Storm Eva brought devastation to Matthew Johnson and Suburban Home Studio, but helped by friends and a GoFundMe page Mike Hillier discovers the studio is back and better than ever
The 2015 Boxing Day floods caused by Storm Eva brought devastation across the North of England and South West Scotland. Hundreds of residents were evacuated as rivers burst their banks. Matthew Johnson, of Leeds-based band Hookworms, and owner of Suburban Home Studios saw his studio flooded in the crisis. With his studio now refurbished and ready to open again we caught up with him to see how he's been dealing with the disaster.
Your studio Suburban Home was badly damaged in the floods on Boxing Day last year. Can you tell us what happened?
I was lucky. I saw the warnings early and managed to drive back from my parents’ house on the afternoon of Boxing Day. My studio is situated about 100m from the River Aire, which ended up rising by a couple of metres to break its banks. Myself, a friend and my uncle used sandbags to keep the water out as long as possible, while we moved everything we could into the attic space. To leave we had to flood the studio, which was pretty surreal. When I got there in the early afternoon the water was lapping at the car park and by the time we left it was up round my stomach (I’m six foot). We had to leave because it was no longer safe to be there. I guess since it unfolded over a few hours something very surreal became something very normal. It was the first time the river had broken its banks since 1866.
A GoFundMe page was created on your behalf. What did that mean to you?
Both financially and motivationally I couldn’t have reopened without it. I received an insane number of messages from people around the world wishing me well because they’d enjoyed records I’ve made and it’s hard to say without appearing disingenuous, but it did keep me going. I had no idea anyone was paying any attention to my work — I’m always thrilled that I get to make a living from doing this, but always figured I was more of a transparent backroom part of the records I’ve made.
Did you manage to find alternative studios to work in while the rebuilding was going on?
Yeah I did most of my tracking at Greenmount Studio, in Armley, which is a really inspiring studio in the basement of a church. They were incredibly kind in making space for recording I already had booked in. For mixing, I set up in my spare room, which definitely wasn’t ideal but I think I made it work through endless referencing. I worked in a few other unusual places too, including one band’s practice space and it’s been a really good learning experience to solidify what it is I want from a studio space and to also try microphones and outboard I hadn’t been able to get my hands on previously.
Suburban Home has now re-opened. Do you feel you’ve managed to make improvements to the space?
Yeah! I’ve been lucky that since I moved to the current location five years ago I’ve been so busy that I never had the time to change things that annoyed me about the space. I’ve worked hard on the acoustics this time - the live room is much more open sounding and I’ve designed the traps/diffusion to be quickly moved onto or off the walls, so for a small room it’s really flexible. The monitoring and general workflow is much better than before, as it had originally been more a case of adding things on top of one another, rather than designing it as a whole. I’ve now got multicore running to every part of the building so the whole space is more versatile too.
Are there any further improvements you’d like to make?
It wasn’t until we had to take the ceiling out post flood that I realised just how bright the warehouse that houses the studio is during the day. So now I’m looking into a huge window or a sun tunnel for the live room roof in the near future. I think I’ve spent enough time working in studios with no natural light. In the long term I’m hoping to expand sideways with a second larger live room and some smaller spaces for mastering/mixing and technicians. I’d really like to turn it into a small hub, because I feel working in a community is better for everyone.
Who have you got lined up to come into the new room?
I’m just finishing up mixing records for Joey Fourr and Tangerines and then I’m making records with Chain of Flowers and Native Braves both of which I’m excited about. Some other stuff I can’t talk about yet and also a new Hookworms album.