The year 2015 at Toyland Recording Studio was another hugely productive and diverse year – we were busy pursuing our primary function, producing, mixing, mastering, and engineering albums, as well as crafting an ever widening array of highest quality creative media projects, ranging from EPK production and video production, through to professional standard photography.
But first – for it’ll always come first – let’s talk about the music!
Former TISIM front-man and main songwriter Damian Cowell (AKA Humphrey B. Flaubert) released his deliriously post-modern new album ‘Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine’ in February. Mixed by Adam Calaitzis, with some post-production undertaken at Toyland Recording Studio in January 2015, the album featured a slew of celebrity appearances including Sean Micallef, John Safran, Julia Zemiro, Tony Martin, Tim Rogers, and Kate Miller-Heidke. The album also starred tasty re-amping from the Toyland backline: Ampeg SPV Tube Preamp for the bass, Marshall DSL50 for guitar, and judicious tone and texture via Boss DM2 Delay, Ibanez Tube Screamer, and Boss Touch Wah pedals.
‘Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine’ made Unicorn Booty webzine’s ‘Best Of 2015: Twenty Bangin’ Albums You Have To Hear’ List, alongside the likes of Adele, Belle & Sebastian, Blur, Lana Del Ray, Duran Duran and They Might Be Giants.
“Cowell’s lyrics are wickedly satirical and his gift for pop hooks are well-served with the legitimately great disco arrangements. Whatever Cowell does is worth checking out, and the Disco Machine is no exception.” – Unicorn Booty
June opened auspiciously with a week of international mixing for Alexandr Uman, better known by his stage persona Shura B2, the guitarist of chart-topping Russian pop superstars Bi-2. Managing the project between Minsk and Melbourne went without a hitch; the 96k sessions were sent via file transfer, and the mixes in-progress were uploaded to Dropbox for mix comments. It was a true delight to have Bi-2 mixes back on the board at Toyland; the band have previously achieved Gold Record sales with albums mixed by Adam Calaitzis. Watch for this release in 2016!
Another high profile project from Russia enlisted Adam Calaitzis on mixing an album for former concert pianist turned pop star, the beautiful songstress Varya Demidova. Consulting long distance has proven a breeze, with co-creators extraordinaire in arranger/producer Oleg Chekhov, and co-writer Shura B2 (Alexandr Uman) guitarist of chart-topping Russian pop superstars Bi-2. Demidova’s album release has been postponed to take best advantage of her rising profile as a television star in Russia, so this is another album to look for in 2016.
Greg Macainsh of Skyhooks visited Toyland over several days for analogue tape transfers (2″ and 1/4″ transfers). It was an amazing treat to hear the multitrack recordings straight off the master 2″ tapes from the famous Record Plant Recording Studio in California, dating from 1976, with producer Ross Wilson and engineer Bill Halverson. These transfers went toward the Skyhooks 40th Anniversary box-set ‘Don’t You Believe What You’ve Seen Or You’ve Heard’, a three-disc collectors edition featuring the first two Skyhooks albums, additional tracks, and a bonus live disc mixed and mastered by David Briggs.
Singer/songwriter Melissa James tracked ‘Like This, Like That’ at Toyland. The song was released as a single in March featuring four versions (radio, TV, Instrumental, A Capella). Produced by Melissa James.
Singer/songwriter Corinna Jane came in to track vocals to 2″ analogue tape with Adam Calaitzis, combining her sultry blues vocals with dance music arrangements, for overseas DJ connections.
COUNTRY & FOLK
Marcia Howard, most well known as a member of triple Aria Award winning band Goanna, has been coming into Toyland Recording Studio on an ongoing basis to track her thoughtfully crafted lyrics and beautiful singing for her solo album ‘Nashville Sessions’; vocals were captured using a Neumann M149 Tube microphone, running to the Neve 1084, with no compressor at printing by request. The album of tasteful and soulful country rock also enlisted the vocal talents of her brothers, Damian Howard and Shane Howard, and Goanna alumna Rose Bygrave, who all contributed wonderful backing vocals. The instrumental parts were recorded in Nashville at Beaird Music Studio with an ensemble of seasoned session instrumentalists to get a classic Nashville country sound, and the combined results shaped up to be unique, personal, and befitting such Australian rock royalty. Marcia will no doubt receive a wonderful response to this album, which she is launching at the 40th Port Fairy Folk Festival in March.
Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes had players in every available space at Toyland to track their melancholy alternative country stylings for their album ‘The Mountain’, which featured tasteful playing and some lovely singer-songwriter storytelling; vocals, guitars, bass, drums and overdubs recorded with Adam Calaitzis at the board. A brass section of highly skilled players came in to provide old-school sweetening; these great players sounded amazing through a matched pair of Sennheiser 441s, with an AEA R84 on trumpet, and a Neumann U87 on the trombone. Beautiful playing and musicianship made tracking these guys effortless and fun – deservedly the album was nominated in the category of ‘Best Alt-Country Album’ for the 2016 Golden Guitar Awards!
“… exploring a more soulful sound complete with weeping pedal steel, fiddle, piano and shuffling drums. The emotional quota is high and generally hits the mark as Bryan sings of relationships and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not all tears-in-the-whisky-glass though with song like ‘King & I’ and ‘Gin & Tonic’ striking sweet rock ’n’ roll and honky-tonk grooves. There’s a consummate range of styles here that will satiate all types of country music fan.”
— Chris Familton, Post To Wire
Holy Moses Heartache, featuring Wade Piva and Rob Murray (both formerly of Falloe), an urban hipster indie-folk sextet brought their self-recorded twenty four song second album ‘Alive & Well’ to Toyland to be mixed and mastered by Adam Calaitzis. The album will be launched in 2016.
Country singer/songwriter Della Harris came into Toyland with producer Clive Young to undertake initial tracking for her album; players included drummer Mat Duniam (also of Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes) and bassist Rusty Cochrane.
ROCK & ROCK’N’ROLL
Progressive heavy rock quartet El Colosso brought their forthcoming debut single into Toyland for mixing.
Songwriter Luke Malone booked time to further develop his songs ranging from rock, metal, through to folk.
Joe Mandica of The Initiative fame brought in ‘The Secrets Collection’ to be mixed and mastered by Adam Calaitzis. This was a charming limited edition release, collecting recordings made between 1977 and 2003. Featuring old friends Val Palladino (drums), Joe Mandica (guitar/vocals), Peter Rechter (vocals/piano) and Greg Heenan (bass/vocals) as a band originally called Ginger. A fun old-time rock’n’roll album, the CD comes with a nice personal booklet of photos and anecdotes, and is a great momento of local music history.
GOTHIC & INDIE
Clifford Ennis, songwriter of Australian darkwave act Subterfuge, commenced serious recording of a new album; built upon the foundation of his home-recorded Cubase files, the album is developing with expanded midi arrangements, replaced generic sounds, sending to an Oberheim Xpander with appropriately dark and evocative Gothic tones, and the guitars re-amped through the Toyland Marshall backline. Ennis will be visiting the studio on an ongoing basis into 2016 to bring the album to completion.
Also on the darkwave front, IKON songwriter Chris McCarter was in the studio for ongoing sessions toward the follow-up to 2014 ‘Everything, Everyone, Everywhere Ends’, continuing the iconic darkwave atmospheres. Chris also came into the studio accompanied by guitarist Clifford Ennis, bassist Dino Molinaro, and drummer David Burns, to record a macabre Christmas single titled ‘Krampus’ – features some really excellent “crazy horror monster laughing”!
Noted accordionist J.P.Shilo (of Hungry Ghosts) came in to track some innovative and thoughtful playing for Thomas Madden‘s forthcoming album ’10BA’.
Scarlett Cook brought her home-recorded session in for her single ‘User’ for some MIDI arrangement expansion using “Addictive Piano”, as well as some additional vocals, and mixing by Adam Calaitzis. Cook is launching the single on January 10th at The Evelyn with Death of Art & Obscurum.
The Victim’s Ball, creative vehicle for Roberto Massaglia (formerly of Tankt and The Tenth Stage), had the new album ‘London Necropolis Railway & Other Tales’ mastered by Adam Calaitzis.
Singer/songwriter Talie Helene booked an initial session of MIDI arranging and vocal tracking on her song ‘The Howling Ages’.
