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In Memoriam: Camp Street closed, Mad Oak inherits gear

January 7, 2011

(Photo of the Tweed Mixing Console with Mad Oak audio engineer courtesy of Mad Oak)

Those of us typically operating at or above the radar may have missed the recent closing of the beloved Camp Street Studios in Cambridge.  On December 19, 2010, Camp Street closed its doors forever, and ended a legendary chapter of Boston music recording history. Camp Street was an institution grown from the venerable Fort Apache Studios that had resided in the Camp Street location (next to Rounder Records warehouse) since 1988.  In 2002, Fort Apache owner Gary Smith moved the studio up to the village of Bellows Falls, Vermont where it continues to operate under a larger business umbrella of music recording and promotions.  At that point, original Fort Apache founders/engineers Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade continued to run the studio in Cambridge under the name Camp Street Studios.

Kolderie and Slade were two of the innovators of the Boston rock sound at Fort Apache, and are partly responsible for bringing that sound to the masses by producing records for bands like The Pixies, Radiohead, The Lemonheads, Elliott Smith, The Specials, Weezer, Yo La Tengo, Warren Zevon, and countless others. Camp Street was admired and envied by music lovers everywhere for their untouchable collection of musical instruments, recording equipment and recording engineers.  The list of artists they worked with reads like a who’s who list of local and national talent like Peter Wolf, Juliana Hatfield, The Dresden Dolls, Tanya Donelly, Toots and the Maytals, Cave In, The Upper Crust, Cornershop and so many more.

Upon starting the studio in 2002, Camp Street acquired the custom vintage Tweed Audio mixing console that gave their records the unique sound that has become synonymous with their name. Much to the delight of the Boston music community, this sound board will continue to live on at the controls of Mad Oak Studios in Allston.  BBC recently had the opportunity to speak with head engineer (and recent two-time BMA recipient) Benny Grotto about the acquisition of this invaluable piece of sound recording heaven.

BBC: When/how did you first hear about Camp Street closing down?
BG: I heard rumors of it earlier last year, but I didn’t know it to be a concrete reality until just a few months ago.

BBC: What is Mad Oak’s relationship with Camp Street?
BG: I’ve been engineering for Slade for a number of years, and we would occasionally mix at Camp Street. Between working there and just hanging around with Slade, the Camp Street guys just sorta became friends of ours.

BBC: What was your reaction?
BG: There’s really only one reaction you can have to something like that: disappointment and disbelief.

BBC: How did Mad Oak manage to acquire the vintage Tweed?
BG: Slade called one day to tell me that Paul had concocted an idea to keep the Tweed local, and that he wanted it at Mad Oak. My impression is that it was very important to him to keep it somewhere he knew it would get the care it deserved, while also allowing he and Adam and Alex access to it. So he got in touch and made us an amazing (and extremely generous) offer. It all happened incredibly quick, literally a matter of weeks.

BBC: How thrilled are you?
BG: Uhhh…I’m fucking psyched! The board has such a deep history, from the work Paul and Adam did on it at Camp Street to the work done in its previous home at The Old Smithy Studio in Worcestershire, England (including Black Sabbath and Robert Plant…rock!!!).

BBC: What will the Tweed bring to Mad Oak?
BG: As cheesy as it sounds, the Tweed elevates Mad Oak to a new level, plain and simple. A new console is probably the one piece of gear that can instantly improve a studio’s sound quality in a pretty major way, and the Tweed is absolutely a world-class board in that respect.

BBC: Where is it going in the studio?
BG: It’s going to be going in our control room, replacing our existing Tritech console (which is going to head off to what we hope to become Mad Oak Studio B).

BBC: What are the possibilities for bands and the studio, knowing the history of the board and the studio it came from?
BG: What we expect to see (and hear) is an improvement in the way we make records. The Tweed is such a powerful tool, not just in terms of how great it sounds, but also in terms of the vibe it has. Just standing near the thing is very, very exciting. That kind of excitement inspires bands in a really amazing way, which makes for much, much better recordings. I think that when a band comes in knowing the board’s history, it will push them to elevate their playing. It’s a rare piece of gear that can have that effect, and the Tweed has it in spades. I’d just like to add that in losing Camp Street Studio, Boston has lost a very important piece of history. It makes me sad to think that there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians in Boston who never had the opportunity to set foot in those rooms (let alone, record there). Rooms like theirs are few and far in between, and it was really amazing that Boston had one of the best.

The Fort Apache/Camp Street connection still lives on in Cambridge with the illustrious and vibrant The Bridge Sound and Stage, which occupies the original Edmunds Street location of Fort Apache.  This summer they hosted the first annual Boston Rock Bar-be-que, which was a massive sucess as a benefit to raise money for Zumix, as well as serving to be a delightful jam session for some of the city’s talented musicians.

Thank you to Camp Street for your many years of service to Boston music!

  1. Let me hear an "Amen!" from the choir…….

  2. You know, this is something real that shouldn't have happened. Maybe they could open this place for people to visit, you know like a museum or gallery! Since history happened here.

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