HOUSE RECORDING STUDIO
An interview with co-owner/engineer
By J. Tagmire
If you are a musician from
, you probably have a connection to the Gradwell House Recording
Studio. You may have recorded a few songs, or had your CD mixed or
mastered there. You may have seen a show at one of the past
locations, or you know somebody, who knows somebody, who has the
high score on their Arkanoid machine. But if you aren’t one of
those people, we’ll explain.
Gradwell House is a 2200 square foot, digital recording studio, now
, after growing out of two previous locations. The studio is owned
and operated by Dave Downham and Steve Poponi, who you may know from
such bands as The Secession Movement, Condor, The Ages, Up Up Down
Down Left Right Left Right B A Start, or Dixon Ward.
In over 8 years, many local, national, and even international
musicians of all types have recorded at Gradwell. Most recently, The
Progress has spent a good amount of December and January there,
recording their debut LP Merit for Negative Progression Records.
Steve and Dave have also worked with bands such as: The Early
November, New Atlantic, and
I got a chance to sit down with Dave Downham and chat about Gradwell.
(Steve is either too cool for school, or in
with Bloodhound Gang). Dave’s been at Gradwell for over 2 years
now and he’s also currently teaching Fundamentals of Music for
Sound Engineering at
. He plays a major part in our Mass Broadcast Volume 1 Compilation
CD. He not only sequenced the CD, but also performed in 4 of the
songs and either recorded, mixed, or mastered a few more.
J. Tagmire - So what is Gradwell House?
Dave Downham - Gradwell House is a studio that was started by Steve
Poponi in his basement in Maple Shade on Gradwell Avenue, hence the
name. It was a basement studio. In it's present form Gradwell House
is a studio that Steve and I partnered up. I guess it was Jan of
2004 and we decided to get a new location. You know obviously after
location which was the first location he did after having the house.
Now we're in
in a refurbished Warehouse. It’s a very do-it-yourself kind of
thing, where we just basically put it together the way we thought it
should be. Essentially it's just a 2 person partnership.
J. Tagmire - Who works here and what are their roles?
Dave Downham - Steve and I are owner engineers, and basically I
guess... Jeff Mott used to work for us and he was kind of a
freelance engineer. And then we've had this kid Stewart… but
basically the only people who are on staff now are Steve and I as
owner engineers and Chris ward who's also the drummer of Pattern is
Movement who is a freelance engineer. So the roles basically, Steve
and I kind of take care of between the two of us we take care of all
the administrative, all the booking, the cleaning, the session
work… I do the majority of the mastering but Steve and I both do
recording and mixing. Well work on sessions together, we'll ping
pong between sessions and all that sorts of jazz we to everything
from taking out the trash to organizing people to painting to
cleaning whatever so, we pretty much take care of everything and
then a freelance person comes in just to do sessions and a little
J. Tagmire - How did you end up at Gradwell?
Dave Downham - I guess when Steve started doing the basement
thing… probably like a year or two after that I started doing a
studio called Couches in the Desert with Dave Dworanczyk from
secession movement and we bought a bunch of analog stuff. So we went
the opposite route that everybody went at that point. We bought a
mixer, we bought some outboard gear, we bought mics and we bought an
analog tape machine, which everybody told me not to do, everybody
told me to do kind of what Steve did which is get a modular digital
multi-track, he had the fostex 16 track and then he moved to
We were doing it concurrently but he did it more as a full time job
whereas we ended up being more of a project studio where we worked
on our own stuff and some friends bands. As that started to hit
it’s last strides and everything like that Steve called me in like
March or April in 2003 to come work with him at Gradwell in
Gloucester because he needed another engineer, because of touring
and just to have somebody else to do sessions with. So I went over
there, learned the program, started doing sessions there. He kind of
went on tour pretty soon after that so I started learning Nuendo,
which is the program we use, and just kind of how to run sessions in
So that’s how we ended up here. Probably somewhere like 4 or 5
months after that… maybe October, November of that same year 2003,
he asked me to partner up. Initially I thought it was going to be a
bad deal for me because I knew I was going to make a lot less money
because at the time Steve was being very generous and splitting
50/50. So when I would come in to do a session I was getting $12.50,
which is pretty fucking awesome, you know? But it ended up being a
really good move because I really like doing this and we ended up
doing a lot with it, as far as getting a new space and really just
trying to take the time and money to do that whole thing.
J. Tagmire - Why would somebody choose come to Gradwell as opposed
to another studio?
Dave Downham - Obviously a lot of people are going to come to us
because they hear records that we do, and because we’ve been
cheap. Even though we’re raising our rates to $40 an hour,
that’s still cheap in the scheme of things, particularly for a
studio that has our amount of equipment, and engineers with
And the space is a huge thing. It gives you a lot of options as far
as how you want to track. You can track everybody in the room, as
opposed to being in a basement where you’re very restricted.
You’re very restricted sonically and you’re restricted by what
you’re able to do. For instance, This Radiant Boy just did a
record here and they wanted to do room micing for vocals, you
can’t do that if you’re in a basement. It just doesn’t sound
like anything. It doesn’t sound any different to have a mic ten
But I think the main reason that people should consider coming here
is obviously we’re musicians, we play in bands, we still play in
bands, we write music, we record ourselves, we know what it’s
like. I think we’re younger guys, meaning not that we’re 15 or
anything like that, but as far as the scheme of engineers. My
experience with a lot of early engineers that I worked with is that
they were guys that their aesthetic was still maybe in the 80’s in
the sense of how they heard music or how they thought music should
sound. We tend not to be too condescending… we deal with a lot of
people that are younger and older than us.