The Terraces tracked their second full-length album ‘Empire’ with Adam Calaitzis producing; a band of seasoned players, with a no nonsense approach to street punk and oi! The band notably featured new drummer Mark Brabbs, who has previously achieved acclaim with New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Tank, fronted by ex-The Damned singer Algy Ward. Brabbs was flown out from the UK for three days of drum tracking for the album; he rented the Toyland premium house kit, 1970s Ludwigs with a 6.5″ Brass Ludwig Black Beauty snare – rims are chrome over brass, the snares have been upgraded to Puresound brass, dampered with a Snareweight (brass with a leather insert). A day was dedicated to pulling the perfect drum sounds – bass drum covered with an AKG D12VR large-diaphragm dynamic cardioid and Neumann TLM49 large-diaphragm condenser, snare was set with a Beyerdynamic M201 low-profile hypercardioid dynamic top and a Neumann KM84 cardioid pencil condenser underneath, toms both had Audix i5 dynamic cardioid top and bottom, hi-hat and ride were both set with Neumann KM84 microphones, overheads were are AKG C451eb pencil condensers, and the room mics were AKG C414B-ULS multi-directional condensers. It sounded absolutely magic in Toyland’s drum room, as it does on the album.
The veteran drummer was a perfect choice to pair with former Rose Tattoo bassist Stephen “Kingy” King, who laid down uncompromising bass tracks through the Toyland Ampeg rig. Dean Tsolondres guitar parts were recorded through his Marshall 4×10 JCM800 cab, using his DSL100 for the rhythm parts, and the Toyland DSL50 for contrast on the lead guitars. Vocalist Gary Buckley, formerly of UK street punk band One Way System, let forth rants and anthems ranging social justice to working class life, his Lancashire accent captured with a Neumann U87. The bands “gang” backing vocals included the producer singing along, with the session controlled via WIFI using the V-Control Pro app on the iPad. The Terraces album, ‘Empire’, produced, mixed and mastered by Adam Calaitzis, secured them a deal with Plastic Head Records in the UK.
“I honestly did not think it was going to be possible for The Terraces to follow up their self-titled debut, that album was just so perfect I felt it couldn’t be done, but in fairness Buckley, Tsolondres, King and Brabbs should take a bow because ‘Empire’ is as near a damn perfect follow up as they or I could have hoped for.” — Johnny H, Uber Rock
The Transitions came in to track four more songs to the six previously recorded at Toyland in 2014, to complete their debut full-length album ‘Dark Times’ which was released later in 2015. Kooky spooky UK-style punk in the vein of The Damned, with a liberal dash of fun Australian Oi! Great stuff!
“If you ever wonder how Warsaw and Joy Division would have sound with Mr. White on vocal duty, then The Transitions’ debut full-length “Dark Times” might just be the answer! Personally I love the gloom, melancholic post-punk The Transitions produce. The music is somewhat monotone, but also dark, dreamy, extremely catchy and hypnotic at the same time. Fans of Joy Division, The Damned, Fliehende Stürme or TSOL will absolutely get some cold chills…” — American Oi!
Hardcore stalwarts Mindsnare came in with Jason Fuller to record fourteen pummelling and relentless songs of rock fury with Adam Calaitzis at the board, taking full advantage of the outstanding sounding Toyland drum room and in-house engineering expertise.
Post-hardcore trio Spider Goat Canyon released ‘Always The Heavy’ in 2015, packaged as a Deluxe 20 page book with digital download. The album was tracked with Adam Calaitzis at the board in a live session at Toyland way back in 2009, and came back for mixing in 2015. The album was produced by Steve Brick.
“A broiling concoction of drone, doom, 70s to 90s metal and elongated space rock… the noise journey this trio take you on is tantamount to undertaking the Twelve Tasks of Hercules … A colossal album from start to finish.”
— Brendan T, Sonic Masala
\m/ METAL \m/
In a more sombre light, Melbourne metal veteran Terry Vainoras came in for guitar tracking for his melodic doom/death project Subterranean Disposition, to complete the album ‘Soundtracks for our Landscapes of Failure’ at Toyland. Textures were pulled from classic BOSS analogue pedals including the BF-2 Flanger, 1983 DM-2 Delay pedal, and TW-1 T “Touch” Wah. A Marshall stack was utilised for more contemplative half-clean guitar parts, and a Mesa Boogie stack for the despair-laden heavy doom riffs. An impressive self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Vainoras even played saxophone on the album. Drums were also tracked at Toyland, with drum duties handled by Dan Nahum. Terry came in for dedicated day-per-song mixing sessions, and the mixes shaped up as epic doom metal in the vein of classic My Dying Bride or dISEMBOWELMENT, but with a unique identity; the spacious arrangements have been sculpted into cavernous musical introspections through very appropriate application of effects including Lexicon 224x Digital Reverberator, Lexicon 300 Digital Effects System, and AMS DMX 15-80S Digital Delay. Sure to be a monolithic release for 2016.
