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A RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE

By Dan Slessor     30 Sep 2016

From rock legend Pete Doherty to ’90s headliners Jamiroquai and K-pop star Cho Yong Pil, international artists are making their way to a remote corner of Thailand to create hit music

When a band or musical artist enters the studio to make a record, there are certain factors imperative to them walking out with a finished product that is everything they want it to be. Of course, the studio itself must be equipped with the best possible gear. Then there’s the need for professional producers and engineers who have the knowledge, experience and passion necessary to guarantee superior results. Finally, the atmosphere must be both comfortable and conducive to creativity, so that the musicians can focus entirely on their craft.

Karma Sound Studios offers all this, and so much more. A two-hour drive from Bangkok, and located just a short walk from Bang Saray fishing village, it offers artists high-end recording facilities as well as stylish and comfortable accommodation to envy that of any luxury resort, with full-time housekeeping staff and a chef at their disposal. Oh, and the opportunity to stroll through paradise every time they step outside.

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The green space around the studio is conducive to creativity

Beach lovers couldn’t hope for a more beautiful and uncluttered destination than Bang Saray, and there are plenty of friendly local fishermen happy to take visitors—rock stars or not—out on the water to try their hand at catching dinner. For those drawn to nature and disposed to jungle exploration, lush, undisturbed greenery also abounds mere feet from the studio, making the hustle and bustle of the big city seem alien after just a few days.

Since opening its doors at the end of 2008, Karma Sound has hosted a humbling range of international recording artists, including UK acts Enter Shikari, The Libertines, Young Guns, Jessie J, Jamiroquai and Bullet for my Valentine, as well as several big names from Asia: Cho Yong Pil, Bodyslam, Chin Chinawut and Thailand’s Got Talent 2011 winner Myra, to name but a few.

The intent is that everyone who walks through the doors has an immersive experience, which allows them to live and breathe music, in comfort and without distraction. This was exactly what Enter Shikari vocalist Rou Reynolds experienced when the band tracked 2012’s critically acclaimed A Flash Flood of Colour, which reached number 4 on the UK album charts. ‘We spent most of every day working,’ he says. ‘From waking up to going to bed there was always someone tracking, but when I wasn’t needed I could work out on the gym machines by the pool or go for a walk. When you’re in that relaxed environment, that’s everything you want from a studio and then you don’t have to escape it and have an evening off or anything. You’re just excited to be able to get everything down and get the project progressing.’

Karma Sound is the brainchild of Chris Craker, a Grammy-nominated producer who envisaged and designed the studio, and footed more than 90 percent of its £1.5 million price tag. With more than three decades in the industry as a musician, songwriter, conductor, producer and manager, Craker has worked with artists such as Elton John, Alan Parsons and Chris de Burgh, as well as recently producing the Hans Zimmer­­–penned score for director Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

After spending four years running Sony’s Masterworks, splitting his time between London and New York, an old itch flared up, and the inspiration for Karma Sound hit. ‘I was so embroiled in the business side of things and I wanted to get back to making records,’ he explains. ‘I realized that to build the ultimate studio in a fantastic location somewhere away from the world would be something truly special.’

Jessie J is among the big names that recorded music at the studio in Thailand

Having spent a lot of time in Thailand—including working on the 40th anniversary of the king’s coronation—Craker had fallen in love with the country. He purchased some land at the recommendation of a friend and set out to fulfill his dream. ‘Studio 1 is very, very similar to Abbey Road Studio Three, and our control room is a very large version of that at Sofa Sound in northwest London, which is the studio of Hugh Padgham (who has produced the likes of Sting, Paul McCartney and Genesis),’ Craker says. ‘What I didn’t like was that it was a little bit too small, so we basically just tripled the size of it, following the design and layout, and then just glued those two together.’

Craker—who brought the studio to life without a business plan or any strategy in place to recoup his investment—just wanted to create opportunities for artists. Offering competitive prices, it is far more affordable than might be expected, and having never once taken out an advert for Karma Sound the studio runs at 85% capacity, year round.

Integral to the studio are the people who run it, and most important among them are manager Supisa ‘Lek’ Williamson and in-house engineers/producers Shane Edwards and Rhys Fletcher. The warm and friendly Williamson is the first point of contact for all who record there. Responsible for managing the schedule, arranging logistics, and handling just about everything else most probably would not think of, she plays a substantial role in day-to-day operations, and it’s safe to say she takes great pleasure in her job. ‘I enjoy every day, because we don’t have a routine job. Everything happens in front of you and it’s always changing – different people, different band, different content, and if you’re here for two weeks or a month or however long I want you to feel at home, like you’re a part of our family.’

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Chris Craker, owner of the Karma Studio, is also an award-winning producer

This was very much the case for the UK’s Young Guns, who recorded their 2012 album Bones at Karma Sound, the title track going on to top the US Active Rock chart after being picked as the theme song to WWE’s Wrestlemania 29.

