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Behind the barn doors of YellowRattle Studios

Paul Dackombe is a former pop sensation in Japan, a drummer turned engineer and songwriter of swing and bebop songs, who has opened a new studio in Essex, England

Back in the 1980s, producer, songwriter and drummer Paul Dackombe was part of a pop band called Explained Emma, who’s song When My Heart Rings went to number one on the vinyl charts in Japan.

“Regrettably we didn’t go out and tour, because logistically it was too much. That band had quite a big horn section, so the logistics of getting 10 people out to Japan for a month’s tour felt like a bridge too far really,” he says.

Despite the band breaking up, Dackombe has continued to forge a career in the music industry, including working as a producer in studios and on consoles such as the Neve 88RS at Abbey Road and at La Fabrique in France, and writing songs with former band-mate Peter Higgins. He also established his own label, Wire-Sound, with Dave Formula from Magazine/Visage after working with him on his solo album Satellite Sweetheart in 2010.

This year, Dackombe also opened YellowRattle Studios in the Essex countryside, a project that he poured a year of his life into by building the facility from scratch, alongside studio designer Howard Turner of Studio Wizard.

“We built it as a barn-like construction so it fits in with the environment and it doesn’t stand out too much,” explains Dackombe. “It has really been a labour of love. I didn’t place each brick, but I’ve done a lot of the building work myself, and with every stage of the process I’ve been heavily involved. I’ve not just given it to a studio builder where they do the turnkey solution. It saves a bit of money obviously, but you know it’s been done righy as there is no going back!”

Turner says he has been working with Dackombe for a few years as he investigated possible venues for his studio. “Once we realised we have a chance at a ground-up build on virgin land, though, then we knew we had a chance to do this ‘properly’,” he comments, adding that he encouraged Dackombe to put his creative stamp on the end result.

“A studio is a creative environment and has to be a place where musicians feel inspired. I remember hanging oil wheel projectors off the roof of my control room back in the 80s to get the right vibe – that is still essential if the place is to shine as an inspirational beacon – oil wheels or not,” explains Turner. “No one ever has no regard for costs when building a studio, but luckily the location and layout we had to play with for Paul meant that we could make this shine for minimal bucks. Now with the incredible gear he has to fill it – it’s really a proper world class facility – and he can still walk home at the end of the session.”

YellowRattle is a two-room, 60sqm affair, with a live room and control room, as well as a relaxation area and onsite accommodation above the garage, which isn’t fully up and running yet, but will sleep three to four people. “I would say the control room is quite generously sized,” observes Dackombe. “The live room can host four players max – I didn’t want acres of space in [there], I’m not intending on doing orchestral stuff.”

Dackombe also wanted as ‘green’ a studio as possible which includes solar panels on the roof. “The house is heated by ground source and it just felt right to power as much as I could with solar. It cost £6,000 to install, which isn’t cheap, but I felt worthwhile for the long run,” he explains.

The name, YellowRattle, comes from a wildflower that grows in the field next to the studio, plus is a play on rattle as a percussive instrument. It’s also “a little psychedelic,” says Dackombe.

The centrepiece of Dackombe’s studio is his new 16-channel Genesys Black G32 console, which replaced an SSL desk. “I looked at a variety of what I would call ‘hybrid’ desks – a blend of analogue front-end with DAW control and functionality, as I prefer to mix in a hybrid manner. The Neve sound made the Genesys Black a leading contender and, coupled with the modular structure and DAW capabilities, it was a clear winner.

I don’t think anything else came really close when all those factors were considered. The ability to choose between classic and modern mic-pres and EQs is pretty unique outside of a rack of 500-series modules, although I went for all the classic choices with the Genesys Black set-up.”

Dackombe adds that his preference to work in a hybrid manner means he chooses his hardware carefully, but he also has “ a lot of stuff in boxes and tonnes of plug-ins”, including the 1176 compressors, the Neve 33609 compressors, Pultec EQs and Massenberg EQS and a combination of Lexicon and TC effects. “The monitors are ATC – I really love them, they are just articulate – you hear every nuance and mid-range, it’s great. People say there is not enough bottom end to them but there is plenty of bottom-end!

“I use a combination of in the box and Out Board gear when I’m mixing,” he continues. He admits that Genesys Black has been a learning curve for him, but that it didn’t take long for him to become ‘in tune’ with the desk.

“It is really modular. The workflow options are phenomenal. You can solve a problem in a number of different ways, so today I may route things one way and tomorrow I’ll route the same challenge in an entirely different way – that flexibility is brilliant. It’s got enough control with Pro Tools and the ability to have Pro tools faders on the desk as well analogue faders is a winner,” he comments.

Dackombe goes on to boldly claim that drummers make the best engineers as they are done recording in the first couple of days and end up sitting around waiting for everyone else to finish. “You might as well sit at the desk and do something. There is an awful lot of drummers I know that migrated to be engineers simply because they were bored and they had nothing else to do once their parts were done,” he explains.

And Dackombe is being kept busy at YellowRattle, with a variety of projects planned for the studio. This month a singer/songwriter from Barbados is coming in, while local bands and a video maker friend also intend to use the facility, with word of mouth the idea behind advertising the studio.

“I’m going to let it grow organically. I’m not in a desperate rush to be full 350 days a year. I’ve got to make sure we have enough slots for my writing with Peter [Higgins] and then I’ll just fit in bookings around that. There are range of things from folk, to indie to pop planned and that is kinda my sweet spot,” explains Dackombe.

In particular, the writing pair’s latest project involves an album with 12 songs written in swing, bebop style for a specific artist, who they are in discussion with about recording.

Meanwhile, he is really pleased with sound of the live room and control room and says it’s a great listening environment “What we set out to do is not to the build biggest studio, but to build the nicest with a lovely comfortable environment, and with great gear and that’s what I think I’ve done,” he says.