Female-fronted progressive metal band Scorching Winter booked out a week in June to track their new EP ‘Peripheral’, and also engaged Adam Calaitzis for mixing and mastering. Tina Papadimitriou‘s vocals were tracked with a Neumann M149 tube mic, and Natalie Bellio‘s keyboards were captured as MIDI and expanded using the studio’s extensive sound library, including choral and string arrangements to evoke a more epic symphonic sound. The band released a single from the EP titled ‘The Shining’, and are receiving some favourable comparisons to great bands!
“The female-fronted band seems to be very aware of their sound. They have been compared to Evanescence but have been inspired by bands such as Metallica, Dream Theater and Iron Maiden. This is obvious to anyone who has listened to any of the aforementioned bands. Take for instance ‘Aggression’ which touts the onslaught of guitars you may have heard from Metallica back in the ‘80s and also the orchestral synths you would hear if you listened to Dream Theater. It also doesn’t hurt that the production and recording quality is top notch either.” — The Even Underground
Thrashers Sarfaust came into Toyland to have Adam Calaitzis track, mix and master their debut album ‘Rise of the Coffin Witch’. The band notably features Jason Saunders, also of Sithlord, and formerly of Hobbs’ Angel of Death, Atomizer, and Witchripper. That thrash pedigree should already be forming a sonic picture in the mind of the discerning metalhead, of the catchy and brutal Thrash riffs these lads serve up. The album is sure to find acclaim in the metal underground.
Power metallers Killamaine booked a week to track their second full-length album of fun classic metal. The admirable and spirited “bucket list” metal EP – ‘Oblivion’ a six-song EP, was produced by Adam Calaitzis and Thorin Maine, assisted by Jezz Collard.
Progressive metallers Festation came in for final overdubs and mixing for their album ‘Perceptions’ in January; this was a labour of love the band started recording three years ago – happily the sessions opened perfectly and the bass was re-amped through the studio’s Ampeg bass rig.
Metal band Ordinance delivered a home-recorded album to be mixed and mastered by Adam Calaitzis.
Composer Peter Hawkes booked a series of sessions throughout the year. In January he brought a string quartet to Toyland, the session captured with each instrument individually covered; this utilised a full complement of Neumann M 149 Tube, KM 140, and KM 84 cardioid pencil condensers. The quartet were tracked both playing as ensemble and overdubbed individually in a massive 96-track session to create a super-real film score sound.
MUSIC & SOUND DESIGN FOR EVENTS
English-Australian actor Miriam Margoyles commissioned some voice artist editing and sound design from Adam, for her show ‘The Importance of Being Miriam’ debuting at Arts Centre in Melbourne. Margoyles is an award winning doyenne of character roles across film, TV, and the stage, perhaps best known for her many roles in the Blackadder TV series, and as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter film franchise. The vocal elements produced at Toyland created a layer of interior monologue in the live music theatre and actor show. It was a delight to collaborate on this thoughtfully constructed interdisciplinary sound design project with such an accomplished actor and writer.
Musical director Greg Mills booked sessions on an exciting ongoing project to create a musical extravaganza for the World’s Fair ‘Expo Milano 2015’. The June sessions involved a day each with session players par excellence, drummer Gerry Pantazis, and guitarist Simon Hosford. Greg Mills also visited Toyland for editing and transposing in preparation for the huge year’s end Catholic Schools Gala.
NOTABLE MEDIA JOBS
We handle a high volume of diverse media jobs, many of them ongoing rolling projects, and listing them all would take up far too much space – but some highlights deserve a spruik!
Adam Calaitzis undertook post-production work, and delivered a number of mixes for event producer extraordinaire Tim Woods for possible future DVDs, mixing some beautiful arrangements of Tina Arena with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and performances of ‘All You Need is Love’, The Beatles Live tribute extravaganza featuring Jack Jones, Ciaran Gribbin, Darren Percival, and Jackson Thomas accompanied by the Strawberry Fields Rock Orchestra.
A film crew visited Toyland to document Fergus Linacre in rehearsal to promote The Beatles Live ‘Rubber Soul Revolver’ Show at Arts Centre. Linacre belted out a fabulous rendition of ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ through a Neumann M149, in a performance that would have done Paul McCartney himself proud. The clip showcased Toyland’s Tracking Room A to good advantage, and the session was presided over by producer Lindsay Field, best known as a longtime member of the John Farnham Band, and as always a consummate professional. The client also booked VO and EPK creation for The Beatles Live, featuring concert multitracks mixed by Adam Calaitzis.
