Electric Canyon was designed and constructed in 2002 and 2003. The two year process began with a phone call to a studio designer I read about in Tape Op Magazine. I couldn’t find the article again, so I emailed publisher, Larry Crane, who replied “Wes Lachot”. Initial contact with Wes was supportive while spelling out the realities of the potential endeavor; the financial costs, the labor costs (mostly myself, a couple tradesmen here and there, and enthusiastic laborers in the form of friends and local musicians), and the emotional costs.
Wes wanted pictures and videos of the space and site in Butte Creek Canyon along with images of my current studio setup in a 1950’s suburban ranch style house in Chico, California. The videos revealed not only the space available for the build out, but my current recording method and how it could be expanded to better accommodate the bands and artists in this neck of the woods. The last shots on the video were the bluffs of the Canyon to show the beauty of the location. My friend chimed in, “He’s probably is not interested in that…” On the contrary, the beauty of the location fascinated him and sealed the deal.
At a time when big studios were closing and smaller production studios and home recording were becoming popular, there was some risk. It made business sense to me to construct a destination studio with high quality acoustics and the comforts of creation for the North Valley. I had an established track record of albums and artists dating back to 1994, but no realistic idea of the scope of a studio build in the beginning. The time and the money to get the job done was four times greater than my first guess by the time the studio passed final inspection.
The cost of the design was very reasonable. Wes came out and helped with the build four times for several days of each project phase. That is a luxury he can no longer provide with his current busy schedule. He now has a team of experts that work at build locations. Much of the construction costs were for large amounts of lumber for the framing and enough sheetrock for two to four layers on all surfaces. Thirteen custom doors, dozens of dual pane windows and thick glass, acoustic panel material, fabrics for covering and a custom air conditioner large enough for two McMansions also were in order. As the contractor and project manager, I sought out the best deals on everything through local trades people, building suppliers, and the internet (which was a pain in the dial up days).
The first meeting with Wes came after a Tape Op conference we both attended in Sacramento. He was also wrapping up another build in Northern California at the time, The Pus Cavern. I had the opportunity to visit Pus Cavern and see architectural detail that would be used in my build. Consequently, I have seen Wes’ builds since with architectural detail first implemented at Electric Canyon. Lachot’s studios are unique with common thematic design elements including: 1. A reflection free zone (RFZ) style control room for accurate listening experience in the majority of the room via soffit (in-wall) speakers. 2. A live room that has a pleasant mildly ambient and controlled sonic signature. 3. Classic comfort of great musical creation spaces of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. 4. Architectural styling inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright- Cypress wood trim , emphasis of horizontal via valence trim and room to room parquet floor for unity of space, making it feel extra spacious as perceived by the occupant.
Wes arrived at the site to get a feel the space and visualize the build out, the entire bottom floor of a split level log residence. The original owner and builder of the house was going to set it up as a six-car dream garage. The existing garage door cavities would be retrofitted with dual pane french doors or windows. The post and beam construction had four posts to be strategically hidden within the new studio walls.
There was 9.5 feet of headroom floor to ceiling, not idyllically tall but enough height to add several layers of acoustical treatment and remain over nine feet. To get the big room sound, Wes effectively created a vaulted room lying on it’s side to provide a diffuse ambience of a high ceiling. The first meeting would assess why twenty percent of the ceiling was only seven feet high and what it would take to push it to the 9.5 foot height. Withing thirty minutes we broke out a couple sledgehammers and began breaking down the low sections. Game on, demolition commence. The plumbing, and upstairs AC had been hung low and would need to be reworked as high as possible. This took me about about a month. Once pushed up the entire ceiling was re-sheetrocked with two layers of 5/8 inch thick panels . The first layer was taped and sealed with joint compound before the second was applied. Every hole must be filled because even a tiny hole creates an air leak—which is a sound leak. With the room completely rocked with two layers Wes came back after two months with his plans for laying out the walls of the five rooms within this massive room.
During the first visit, we had spent an evening determining a center-line from an upper rafter to which the control room would be laid out. The control room would be absolutely symmetrical. This make for the best stereo monitoring situation. The walls and door positions are symmetrical, the power outlets are symmetrical, as is the wood work wall cavities, the studs and any woodwork, the ventilation, the acoustic treatment, and on and on. If a stud was structurally required in the left wall, an opposite stud was added to the right side so the voids inside the walls would have the same resonance. The quest for control room symmetry drove me a nutty at times. Like the time the hanging rear bass trapping framework was nine inches off on the left side. Wes pointed it out and convinced me to correct it before the pro framer I hired for one week arrived the following morning. I started the modification at 10PM and finished around 3AM. The show must go on. And it did…on and on and on. Not only did it push my work load as the primary builder, but I actively kept my studio going in town and my usual live sound gigs to fund the project. I could not just shut down and build.
I had saved $10,000 to begin the build, I thought that was a good start. It lasted about two weeks, much more money would be needed. Wes had asked what I was thinking about spending and I said below $20K. He laughed. We’re going bigger and it would be worth it. Had I known the costs, the hours, the struggle that lay ahead in the following eighteen months, Electric Canyon may never have been built. Wes had a way of easing me into the bigness of what we were doing. He is a coach as well as a visionary designer. I just had to follow the plans, keep making money, continually seek enthusiastic helpers and build.
More to come.