Ian Haug is no stranger to studios. As a founding member of Australian band Powderfinger and now guitarist with iconic band The Church, Ian has spent a considerable amount of time in front of and behind the mixing board.
In 1998 Ian created Airlock Studios, a musician-focused recording studio in Brisbane.
What started as cassette dubbing quickly progressed to a Tascam 4-Track and evolved into a multi-room ADAT facility in a house in East Brisbane. The house was owned by Bruce Forbes of Brisbane 80s ska band Furious Turtles, and was situated only eleven blocks from the rehearsal space where “Vulture Street” would be written years later.
Cheap rent (it was the early nineties!) meant affordable studio time and the room became a hotbed of creativity in the Brisbane experimental underground music scene. Most of Powderfinger’s early b-sides were recorded there, as well as countless indie releases.
Ian relocated Airlock studios to its current location set in the natural surrounds of Camp Mountain on Brisbane’s North-Western fringe in 1998.
What was initially a shed became a tracking & control room then expanded to vocal booth and kitchen/bathroom facility. In 2012 Ian added a large live room to one side of the mix area and accommodation to create Airlock as it exists today.
“We were lucky from the outset that the building had an uneven-shaped wall structure”, says Ian.
That paid dividends in the amount of sonic treatment needed in each recording space.
Both recording rooms are sparingly treated and retain a live dynamic character - the original room has a more ‘exciting’ character and the new room has a tighter, more focused sound (although the high ceiling allows room mic’ing to create a big live vibe).
“Moving a drum kit between the dead and live parts of the room gives us several sonic options.”
One of Ian’s goals for the new room was to have musicians be able to play in a room together with amps tucked away and isolated in other rooms. This is part of Airlock’s focus on capturing musical performances.
“Sometimes people don’t seem to look at each other as much as they need to - it just depends on the personality of the band”
The room is long with a a drum ‘cavern’ at one end and a grand piano at the other - spacious enough to accomodate a large ensemble.
Natural light fills this and every other room at Airlock - a conscious decision from early in the planning stages.
“I’d spent a fair bit of time in studios - so I really wanted to be able to know what time of day it was. Going to into a dark studio for hour upon hour can be a trap and its not always a good thing” Ian says.
From the outset Airlock was designed with the musician in mind. From the extensive vintage backline on hand to the natural surroundings, time at Airlock can be creative and focused without being clinical or character-less.
Airlock has always been a warm, inviting space highly conductive to creative work, and the renovations have accentuated that ambience rather than glossed over it.
“Even though its definitely not a corporate feel you feel like you could sit down on the couch without getting something stuck to your pants” Ian laughs.
“The most important thing is that if the band enjoys the process, the chances of coming up with something that they're happy with are much more increased”
Chief engineer Yanto Browning agrees, “You want to make sure the bands are comfortable - that always helps with the vibe. So getting good headphone mixes, keeping sight lines open, having a studio with lots of toys to play with (amps, pedals, instruments, etc) is really important.”
A good day in the studio is “When you can get the sound that’s in someone’s head to come out of the speakers and really do justice to the song”.
At the heart of Airlock’s recording process is their latest addition - an AMEK Media 51 desk, originally from Jumpstart Studios.
Yanto explains: “It’s got 44 channels of Rupert Neve designed preamps which makes it great front end for tracking. It has surround options, though in it’s current configuration it’s set up for inline tracking/monitoring and stereo mix down”.
Airlock has a range of external preamps (of which the Quad Eights are a favourite go-to option), but Ian agrees that a lot of the tracking is done through the AMEK’s pres.
“Half the people who track here mix here as well - we like to encourage people to spread their mix out across this board because it sounds so good - whether its just mixing out to stems across the board or open every channel”
Hybrid analog/digital mixing like this is part of the Airlock workflow says Yanto:
“Most of the automation and fiddly processing (de-essing, side-chaining and detailed EQ) will happen in the box and the desk will be used as a big summing mixer with broad brush EQ applied in the analogue domain. I use hardware inserts in Pro Tools when using analogue compression, so any Pro Tools automation doesn’t affect the level going into the compressor. This seems to be the easiest way to maximise the benefits of analogue summing, but still be able to do recalls”.
Monitoring at Airlock is handled by a set of Joe Malone mains and in the near field ADAM S2Xs alongside the ubiquitous Yamaha NS10s.
“The S2Xs aren’t fatiguing over long days and they translate really well. They just make me confident that if what’s coming off the desk sounds good, it will sound good on other systems”. says Yanto.
Ian runs the S2X EQ flat and agrees they present detail without being fatiguing over long sessions. Mixes are checked on the NS10s and the main JLM monitors are kicked in for vibe or control room tracking, something which Ian favours for overdubbing.
Among the many artist who have tracked and/or mixed at Airlock are Jungle Giants, Art of Sleeping, Pete Murray, Karl S. Williams, The Medics, and Delta Goodrem. Ian is currently recording guitar overdubs at Airlock for a new release from The Church later this year.
Ian has assembled an array of great vintage amps and pedals over the years, including a Supro Spectator, some nice silver face Fenders, a rare Gretsch combo, various Marshalls & Oranges and a reissued Vase Tonesetter. A Wurlitzer 200 sits alongside a Hammond Organ and upright piano in the main tracking room.
Also at hand is an amazing Rogers drum kit in blue oyster from the sixties (legend has it that it was used by the Beach Boys on an Australian tour).