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An Interview with Joe Leach (Cowshed Recording Studio, London)

‘Same Horse Different Jockey’ was recorded entirely at Cowshed Studios, London; Joe Leach, Producer, Mixer, Sound Engineer and Owner of Cowshed Recording Studio talks to Kathryn O’Reilly (our roaming blogger) about his work and what it was like working with The Blockheads on the new album.

Born in London to Australian parents this multi talented man spent his first fifteen years in Australia before returning home to London. He then came back to London to seek fame and fortune in the music industry!

Do you come from a musical family?
JL: Yes I do; my father was the first Australian ever to be let into the Coldstream Guards Band and my earliest memory is of my dad marching up and down the square outside Buckingham Palace. He was a clarinettist and he still teaches and fixes musical instruments.

What instruments do you play?
JL: My father taught me how to play clarinet, I taught myself keyboard and I write. I’ve co-written an album with Jonny Phillips called ‘Good Times’; it’s inspired by 60s’ & 70’s Kraut lounge.

Where did you train?
JL: I taught myself music and learnt the craft of engineering on the job.

How did you start out?
JL: I always thought I’d be doing something musical. I started out spending six months painting speakers boxes for Purvisonic sound run by a Scotsman in 1985 in Australia. It’s quite an unlikely name for PA company! Then I went to making tea and coffee in a small studio, to making tea and coffee in a bigger studio and then I started engineering. I had my epiphany at 15 whilst listening to electric light orchestra. Then I moved to London. I wanted to be the first set of ears for a beautiful moment and that’s why I got into this industry; being part of it.

How did the Cowshed recording studio come about?
JL: I never wanted to own a studio, and I made contractual agreement with myself that I would never have one when I saw how difficult it was – it’s a tough business; then my studio kind of found me. I happened to walk in at the time when the previous owner was looking for someone to step into his shoes. I walked in a and fell in love with the place and thought, ‘if I don’t take this over this won’t be a recording studio for very long’.

The raision d’etre of the studio is to capture the live performance. It’s a shabby chic kind of place that creates a very relaxed comfortable and creative feeling when you walk in and the moment someone puts the headphones on they go ‘ooh this records gonna be proper’. All our microphones get plugged into special amplifiers that came from a BBC mixing desk from the 1970’s designed by Rupert Neve, the greatest designer ever. It creates a solid, but warm and distinctly old school sound; you can’t get that sound digitally. The Cowshed tape delay is very much a signature of the studio and you can hear the delay at the end of Boys Will Be Boys.

Having made this pact with yourself of never wanting to run a studio and then finding yourself doing it, did you ever think of giving up?
JL: Running a studio is a very difficult business mainly because aside from overheads and maintenance you have to keep up with technology and you can only have one client at any one time. People like to book in blocks and when people want the same blocks it means I have to turn away lots of work so there’s no consistency. There have been a few times when I thought ‘why did I ever do this?’, but I don’t regret it at all. It’s very hard to keep cash flow happening, even though the studio is very successful.
That’s the hardest part. Since I took the studio over in 2000, just about every studio that does what I do has closed down and engineers find it very hard to keep their own employment, so it was actually a god send; it’s kept me in employment and I got to put food on family’s table. And I got to work with The Blockheads!

How did your relationship with The Blockheads come about?
JL: Chaz came to the studio in 2010 as he wanted to record parts of the soundtrack for ‘Sex & drugs & rock & roll’. We got on well in the studio and he convinced the rest of The Blockheads that this would be a great place to record. Growing up, my mum definitely didn’t want me to listen to music like ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’. In Australia, The Blockheads were very big well known and popular.
I never would have thought aged nine or ten I’d be working with this band all those years later; it’s been quite a privilege.

What was is like in studio with The Blockheads?
JL: The Blockheads session was particularly memorable as no one had an idea how the album was gonna pan out. Although there were demos for all the songs, they were incohesive, because they were written by different members of the band; but the suspense of what was going to happen was such a thrill and there is a particular thrill of working with a band who have been around as long at The Blockheads have. What happens when a band works together for so long, is that the chemistry is very unique; they all know exactly what they need creatively and how to move forward as a group, giving each other space. It’s quite wonderful to experience that nice environment where everyone is all working on one unified goal.

How long do it take to record the album?
JL: 9 days, and then The Blockheads came back and did a few tweeks and so on. It was very quick, we recorded it to 2” tape the way albums used to be made, the way they would have been in the old days when they recorded ‘New Boots and Panties’. When you record like this it means you have to have it right when it goes down. This is the moment, no other fall back. We didn’t keep a single second take. You might think it would slow everyone down, but no, it focuses everyone and that’s why it has the feel it has.

Joe, you sound very passionate about your work!
JL: You have to be passionate about this job it requires a lot of patience, dedication and focus and you have to put up with a hell of a lot of bollocks along the way. But what I like about working with musicians is they have inner compulsion to do what they love to do. Artists spend their careers committed to doing what they are doing.
People realise recording in a bedroom is not going to work for them and they come to a place like mine and I can record everything together and catch it all properly. What works in the studio is the collaborative effort and that is what works for me. People put money on the line to achieve their artistic goal and it’s very rewarding.

Find out more about Joe and his studio:
Website: click here
Facebook: click here
Twitter: click here

And you can listen to Joe and Jonny’s work on itunes: click here