As far as current styles, we may not by totally sympathetic to
Metalcore or anything like that, but we know how Metalcore should
sound. I think we’re relatively open and we’re also honest to
the point of obviously being obnoxious to some people. But I think
that’s good because we’re not the kind of people where you’re
not gonna come in here and record and we’re just gonna sit there
mute the whole time, thinking you suck. We tend to be kind of open
about that. Honestly, a lot of people that come in here are kind of
cool to hand out with. So it’s a fun process and I think that
it’s a fun place to do it.
J. Tagmire - Have you recorded anything here other than Rock?
Dave Downham - Literally in the past two weeks we’ve had Hardcore,
solo Acoustic Singer Songwriter, Metal, really ambient like Pink
Floyd-y, Radiohead kind of stuff, early 90’s Rock, Indie Rock,
kind of Blues Rock kind of stuff, literally anything you could think
of… Grindcore… and that’s like two weeks of sessions. We
really get a lot of different stuff.
J. Tagmire - Anything you prefer more than others?
Dave Downham - We king of came up in the era of the early 90’s
heyday of Indie Rock stuff. I mean, you know, we’re doing the
Progress record right now and they’re not necessarily a throwback,
but they have a bit more of that Indie-ish kind of thing. I think we
just prefer good… you know what I mean? Good makes our job easy.
Good makes it so that we can listen to something and not be really
annoyed that the drummer can’t hit his kick drum with any degree
of consistency. Because like, the Grindcore stuff can be fun if
it’s played really well. The Metal stuff can be fun. I think
stylistically that’s the kind of stuff we prefer.
Probably my favorite thing to record is live Jazz kind of stuff.
Because it’s not brutal on your ears and it’s also kind of fun
to do live sessions where you can hear everything right away. For my
personal taste I’m getting really tired of track-by-track
recording… just for my own personal… because I do it all the
time. Just so you know what I mean track-by track being you overdub,
overdub, overdub, you know, do the drums first, bass… as opposed
to like with our band I think we’re going to try to do more and
more stuff live. I think I’m just getting sick of the feel of just
overdubbing… I think it’s nice to have the variety basically. If
we were the kind of studio where we were known for just heavy stuff,
that would get really old.
J. Tagmire - What’s the longest someone has spent here recording?
Dave Downham - The Progress was just here for about a month. Not
everyday, but…. We’ve had bands like Isaac Hurt was here and Dan
was doing a session for over a year, but that’s not an everyday
thing. So we’ve had people take a really long time to do sessions.
Probably the progress they’ve gone through at least three or three
and half, four weeks maybe. I’ve done a couple of records this
fall and the one band, The Meridian, they did their stuff in like
two, two and a half weeks straight. They were here almost every day,
minus a couple days. Obviously when you’re doing a record when you
have 10 or 11 songs, it does take a lot of time to track everything,
if you’re doing track-by-track, a lot of overdubs and that sorts
of shit. We’ll get anything from someone coming in for one single
three to four hour session, to that kind of thing where people are
here for months coming in, doing different things.
J. Tagmire - Whats the farthest someone has traveled to record here?
Dave Downham - We’ve had a band from
, probably the furthest in the States, and then we’ve had
international. We’ve had a band from
, called the Bird Rentals that came down and did a two day lengthy
EP… like 7 or 8 songs. This summer, in like July. Really good
guys, we met them when we were touring, when Condor and Up Up were
playing up in
. That’s probably the furthest. We frequently get bands from
, we’ve had
, a bunch of bands from
, I believe we’ve had
bands. We’ve had bands from
, we’ve had bands from up
J. Tagmire - What’s it like working with Steve Poponi?
Dave Downham - He’s a total fucking asshole… I’m kidding. I
remember when we were working on the Classic Brown stuff because
Steve and I and Dave Dunn played all of the instruments other than
Stacey obviously. We kind of butted heads a little bit at first
because I play a bunch of instruments and he plays some instruments,
we both engineer and everything… We just worked on The Progress
record together and we basically were in the roles of where I was
kind of here to do the engineering and he was here doing more
production, but we have a pretty easy time working with each other
and as far as listening to a mix and giving each other some sort of
advice, or anything like that, we work pretty well with each other.
As far as being partners in the studio I think we work really well
together. As far as running the business and having similar taste…
There’s very few things we really butt heads about and usually the
way it works is that if somebody has something that they feel
strongly about and the other person doesn’t have an opinion the
person that feels strongly takes precedence. The other person is not
going to be an asshole or be contentious just to be contentious.
It’s never like that.
J. Tagmire - How should a band contact you if they’re interested
in recording at Gradwell House?
Dave Downham - Email. Read the contact info on our page first
because the more detailed the email the better. We do all of the
booking… a lot of people call us in the middle of sessions, and
because of service and we don’t want to be like
an asshole to people, but a lot of people drag us on these
lengthy conversations for 5 or 10 minutes when we’re in the middle
of another session and we’re trying to get on with everything.
(And with that the phone rings.)
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