. And it’s a nice balance having had experience with working with studios and good mics and orchestras and drumkits or whatever and then having someone who has such a good ear for the fine details.
Jaime Molleda: Making things sound natural.
Cameron Laing: Yeah, because it’s actually very hard to make things sound natural, mics don’t behave in the way that you think.
indieBerlin: Thanks for chatting. That’s all we have time for.
Cameron Laing: Typical. I was just getting warmed up.
indieBerlin: How do people get in touch about using the studio?
Jaime Molleda: We don’t have a website yet but we have a Facebook Page, mail us on famousgoldwatch at gmail.com or phone on +493092409054.
Interview by Noel Maurice | Photos by Agathe Danon