Toyland also turned out a barrage of rockin’ broadcast and radio advertisement production, with voice over by Peter Frank at Toyland, for the epic ‘Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin Masters’ concerts presented by Tim Woods and Phil Bathols at the Sydney Opera House. Again a real treat to have Led Zeppelin songs across the board with accompaniment by the Black Dog Orchestra.
A rare treat was recording voice over for the TV tour adverts for the William Shatner Australian Tour, the original Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame! The VO was the finest in The Alpha Quadrant thanks to “the smooth Laramie tones” of Peter Frank.
Something different for Toyland, Adam Calaitzis utilized the quiet acoustics of the studio to full advantage filming video for Dr Barry Evans, creating instructional training videos in clinical hypnosis for therapists and health professionals, training delivered by Hypnosis Training Australia and recognised by the Australian Society of Hypnosis (Victoria). The videos were shot on iPad Air, edited in Final Cut Pro X, and made use of the studio’s 3-point lighting rig.
Composer and guitarist Peter Hawkes booked a live studio performance video session at Toyland, and it resulted in this delicate rendition of his solo acoustic work ‘Song for Aleksandra’. The bright resonant guitar tone was beautifully captured by a Neumann KM83 Omni microphone, into a Neve 1084 pre-amp and Lexicon reverb, resulting in a recording of great presence and a faithful rendering of the fine nuances of fret sound and subtle techniques. The performance was made in one take, the artist’s first take, and embodies the unique energy of a polished live performance. Audio recording and film by Adam Calaitzis at Toyland Recording Studio in Northcote.
STUDIO & GEAR UPGRADES
New studio acquisitions at Toyland include two Solomon “MiCS LoFReQ” Low Frequency Capture Microphones – these substantial dynamic microphones have a diaphragm as large as a monitor speaker, and while not especially responsive to transient, they are magic for capturing the resonant tone of low toms and bass drum, and boosting the body when micing a bass amp.
The studio upgraded the main control room computer with a custom build based on the leading edge Intel X99 platform and 5930x 6 core I7, with 16GB of DDR4 RAM and OWC SSD raid drives in June – throughout a busy “second semester” of big mixes the system performed flawlessly. The studio upgraded to Nuendo 7.
The studio website was completely re-designed with WordPress, so it is now both web-friendly and mobile device-friendly. The fresh design looks great, and we have a highly readable and informative blog with detailed information about a range of albums produced at the studio. You can even take a Virtual 3D Tour of the studio rooms!
PROFESSIONAL DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES
One of my ongoing hobbies has been gradually (and perhaps inevitably for such a self-confessed “Gearslut”) progressing toward a professional level, and in 2015 I invested in a professional standard camera and lens kit. This means we offer the tremendous value add-on service to bands wanting promotional photographs in the studio. The house camera is an excellent pro-quality Nikon D750, and the current lens kit includes a Nikon 50mm F1.4G, Nikon 70-200 F2.8, and Nikon 24mm F2.8D.
Images are edited using Lightroom, and we can deliver images at a size and resolution suitable for web, at a higher resolution for offset printing (for CD gatefolds, posters, print magazine, or book publication), or sized to suit the merchandise of your choice – as well as photographic prints on canvas or archive quality photography paper suitable for framing as a momento of recording your album. These fine art artifacts also make a great promotional prize for your fans for social media competitions or event door prizes. The promotional application of such images is really limited only by your imagination!
DEAR FRIEND DEPARTED
One of the longtime Toyland voice over talents, Mr Barry Scanlon, passed away in April 2015. While you may not know who he is, you would probably recognise his voice from radio and television advertising, or from his on-air days at 3AW Melbourne as a presenter (where I met him). He was a gentleman and a pleasure to work with. Vale Barry.
THAT’S A WRAP!
Thanks to all the amazing artists and creative media professionals who made 2015 at Toyland Recording Studio so rewarding and interesting. It was a treat to work with every one of you.
2016 is already shaping up to be a great year, with a number of talented and imaginative artists already booked in to turn their vision for an album into a reality. We are always happy to continue the creative journey with our awesome ongoing clients. We welcome new clients and are committed to making those all important “first studio experiences” great experiences.
Drop us a line, or call and have a chat about your project, and we can customise a project timeline with you to suit your budget and availability. Make 2016 the year where you don’t just dream about making your music, you do it!
Here’s to an awesome 2016 – may it be the most rockin’ year yet!
Toyland Recording Studio