Over the last 4 years Justin Doyle has been kept busy setting up his own recording studio, The Blue Room, recording material for his project “Far Far Away” and working as a sound engineer on movie sets. Doyle began his obsession with sound at the ripe old age of four. He remembers sitting in front of his parents’ stereo, listening to The Beatles “and turning the balance control from left to right, flicking it between mono and stereo … That used to amaze me, how it was a different song if you just listened to one side of it.” He began playing the guitar at 14, but was more fascinated with the results of “mucking around with home stereo recording” when he was about 15. “It was an inconvenience to me having to play the instrument, I just wanted the sounds, I didn’t want to have to fumble my way through playing them.”
Since then Doyle has kept up his musical ties, playing in bands and working as a guitar tech, which he describes as a “great way to see the world and the country, and put off getting a real job!” For the last seven years he has been guitar tech to a whole host of bands, including The D4, Goldenhorse, The Datsun, Fur Patrol and Goodshirt. He is also the regular guitar tech for Shihad; “I have a lot of fun with those guys”, and has toured around the UK and Australia with them. Recently, he was technician for The Kills, and often does one-off shows in Wellington, which he prefers as “it means you don’t have to leave home.” At the end of this month, he is back touring around Australia and New Zealand with The Veils. However, he points out that “at some point the novelty of it just wears off, and it just becomes a job… You tend to find that you’re a bit of a nana – you get the show done as quick as you can, you go back to your hotel and you read a book.”
Recently, Doyle has been busy, working out at Miramar’s Park Road Post Production sound studio, (set up by Peter Jackson after Return of the King), which provided a refreshing break. “It was really incredible, cause I’d just been music, music, music.” Doyle made up part of a sound team, put together to work on big budget films, doing track lays and sound effects. “The first recording … we went up to Waiouru and recorded the artillery – massive guns firing shells 10 km in the air. You pull the handle, and you just feel your internal organs compress.” His sound recording ‘adventures’ also helped him get up close and personal with sea lions in Napier, “it was gross because they sneeze and stuff, and they get their snot on the rycote (part of the boom). And it’s really stinky stuff, it never smells the same again.” Next year, Doyle will be heading back to this demanding, but rewarding, job to work on Jackson’s new film The Lovely Bones.
Doyle’s love of sound has helped him create unconventional music, “instead of it being rich with tonal ideas, with notes and melody, you can use sounds that are engendered with other emotions … every sound has weight, inertia and momentum and if you choose these sounds and combine them carefully, then you can create a rhythmical context, you can create a sense of density, or a sense of sparseness and openness.”
Although he believes that instruments are “awesome in their own right” he “always found it quite limiting what 5 people could produce in a room or on stage, because I’m always struggling to get a guitar or a drum kit to make the sounds that I want to hear. When the things you hear are so far removed from those instruments, it’s tough.” As to his own musical taste, he likes “minimal stuff, composers like Arvo Pärt”, whose music he describes as “strange, almost mathematical, meditative sounds occurring in very rigid forms”, and most Icelandic bands, especially Múm. He also is a fan of local bands, like Phoenix Foundation: “such great songs. Lovely little textures and sneaky little sounds that keep creeping in,” and bands such as The Kills.
Doyle has also been involved in his musical project Far Far Away, and has finally finished their first album, after 3 long years. Far Far Away is comprised of Doyle and his friend Matt Copeland. Copeland was originally a “classically trained pianist – and he trained, and trained, and trained, and trained, and then when he was 16, (he) developed a hatred of the piano and didn’t want to play it anymore, and started playing guitar.” Doyle describes their style as “dream-like, a little bit soundscape, a little bit ambient, and a little bit spooky” as well as “incredibly slow, and ponderous”. He points out that “globally there is a focus on dynamics [in music] … Everything’s always quite loud, and full-on, and relentless … So the idea was to make music that kind of made everything stand still again … music that was just sublime and still, and a little more static than everything else that just hoops and hollers for your attention.”
Doyle is constantly recording new sounds to use in his songs, and then distorts them by slowing them down, speeding them up, reversing them or cutting them up into smaller samples. “We’ve recorded pretty much everything in [the studio], including the radiators and the drawers!”
Doyle is also heavily involved in recording and producing other bands through his studio, The Blue Room. The current studio is “the second incarnation” of the first, which was located on Victoria Street around 4 years ago. He set up his studio “so I could always record, and friends could do likewise, and so I could always be involved in interesting things”. He claims that he although he was always playing music, he was equally “always wanting to record it, because it escapes really quickly.
The cool stuff happens in the moment, but then it gets away.” He has tried (and succeeded) to set up a ‘lounge feel’ to his studio, with its long couches, cosy atmosphere, and hot cups of milo. “As long as people can feel relaxed and create, that’s the main thing.”
He tends to produce “low key, interesting, local stuff”, which he prefers to a lot of current music which he claims “feels like advertising… It doesn’t seem to have heaps of authenticity.” He either allows bands to “recreate their live stuff,” or, if they are “trying to do something different, or if it’s a solo artist who’s not sure what they can do”, he “sit[s] down with them… get[s] the basic essence of a song and then start[s] trying out a few ideas.” To Doyle, this is all part of the production process, as so often “people write their songs so quickly … that they’re not sure where they’ve come from, so its quite interesting to dig a little deeper into the psyche and see if you can investigate them a little further.” His production work allows his imagination to run wild, experimenting with “ideas, and sounds and textures, and making the song more than it otherwise would have been. The possibilities are infinite with music.”