‘Everyone there was incredibly nice and attentive, and a real pleasure to be around,’ says bassist Simon Mitchell. ‘We loved Supisa, she was like our studio mother! She was quick to tell us what she thought of us and there was a great chemistry from the start. She looked after us incredibly well, always made sure we had everything we needed and more. The whole time we were there we never stopped feeling lucky that our band allowed us to work in such a place.’

Though some artists choose to bring outside producers or engineers with them, a high percentage of those recording at Karma Sound work with Edwards, who also mixes records tracked at other locations. With 15 years’ experience in his native Australia, the soft-spoken producer worked on records by Hellions, Tonight Alive, Thy Art Is Murder and Dream On Dreamer—to name a few—as well as running his own successful studio, Electric Sun in Sydney, before relocating to Thailand in 2014.

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Pete Doherty spent seven months at Karma, working on The Libertines’ 2015 comeback album

Since then, he has worked closely with numerous artists, and perhaps most intimately with The Libertines, who both wrote and tracked their 2015 comeback Anthems for Doomed Youth at Karma Sound. ‘Pete [Doherty, vocals/guitar] stayed with us for a good seven months, and I did a lot of one-on-one with him. Sometimes, he would be writing something and we’d decide to take a break, but we’d take the guitar and a portable recording rig with us and we’d go down to the beach and carry on working on demos there. Then we could return to the studio and flesh them out, and make them into the songs that made it onto the record.’

Edwards is also quick to point out that no matter the stature of a band or individual visitor, everyone receives the same Karma Sound experience. ‘Whether it’s a very famous, large band or a kid and his guitar from a local village, everybody gets the same treatment,’ he says. ‘There’s no hierarchy, egos are left at the door and we give 200 percent to everybody who comes through.’

This is very much borne out in the experience of young British singer/songwriter Charlie Straw, who spent six weeks at Karma Sound in summer 2016, at the invitation of Craker. Developing young talent and providing opportunities to work in a creative, professional environment has long been a passion of the studio, and Straw is only the most recent young artist invited out there. ‘He’s 21, just out of university and he blew me away,’ says Craker. ‘So I said I really love your work, why don’t you come to my studio. I’ll manage you, I’ll give you six weeks studio time, we’ll record an album, shoot three videos, design all the artwork and at the end of the six weeks we’ll have all of that and be ready to go – and that’s exactly what we did. We know what we’re doing, we put him with a great producer, a great engineer, and because of the infrastructure and facilities we’re in a position where we can move quickly, whereas normal management companies and record companies have to figure it out and pull it together.’

Straw was afforded this opportunity completely gratis, with Craker footing the bill for his time, which was obviously a unique and exciting experience for any young artist. ‘We’d be in the studio from 10am to 10pm and I would walk out at the end of the day with no idea I’d been in there that long,’ says Straw. ‘It’s a hugely creative environment, just talking to the people and hearing about what they’ve done and what they’re doing really gets you inspired.’

Furthermore, his time spent at Karma has profoundly affected his whole craft. Having flown out to Thailand as someone whose only recordings were “me and my guitar” he has had his horizons truly broadened. ‘There’s big production and different ideas and concepts that run through the record that I had never envisaged on my own, and having returned to the UK I now write in a slightly different way. Now I can see what potentially can happen with a song, which is really, really exciting, and something I’m proud of.’

With the studio schedule as busy as ever and word of mouth continuing to spread, music fans can be assured that more and more of their favorite records will be tracked at Karma Sound, and that Craker, Edwards and Williamson will greet them all with the same enthusiasm.

While any of them can easily—and sincerely—sell you on the merits of the studio, the last word is perhaps best left to someone who has walked away with a life-changing record. ‘It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and just talking about it is making me miss the place and the people,’ Mitchell enthuses. ‘Sometimes I’ll listen to a song and it’ll take me back to when we recorded it, and I love that.It’s guaranteed to have a special place in the heart of anyone who records there.’

Reynolds is equally fervent when asked what he would say to any band or artist considering recording at Karma Sound. ‘I literally don’t have a negative word to say about it. Beautiful place, really lovely people, great facilities, and if you want to wholly invest emotionally in a record you really need to be in a ‘bubble’, in which you can focus on that and nothing else. I can’t imagine a more perfect offering of a studio to achieve that.’

This little slice of coastal heaven in Thailand offers musicians much needed space to be alone with their creativity. Do you know anywhere else that is conducive to creative pursuits? Tell us with #momentumtravel.

Photos: Alamy

Dan Slessor
Dan Slessor
Dan Slessor is an international music journalist based in Brighton, UK who writes for Kerrang!, Alternative Press, Outburn and various US record labels.

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