Gallery: Sounding great is all about the right mix
14:00 12 August 2014
Sarah Lucy brown
Think of a typical recording studio and an uninviting, windowless room will likely spring to mind. But tucked away on a Suffolk farm is a music-making sanctuary where artists get to savour the wide open space of a boundless countryside landscape with Cenzo Townshend. Tom Potter went along to have a look round Decoy Studios and meet the man behind the mixer.
Inside Decoy Studios, Cenzo Townshend is surrounded by a dizzying volume of cutting-edge equipment and vintage gear – none of which is for exhibition only.
From the timber-adorned drum room wall, to the sleekly designed acoustic diffusers hanging on either side of the live studio, everything has a function for achieving the perfect sound. Even the seemingly ornamental bookshelf, in a vocal booth nicknamed The Library, has an important role in laying down tracks.
Cenzo started his life in the music industry as a DJ and a trainee – or ‘gopher’ – at a London recording studio.
Working alongside the likes of legendary producers Alan Moulder and Mark Ellis – also known as Flood – he would find himself cutting records for Nick Cave’s early band The Birthday Party.
Twenty years later, he is an award-winning mix engineer with credits on countless best-selling albums and singles from artists including U2, Snow Patrol, Elbow, Florence and the Machine, Kaiser Chiefs, George Ezra, Ben Howard, The Maccabees.
But as well as being a renowned figure in the industry, he is also a family man who, until recently, was having to spend five days a week in the capital, returning home to Melton, near Woodbridge, only at weekends.
But with the business now officially based at Decoy Farm, it means he can concentrate more of his time on not only living in the county he has come to love, but also getting down to the business of recording and producing records from his new Decoy Studio base nearby.
“I started off making tea in a studio in Soho. I suppose now you’d call it an internship, but back then it was ‘tea boy’ or ‘gopher’, or other names like that,” said Cenzo, who lives with wife Rachael, daughters Sophia and Luisa, and son Luca, when he returns from studying music management at university.
In 2008, Cenzo was in the middle of recording U2’s 10th album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, at Olympic Studios in Barnes when he was told by the EMI and Virgin Group that it was going to have to close.
“It was a beautiful place. Hendrix and The Stones had recorded there. Someone from Virgin told us it was going to have to close, and that was it.”
But Cenzo decided to go it alone, working on plans to start his own recording studio while continuing to mix albums and singles by the likes of George Ezra, Jamie T, Klaxons, Foxes, The Vaccines, Tom Odell, Snow Patrol and Tom Jones.
Finally, with able assistance from a team of young engineers, he has the set-up he always wanted... almost.
“I suppose things like this are never truly finished – they’re always evolving. Until now I’d been mixing albums. The artist would record elsewhere and send me the parts to be mixed here.
“Some of the artists came down – like Skaters, from Brooklyn. They loved it here. They turned up to my son’s cricket match wearing Parkas and flat caps.
“Now we have the facility to record, the type of work we want to do will have more involvement from me and the team. I want to get back into recording again.
“Suffolk is such a great place to live. Visiting artists are always blown away by the area – even those from really nice parts of London.”
The studio has three self-contained rooms and a mixing room. The smaller of two recording rooms is set up like a library, where rows of books work as natural diffusers, while the walls and ceiling absorb the sound.
“Every studio sounds different depending on its size and the way the walls have been treated,” said Cenzo.
“I wanted to make the main playing area sound as organic as possible. We’ve got a mix of classic equipment, like vintage drums and amplifiers, to the modern state-of-the-art stuff. I want to provide musicians with a creative environment where there’s equipment it’s hard for them to find at home.
“A lot of musicians are real analogue nuts – others don’t mind, as long as the results are good.”
It’s not just visiting London-based artists that interest Cenzo and the Decoy team. They also work with the Rock School Club, based in Harwich, which offers nine to 16-year-olds the chance to perform and take apprenticeships and work placements to enter the creative music industry.
Cenzo said: “We’re planning to set up a production company, to find bands and to bring them here – so we’re keeping an eye out for new talent.
“I’ve been lucky to work with so many talented people – and will hopefully get to work with many more. It’s great to hear songs on the radio that have been mixed here and not in a big glamorous studio in London.
“With fewer physical record sales, we are sticking our necks out a bit to make new music, but we’re giving the artists something they are excited to come here for, along with our technical ability.
“I learnt with some of the greatest engineers and I’m trying to pass my knowledge on to other people.”