Published Sep 15, 2014A massive wall of framed vinyl greets visitors to Rain City Recorders. Featuring international successes like Japandroids' Celebration Rock and under the radar gems like The Jazz Age by the City Streets, the wall doubles as a resume for Jesse Gander, recording engineer and co-owner of the East Vancouver recording studio. "It's an homage to the bands who have supported us through the years," says Gander.
Opened two years ago by Gander's producing partner, Stu McKillop, Rain City quickly became a hub for the more aggressive side of the city's music scene. Gander built his rep recording bands like 3 Inches of Blood and Bison B.C. and both Anciients and White Lung recorded their most recent releases in the space. "It's really hard music to produce well," he says, sitting in the studio's spacious control room. "It's really difficult to get this massive sound to sound that way through little tiny ear buds. I've worked on that for many years. I think I know how to do it pretty well now."
A veteran musician who's played in a host of local bands including Operation Makeout and Black Rice, Gander, 36, was a well-known fixture around the tight-knit Vancouver music scene long before his producing career took off. The youngest of three boys, his interest in music was piqued by his audiophile parents and their collection of over 10,000 records. "Sound quality was always an important thing in my house," he says. "The focus of my parent's living room is two giant Klipsch speakers."
Growing up in North Vancouver, Gander focused his energies on booking shows and singing with teenage punks d.b.s. The quartet recorded many of their records with Cecil English, known for his work with D.O.A. and NoMeansNo, at Profile Studios on Commercial Drive. "He was always keen to answer my questions," says Gander, who is entirely self-taught. "When a lot of the guys in the band were going home after the session, I'd ask Cecil if it was okay if I could sleep in the control room. I just loved sleeping in there with all the lights." Gander spends the first night in any studio he's run "sleeping with the electricity."
He applied what he'd gleaned from English to a series of cassette four-track recordings. But he defines his career from the day he started multi-track recording with ProTools on a Mac G4, both paid for with a bank loan co-signed by his father. "I saw that for substantially less money than buying a good console and a good tape machine, I could buy something that theoretically sounds half-decent."
He worked out of his parents North Vancouver home for a year-and-a-half, recording bands in their basement before moving in with friends. He turned his bedroom into a recording room while a second room served as the control room.
A year later English offered Gander Profile's B-Room, which Gander christened Rec-Age. It was during this period that he met McKillop, who started as Gander's intern before working his way up to his own projects.
In 2003, Colin Stewart asked Gander to become the Chief Recording Engineer at the newly opened Hive Creative Labs in Burnaby. The two had struck up a friendship after they produced respective sides of a Hot Hot Heat/Red Light Sting split twelve-inch in 2000 and started swapping gear. "I figured why compete when we could be allies? We're just barely scraping by as it is." McKillop joined them, and started operating the Hive's "Bee" room as Rain City Recorders in 2008. He eventually moved Rain City to its current location off Main Street in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. When Stewart moved the Hive to Victoria, Gander re-teamed with McKillop. "I'd always hoped that Stu and I could continue to be partners," he says. They shut the studio down for a week and rebuilt it, adding the vinyl wall and integrated Gander's gear. The renos made the studio, which includes a live room and an isolation room, more versatile. "We can do things live off the floor with complete isolation so all the mistakes can still be repaired."
Gander is as much an advocate for digital recording and its democratizing effects as you'll find. But he's understands the value that can come from having a group of people performing together in a room. "Even if I'm doing a record where I know I'm going to be overdubbing everything, I like to start with things live. The first couple of days when the band is rocking out is when a trust is built between me and the band." The approach hearkens back to his days recording on his four track. "I don't have much of a career working in big expensive studios," he says. "I've always worked with some limitations, so I've learned to utilize those and get around them."