Published Oct 01, 2004"This place smells like a tent," says Brendan Canning, standing in the middle of the room. "A musty tent." It's not that the Broken Social Scene founder is wrong about the smell at Dave Newfeld's Stars and Suns, it's just not that unique for a recording studio.
There may not be tents, but this summer, Broken Social Scene has camped out at Stars and Suns, where they made their 2002 breakthrough record, You Forgot It In People. Bassist Charles Spearin sits in the control room, learning chords on a new song, calculating something interesting to do with them. Outside in the parking lot, Kevin Drew cuts Canning's hair into a shaggy mop that befits the band's latest bearded demeanour. Guitarist Andrew Whiteman and drummer Justin Peroff are leaving this week to tour Whiteman's Apostle of Hustle project; while they discuss plans, they seem at ease that the new Broken Social Scene record will continue on without them for a while. It's in good hands. Newf's hands.
Space Is the Place
Stars and Suns Studio, located down an industrial-looking street, a baseball heave away from the rock'n'roll heart of downtown Toronto, isn't particularly special. But for a custom-built home studio, the long, narrow, windowless 2,500 foot space inappropriate for either industrial or retail purposes is perfect for Dave Newfeld. The 42-year-old ball of energy started in bands in the 1980s; to make "a living" he attended Ryerson's Radio and Television program, but was quickly frustrated by their insistence on arcane, time-honoured radio skills like splicing reel-to-reel tape, and their scorn at his suggestion he could do more on his four-track portastudio at home.
After making some home-recorded dance tracks, Newfeld started recording bands at home, and five years ago financed by a $5,000 limit credit card he built Stars and Suns from scratch. The biggest expense? "Drywall," he deadpans.
When it comes to building a studio, location is key not just centrality (though that helps) but the space itself. "The first thing you want to think about it keeping noise from other people out, and not disturbing them, so you can play 24/7. The next priority would be separation between your live room and your control room. [The band's] sound should not be bleeding in."
Creative construction also plays a part Newfeld scrounged furniture discarded by the University of Toronto, and the glass between booths is a sliding door from a townhouse project that cost $60; he just built the wall around it. "If someone had come in and done custom glass, it would have cost me a couple thousand dollars. Same with that nine-foot door." He points and shrugs. "Okay, so we'll have a nine-foot door."
"Don't be intimidated," is his advice. "You don't have to make The Record Plant and spend half-a-million dollars. It's not that hard to do, but it is a lot of work."
I'm Your Man
"I know a lot of producers sit on couches," says Kevin Drew, "or come in for four hours. How's it going? Sounds great. See you guys later!' Dave doesn't know how to do that." Indeed, it was Newfeld's 24/7 approach Stars and Suns also contains his living space that led to the success of You Forgot It In People. When he wasn't wrangling ten BSS members, several of them accomplished producers on their own, he tinkered with arrangements and mixes for People while the band was away, and simply offered up the results. "He presented us with a record that we knew we couldn't make on our own," says Drew. "It was good to have someone on the outside looking in, that's not involved in the day-to-day practicalities of being in the band. He's such a control freak that it ended up working, even though there were lots of fights."
The artistic success of that album means that Broken Social Scene bigger, stronger, more disparate and divided, and more focused as well is back at Stars and Suns, this time with a FACTOR recording grant they couldn't get the last time. Sure, they could afford a fancier studio this time, but Stars and Suns is where Newf is.
"I've always been hands-on," says bassist Charles Spearin. "The first year with Dave was a lot of hand slapping and minor frustrations, but it's evolved where I can pretty much let Dave do all the knob twiddling. I trust him enough to, if not have a good interpretation of what our wishes are, at least to have a decent direction of his own. Also, we sorta took over his studio."
Indeed, Stars and Suns has become a home away from homes for the band; they've been recording new songs here for more than a year now. There's even a little jealousy. "We don't want to hear about other projects coming in here," Drew says protectively. (In addition to the Apostle of Hustle, Newfeld has manned the boards for Hawaii and Mean Red Spiders.)
But with BSS creatively fulfilled from constant touring and a wealth of side-projects, the whole band is more relaxed. "We really tied his hands a lot of times [on People]," says Drew. "Now we're just letting him do it. He wants to make a record where he doesn't have to fight so much for everything. It's giving free rein to a beautiful lunatic, but I wouldn't have it any other way."