Building it: five years of 60 Road Studios

There’s a special celebration this weekend in Siem Reap – the recording studio 60 Road marks its five year anniversary with a concert on Saturday evening.  Studio co-founder Ian Croft sat down with Leng Pleng this week to reminisce about the journey to this milestone, and the experience of recording some of the best bands in the country.

“We rented the property on January 1, 2014, and started building roughly two months later.  The main studio is 100 square metres, with a five metre ceiling, plus the control room, so there was a lot of work to do in soundproofing and acoustical treatment.  A Singaporean guy, Jimmy Yap, came in and tested the room, gave us the drawings of what we needed to build, and we then worked with local Khmer builders to get it done.  It was designed to be built from materials you can find locally, so a lot of plywood, a lot of rock wool, air pockets, chicken wire to hold it in place.  That was the worst part: building it.  It took about a year, and we opened on March 1, 2015.”

The main studio.  Photo: supplied

Ian joined with local entrepreneur Clive Butler to put the studio together, then the team was rounded out with the appearance of career musician Steve Bloxham as engineer/producer.  “Steve has years of experience gigging around Australia, and he had his own studio there.  He met a didgeridoo player from the outback who introduced us – and then instead of going off travelling the world he came back to Siem Reap after a couple of weeks and said I’m interested in working with you guys.”

Popular Phnom Penh prog/indie act Sangvar Day became the first band to record an album at 60 Road – National Anthems – and have been followed by many others, both local and international.   “We had a Norwegian blues rock guitarist, Amund Maarud, who performed with Master Kong Nay, the chapei dong veng player.  He’s previously released an album playing with noises from a combine harvester – so obviously he likes to do out there and different projects.  They performed together at the
Chub Met Festival
after recording.  The Khmer audience were very proud of Master Kong Nay’s ability to play alongside Amund.”

Other highlights include Miss Sarawan’s soon to be released Sabay Jong Jam, Garuda by The Kampot Playboys, and a lot of work with the Cambodian Space Project.  “We had a band from Hong Kong come over for a week, The SleevesSpooky Mansion, a group from California, recorded an EP.  It’s been a real mix.  As a studio we are not genre specific at all.  We’ve done everything from traditional to pop to heavy metal like Doch ChkaeLaura Mam came in last year and recorded an album with us using a lot of traditional instrument overdubs.  She’s pushing the boundaries of the pop scene here as an independent artist.

Mark Chattaway and Lee Chapman from the Kampot Playboys working with Ian and Steve on Garuda.  Photo: Miy Key

So why travel all the way to Siem Reap to record?  “Feedback from musicians has been it’s good to get away to get the recording done.  And it’s also quite a good space to relax in: sofas in the main recording space, a lounge at the front where people can hang out.  And I think we’re one of the better equipped studios in the region in terms of microphones, pre-amps and such.  Also our recording space is big enough to play live, so we can track drums, bass and guitars all together.   We’re really looking to capture a tight bass-guitar-and-drum sound.  From there we overdub guitars, vocals, any other instruments.

“Quite often the band might want the vocalist to be singing at the same time, because that’s what they’re used to playing live, so we might stick the vocalist in the control room, or on the floor facing away from the drumkit, and turn up their headphones so they don’t sing too loud.  For indie rock, which is the main market for us, it definitely helps to get that good live feel, where the drummer and the bass player are feeding off each other, rather than each going into a room on their own.”

Chiet Ukham and Conrad Keely working on Garuda. Photo: Miy Key

For the fifth anniversary party they have invited a mix of acts to perform, including Miss Sarawan, Sam Rocker and the Unbreakables, Vartey Ganiva Band and Cambodian Space Project Mothership.  “We already thought the February 29 might be a fun day to do an event anyway, because the date sticks in people’s minds.  Then we realised it was our five year anniversary.  So we’ve invited some of the bands that we’ve recorded, that we plan or hope to record, or we are currently recording, and put together an interesting line up for the people of Siem Reap, and hopefully folks from outside Siem Reap can come and enjoy too.”

The event opens at 4.30 pm, music will start at 5 pm, and go through to 11 pm.   You can find it at Abbey Lane, 60 Road, Siem Reap – and you won’t be sorry.

Photo: supplied

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