One of my favourite parts of exploring Hamilton’s music scene has been visiting recording studios. Getting to learn about the rich history of music in the city has given me a greater appreciation for it all. I’m also really interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff and what goes into making a record – makes me feel that much closer to the music.
I was really excited to stop by Catherine North, a studio I’d heard about in my travels which has a rich history in itself. It really is a hidden gem, tucked away in a residential area in the James North neighbourhood. If you didn’t know, you’d walk right past the studio – I almost did! It’s located inside what was once a church. It is humble and unassuming from the front and when you step inside you are greeted to the gorgeous interior.
My favourite piece of decor are the birds, pictured below, which were designed by local artist and musician Tor Lukasik-Foss, a.k.a. Tiny Bill Cody. They inadvertently became the emblem of the studio, and I think it’s the perfect fit. I also loved the disco ball above them – I’ll always partial to a little sequined, sparkly flair.
There is a core team of six who work out of Catherine North – Michael Chambers, Duke Foster, Tristan Miller, Dan Hosh, Scott Peacock, and Kathleen Farley. I was welcomed in by Michael and also got to meet his wife Kathleen who was working away. Michael and I had a great chat about the studio and Hamilton’s music scene, as well as the city in general.
To briefly recap its history, Catherine North began with Glen Marshall and the late Dan Achen in a house (on its namesake, Catherine Street North) before they bought the church in 2000. Michael and Kathleen moved to Hamilton in 2007 from Toronto and eventually got involved with the studio, which Duke Foster was already part of. Glen Marshall and Michael Keire later started Vibewrangler (Keire now runs Threshold), and after Dan Achen’s tragic passing in 2010, Michael and Duke decided to keep Catherine North going.
Catherine North is an open concept studio – it’s all one big open space, without a separate control room. Michael noted that, for him, a separate control area “gets in the way of making music,” and he prefers the immediacy of being right with the musicians he is working with. He added that the business is first and foremost about people – relating to people and forging connections. The technical stuff, he said, is second to working with people. There are some areas of isolation where individual parts can be recorded, but for the most part, the band is all together, playing as a group.
Recording takes place upstairs, and Michael showed me the downstairs level, where the mixing happens. There were some impressive looking soundboards, and a kitchen that leads out to a backyard with a little garden. There is also a lounge area that holds one of the coolest things I’ve seen – two giant video game controllers (built by Tristan) that actually function to play games with. They’re quite the workout, Michael told me. I’ll have to give those a try another time!
The studio boats an impressive roster of artists who have made music in the space. It’s a good mix of Hamilton musicians and folks from out of town – Whitehorse, City and Colour, The Rest, Ophelia Syndrome, Spirits, and Rose Cousins, just to name a few.
Coming up, Michael will be working with Of Gentleman and Cowards, a young local band who recently performed on Letterman. He is also currently working with musician Paul Federici from St. Catharines and will soon work with Darren Eedens (who I first saw at one of the Folk’d Up Friday shows and really enjoyed).
Michael told me the first record he worked on at Catherine North was The Rest’s Everyone All At Once with Dan Achen. The Rest also recorded part of their newest album, Seesaw, at the studio, with Dan serving as executive producer and Michael engineering. Speaking of that album, it earned Record of the Year at 2012’s Hamilton Music Awards. Three of the nominated albums in the category were worked on at Catherine North.
I’ve spoken before about how Hamilton’s music scene is so supportive and a great community. During our chat, Michael spoke to this too, noting that with all the studios in the city, everyone is part of that community. Rather than it being competitive, producers are happy for each others’ successes and, in the end, as Michael said, it all draws attention to Hamilton and the talent that’s here.
Many thanks to Michael for a great tour and to the whole team for letting me come by. I’m really appreciative of being introduced to the studio and I look forward to keeping tabs on the music coming out of Catherine North.