Cenzo Townshend at Decoy Studio
London is where every British record producer has to work at some stage in their career if they are to make it to the top, for it is home to the UK’s major record labels, publishers and management companies, as well as many of the biggest and best commercial recording studios. Cenzo Townshend has served his time in London and is, without doubt, one of the most sought-after mix engineers working today, mixing albums for artists such as the Kaiser Chiefs, U2, Snow Patrol, Florence and the Machine, Friendly Fires, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Jamie Cullum, Graham Coxon, Athlete and many, many more. Until recently Cenzo’s mix room was in the basement of London’s Metropolis Studios, but in 2011 he relocated to a converted barn on the outskirts of Woodbridge, in rural Suffolk, and named it Decoy Studio. The view from his windows is that of a lake and beyond it is nothing much more than fields and trees. Not far over the horizon there is Sutton Hoo, the famous Anglo-Saxon burial site, and a little further still is the sea. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of London!
The appeal of working in such surrounding is obvious, but leaving London was still a brave move. Cenzo explains his reasons for trading in the big city for the peaceful countryside.
“I’ve actually lived in Woodbridge since I was a teenager apart from when I moved away to work in places like Liverpool and Dublin, and for 20 odd years I’d worked in London five days a week and travelled back here at weekends.
“I used to share a room with Stephen Street in Olympic Studios and then spent three or four years in Studio 3, which was a mix room, mixing all the time. Prior to that I’d worked with Stephen doing whole projects. I’d usually set Stephen up to record when he’d start work with a new band, then I’d leave and carry on with my mix projects. Then at the end I’d return and mix Stephen’s production.
“When Olympic closed I had to move to Metropolis very quickly. I was in studio B for almost three years, which is an SSL room in the basement. But it didn’t really give me the flexibility to do the projects I wanted to because a lot of clients couldn’t afford the £800 or £900 a day for the studio on top of my fee. As much as I really enjoyed being there I was looking for a better solution.
“I wanted to put my roots down and build a studio somewhere and I didn’t feel like doing it in London where the prices were prohibitive. I’d never have anything on this scale in London.
“Then I found a warehouse overlooking the river in Woodbridge which I took a lease on, and my architect had plans drawn and engaged a builder to price it, but the builder said ‘I think I’ve got a premises you’d much prefer,’ which is not something I wanted to hear a year down the line! But we came here and all agreed that this was the place because of the views of the lake and the solitude and the quietness, and we are four minutes from Woodbridge, which has restaurants, hotels, bars and pubs.
“I moved into my mix room with the help of studio designer David Bell who organised the build for the mix room and all the acoustics, and that enabled me to mix the The Maccabees Given to the Wild album. I literally finished work in Metropolis on a Thursday and on Monday we were starting the album, having temporarily installed my SSL, all my outboard and some acoustic treatment.
“The mix room takes up exactly a third of the space in the barn, but now we’ve converted the other two thirds into recording facilities with an Audient console in the new control room, married with my Neve and Telefunken mic amps and a lot of old outboard gear, a large live room with vintage drum kits, guitar amps and a Rhodes piano, and an isolation booth. It’s taken just under a year to build.
“The idea is that if a band want me to mix their album, they can come here and do overdubs and finish it if they need to. Often I’m mixing an album and the band haven’t quite finished the backing vocals or are doing the odd guitar and sending me things, and that’s a disjointed process. So we can get it done far more cost effectively if they come here and do B sides and finish the album while I’m mixing in the other room.
“Also if people want to record here from beginning to end that’s great, but primarily it’s set up for facilitating bands that I am working with.
“We are only limited by the size of the live room, which is quite a good size. It would be fine for a quartet or a small choir. I don’t do an awful lot of orchestral recording, but whenever somebody wants to do strings on an album I’m involved in I always suggest that we get an arranger and do it somewhere like Abbey Road. I can usually convince clients to go to Abbey Road because they want the experience of going there.”
“Occasionally I’ll work somewhere else. We did a stint in LA a little while back and sometimes I’ll have to go to London to do something, but 97 percent of what I do is here. Labels are very happy to come here because it is far cheaper than renting a big room in London. I still use my large-format consoles for a lot of work, so I need that kind of facility.
“Artist are quite happy to come here too. If they get on the train at Liverpool Street they are here within an hour and 10 minutes so it is no hardship for them to visit.
“Label and management people who come here sit outside and are lost. They listen to the silence and are baffled by it. It takes them a good half a day to relax and then they love it. Suffolk is a beautiful and very comfortable place to be. It’s relaxed and quite arty.”