Boxcar Sound Recording Studio 468 Cumberland Avenue
Since we’re on tour, and sometimes fancy ourselves to be rock stars, it seems only fitting that we should visit a recording studio. Avishka and I were thrilled to get the opportunity to drop into Boxcar Sound Recording Studio to get a tour by co-owner and producer Matt Montour. We also lucked out by getting to observe the pre-production phase of his latest project. Musicians Trevor Howard and Gerry Finn (Ghosts of Memphis) were in the studio demoing tracks for their new record and were gracious enough to let us hang out, chat with them, and watch the process.
The building, located in Hamilton’s East End by Gage Park, was once a box factory and now hosts mainly photography studios, with Boxcar being the only music studio. Matt and fellow producers Ben Somer (also an amazing singer-songwriter) and Sean Pearson (who came by later on in the evening) have worked out of the studio for about a year now, producing music for big names on the Hamilton music scene and beyond. Harlan Pepper (we also got an exclusive preview of singer Dan Edmonds’ upcoming solo record), Brian Melo, Robyn Dell’Unto, Max Wray, Kirby, Amberley B., Gavin Slate, Canadian Winter (who will be hitting the studio in September), and Cowlick are just some of the acts to have recorded at Boxcar. Everyone who has recorded at Boxcar gets to sign the door inside the studio, and Matt made an exception to the rule, asking us to sign it! Avishka and I took this high honour very seriously. In typical fashion, we were very indecisive and did not know where to sign. In the end, we made our mark.
The train tracks next to the building pose a bit of a challenge due to noise; therefore, the windows inside the studio have been insulated to block out the sounds of clanging trains that pass by. What is also unique to the building is the freight elevator, which is apparently the oldest in the city. We got to give it a spin on our way out! Stepping foot in the studio, we got such a good vibe from it right away. Because the sunlight is blocked since the windows are padded up, the space is entirely lit by lamps that are scattered throughout the studio. It completely works, though, creating the appropriate ambience for musicians to make music. The recording room is incredibly spacious, with an attached soundproof room next to it where the producers do their thing. The vibe of a studio must make all the difference for a musician, and Trevor said he had a good feeling about Boxcar right from his first encounter with it. Trevor has been making music for a long time now, and at one point he noted that this was the most relaxed studio experience he’s ever had. We could definitely see how this would be the case, at Boxcar.
Matt took us through the studio, carefully pointing out all of the instruments and equipment. Each piece has a story to tell. There is a piano from 1912 that has been through two World Wars, a keyboard belonging to Dan Griffin of the successful Hamilton band Arkells, a variety of microphones (the ribbon mic being Matt’s favourite), a Hammond B3 with Leslie speakers, and a multitude of guitars, of course. Matt also briefed us on the history of the studio, citing other acclaimed producers who have worked in this space, like Glen Marshall and Michael Kiere.
We’ve said this before, but things have a way of clicking and coming around full circle for the four of us, in whatever we’re doing. How fitting, then, with our “heart” motif we have going, that one of the songs Trevor and Gerry are working on is called “J’entend Ton Coeur” (“I Can Hear Your Heart”). (Perhaps we can get bilingual and call ourselves Je Coeur Hamilton. We have a Parisian theme going lately, so this worked out quite nicely, giving Avishka and I an excuse get our French accents going.) The track features vocals in French by seasoned Canadian performer and singer-songwriter, Kim Bingham. A friend of Gerry’s, they have both worked with Canadian musician David Usher.
Another really interesting aspect of our time spent at Boxcar was getting to see the dynamic between the producers and musicians while at work. Trevor and Gerry were impressed with Matt’s skills as a young producer. It was a great match; things seemed to happen very quickly. We got to hear their discussions about what they think is best for the sound for the record – what musicians to use, what their influences are, and sometimes referencing other songs as examples for the sound they’re going for. The room was bustling with ideas as Matt, Sean, Trevor and Gerry discussed their plans.
Through chatting with Matt (who cites Tom Waits as a major influence on his work) about how he got into producing music, what I took away was his comment about the importance of doing what you love. Seeing his passion for music, as well as Trevor and Gerry’s excitement over the new material they were creating, it was really inspiring.
This new experience not only reinforced how incredible Hamilton’s music scene is, but also allowed us to get a glimpse into a side of it that we had never seen before. It was so great to get a behind-the-scenes look of what goes into making a record. We can’t wait to hear the finished product from Ghosts of Memphis, knowing we got to witness the beginning stages of it. If it’s any indication, Avishka and I left the studio already humming some of the music and singing “J’entend Ton Coeur”. I think we have a hit on our hands.
I plan to chronicle the making of the new Ghosts of Memphis album – stay tuned for more from Boxcar!