You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY GEORGE PETERSEN


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Think of a small, picturesque island in Vancouver, and the phrase “hard rockin' town” probably doesn't come to mind. But maybe it should, for on one such windswept locale, guitarist extraordinaire Randy Bachman (of Bachman Turner Overdrive and Guess Who fame) has made his home and private recording retreat.

“We just call it the ‘Rammed Earth Barn,’” says Bachman, describing the facility's unusual construction. Creating a building using compacted earth or rammed earth techniques is “a lot like doing a concrete basement of a house,” Bachman explains. “The whole thing is set on a concrete footing. You put up your forms, yet instead of 8- to 10-inch-wide concrete walls, the rammed earth walls are about two feet wide, but in two segments. The outer wall is about 18 inches thick, then you leave a 10-inch air gap, and there's an inner wall that's a foot or so thick.”

Beyond providing effective, additional insulation against the Canadian winters, the cavity in the wall doubles as a wiring trough. “We planned a lot in advance, so every wall in the studio and house [also a rammed earth design] has cabling for mics, modems, telephones, security and house automation,” Bachman adds. One might think that setting cabling into what equates to stone walls might be problematic. However, this is no sweat, according to Bachman: “To add an AC outlet, for example, you just drill a circular hole in the wall, tap into the wiring, add the outlet and you're set. If you don't want it, pull it out and plaster over it with more earth to seal the hole.”

Bachman notes that there are other advantages, as well. “These rammed earth buildings can last for hundreds or thousands of years. There are no mice, no carpenter ants, no termites. There's no maintenance or painting required, inside or out. Nothing deteriorates. It's just solid rock; actually, it's a lot like cement, which is basically just clay and water. The earth can be taken from your site, or brought in from other places in the world, such as red Georgia clay. Here on Vancouver Island, it's bluish-gray. You don't need a uniform color: We used a mixture of brick red, browns and grays, and then threw in seashells, branches and various types of rock, so our walls ended up looking like cave paintings!”

The rammed earth design simplifies the construction of nonparallel walls, and the room's rounded corners create an ideal setting to record acoustic instruments. But versatility was also important to Bachman: “We can create any type of acoustics. We can leave it live or hang packing quilts on the ceiling or walls to deaden the room. We also have 6-by-8-foot, 18-inch-thick foam chunks that we use to build ‘houses’ for amps, surround a drummer or break up the room for a smaller room sound.”

The ceiling design was key to the room's sound. “We found a tree farm where the trees were bent inward from the constant wind,” says Bachman. “We bought 10 of these huge, boomerang-shaped trees, and used them to make curved beams for the roof. This created a dome-like, 20-foot ceiling, which really improved the acoustics.”

Upstairs from the main floor is a huge loft area, divided into a control room and an open space that's large enough to comfortably handle a trio. The studio — which features a Neve 8058 MkII console, Neve 5524 sidecar, Digidesign Control|24 with 192kHz Pro Tools|HD3, a 48-track/96k RADAR system, three DA-88s and a huge collection of vintage outboard toys — was built by John Vrtassic and Andy Bowmer. “John, who built Vancouver's Little Mountain Sound, as well as studios for Bob Rock in Maui, Metallica in San Francisco and dozens more, also rebuilt the 8058 and modified it from 32 to 64 inputs,” Bachman says. “And after the studio was completed, I was able to persuade Andy to stay on as my engineer and tech.”

Ironically, the studio started out by “accident,” Bachman recalls. “It was originally meant to be a barn for animals, but ended up costing so much money that I decided to use it as a studio. The local music community here was dying for a place to record, so we started doing acoustic, folk and bluegrass and then did rock projects for other bands, as well as for my son Tal and my own work.”

Bonus Pics...

Bachman's studio

Got gear? Bachman's rack of toys

The guitarist himself, with a close friend

How does Randy Bachman get that signature guitar sound? Find out here.

Want to copy Bachman's set-up? Check out his equipment list.

What are Bachman's favorite toys? Click here.

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