By Brock ThiessenWith a term like "musical institution” comes a lot of weight —authority, importance and even a bit of egotism. In the case of the Hive, it’s a label that’s more than warranted. And in many ways, the Vancouver studio’s client list says it all. Black Mountain, Destroyer, Ladyhawk, Frog Eyes, Hot Hot Heat and P:ano, along with virtually every other significant West coast indie act, have all put down sound at the Hive during the studio’s 12 years, with the last five of those being spent in a 3,000-square-foot facility in the remote industrial wilds of Burnaby, BC.
Behind studio doors, a cavernous gear-littered control room serves as the Hive’s central command. Inside stands an impressive 30-year-old analog console; half of it was once owned by the Village People, the other by Jethro Tull. It’s now connected to a mass of digital hardware, ProTools-sporting monitors, Space Echoes, plate reverbs and god knows what else.
Beyond two-foot-thick walls and thousands of dollars worth of glass at the room’s front is Studio A, the Hive’s principal recording space. It’s also the biggest room by far, so large in fact that if a band wants to record an alcohol-fuelled, 75-person gang vocal, like Vancouver metalheads Bison recently did, the Hive can easily accommodate them.
The smaller Studio B (or Bee) is set off to the side for more reserved sessions, with instrument-lined hallways connecting the two and leading out to a kitchen/foosball arena, as well as a lobby with one killer selection of old-school NES games.
All together, the Hive has the facilities and gear to turn out some serious-sounding stuff. Surprisingly, though, it feels more like big, comfy rumpus room than some stiff, overly hygienic pro studio."I want people to feel comfortable when they go into Hive,” says its head engineer and co-founder Colin Stewart. "I brought an old friend in recently and he was like, ‘Colin, this feels like your bedroom in junior high.’ And I was like, that is awesome. That is how I want it to feel.”
This down-to-earth atmosphere at the Hive of today stems from its yesterday, when for seven years it set up various home studios in Vancouver’s east side before relocating to its current Burnaby location in 2003. And needless to say, the move was a successful one; the studio and its collective — engineers Stewart, Jesse Gander and Stuart McKillop, as well as Stewart’s wife and business partner Terry — have been booked solid for five years."Bands don’t want to go into a studio and feel like they’ve just gone to the hospital or that they are about to get their teeth pulled. And a lot of studios in town are like that,” says 33-year-old Stewart. "There are some amazing studios here, but they can be kind of daunting to a little band that has never recorded before and just wants to make a cool, little indie rock record.”
While the Hive undoubtedly caters to the indie persuasion, the studio’s aesthetic is by no means locked in the hissy realms of lo-fi. "When we opened up this place, we were all out to make more authentic-sounding rock albums,” says Gander. "There are a lot of basement studios out there just making simulations of rock albums or where they are just laying things down in pieces. The type of band that comes here wants to make records the old-fashioned way, by doing stuff live off the floor. I mean, we still do production like crazy, but at least at first we try to capture the band as they are.”
With this also comes a desire to take chances with recordings, and as Steward puts it, "to not follow the general watered-down, homogenous aesthetic.” This means a lot of experimenting happens at the Hive, sonically and otherwise."Some studios only have good equipment, but we have shitty equipment too,” says Gander proudly. "And utilizing the shitty equipment is where the experimentation comes in. We are all people who like trippy-sounding recordings and we will stop at no ends to make them.”
And Gander isn’t kidding: several albums have been recorded entirely on mushrooms at the Hive, including Ladyhawk’s now-infamous Mushroom Sessions. The studio also once recorded experimental Vancouver outfit Beans for 48 hours straight, a feat that certainly required some sort of substance assistance.This desire to push things forward also means the Hive rarely repeats itself, and big name clients or not, it’s a constant work in progress. "I feel like I never know what I’m doing,” Stewart says. "Every time I make a record I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing wrong for so long. I get it now.’ There is always something new to learn. It’s so important never to get complacent or arrogant or to think you always know what you are doing because you never do.”
And while the Hive’s facility itself has played a critical role in the collective’s success, as Stewart points out, it’s not really so much the space that’s important but who’s inside it."It’s really the person that makes the recording, not the place or the equipment even. And the Hive is all about the people. Bands come here to work with us, not because they think the studio space is good.”