The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 12, 2003


Blue Jay Studios celebrate grand re-opening

Even before I found myself shaking hands with Kevin Richardson of The Backstreet Boys and hobnobbing with keyboardist Greg Hawkes of The Cars, I knew this was not going to be a typical evening in Carlisle. It was the grand re-opening of Blue Jay Studios on Bedford Road, a world-class recording studio that has in its impressive 24 year history attracted such big names in music as Aerosmith, Billy Joel and Roy Orbison to record and mix their music here. I anticipated a glitzy evening more suited to downtown Boston or New York than unassuming Carlisle, Massachusetts — and I was not disappointed.
Kevin Richardson of The Backstreet Boys (left) looks on as guests enjoy the grand re-opening of Blue Jay Studios. (Photo by Lois D'Annunzio)

Chances are, most local residents aren't fully aware of what goes on at 669 Bedford Road, because Blue Jay Studios deliberately keep a low profile. Located underground, the studio has a modest, nearly invisible presence from the street, offering a big blue mailbox and curious mound of earth as the only evidence that something unique exists in this spot. Yet word has leaked out. Many of us have heard that The Backstreet Boys (the quintessential "boy band", launched in 1993 and much admired by young girls everywhere — including my two daughters) have recorded here. Other big name performers — Carly Simon, Artie Shaw and Tom Jones among them — have slipped into town without our knowledge. I was intrigued. And I didn't know the half of it.

After being directed to park my car at Foss Farm, I was shuttled to the studio in a van full of other invitation-only guests (there was no velvet rope, but there was a list). I admired the guitar-shaped ice sculpture and soft glow of candlelight on tables under the party tent before discovering there were celebrities sipping cocktails among the roughly 200 guests.

Bob and Janet Lawson, former owners of Blue Jay Studios. (Photo by Lois D'Annunzio)

The most notable celebrity was Kevin Richardson (whenever my girls argued over which Backstreet Boy was the cutest — Brian or Nick I myself cast a secret vote for Kevin). But Richardson was not merely a celebrated guest. The Louisville, Kentucky native, whose group boasts five top-ten hits and sales in the millions, is now part owner of Blue Jay Studios, along with producer/ musician Marcus Siskind, originally from Brockton. The partners purchased the business two years ago from Bob and Janet Lawson of Concord, who built the underground studio in 1979.

"I met Marcus about four years ago when we started doing music together," said Richardson, who was sipping a martini containing six olives (yes, I counted). "We became friends, we came out here, and decided to buy this place."

But why choose a studio in Carlisle, Massachusetts? "The original draw was to get out of New York, away from the hustle and bustle of the city," said studio manager Kevin Schuler, who has worked for Blue Jay since Siskind and Richardson bought it in 2001. "They wanted a quiet place, where no one bothers you."

Granted, there are disadvantages to being out in the country. "A lot of people based in Boston don't want to travel outside the city," Schuler added. "They have offices in Boston and can walk most places."

But it is precisely the rural surroundings of Carlisle that first attracted Bob and Janet Lawson to Carlisle back in 1979. "We wanted to build a studio in the countryside area, accessible to Boston so the commute for a day session wasn't too much," said Bob, an honored guest at the grand re-opening of the studio he founded. "We looked all around Boston for a beautiful area about thirty-five to forty minutes from the city. A realtor found this place, and that's how we ended up here."

Lawson recalled that the Planning Board in Carlisle was receptive to the idea of the studio, because the underground business would be unobtrusive and also because there would be minimal traffic. If there had been any concern about potential noise levels, these were dispelled during the first month after opening in 1980 when rock band Aerosmith came to town to record some of their music.

"It was the acid test to see how the soundproofing worked," Lawson said. "They were inside playing at coliseum levels and I went outside to walk on top of where they were playing. All I could hear was birds chirping."

Word about Blue Jay Studio's excellent, state-of-the-art facility, including the first automatic console in New England, spread fast within the music industry. "This was the first serious studio in the area in terms of being acoustically sound. Word got out. This whole business is word of mouth," said Lawson.

When musicians passing through New England inquired about quality recording facilities, many were referred to Blue Jay Studios. That's how Roy Orbison ended up in Carlisle, Lawson says. For this particular session, he also happened to bring in an unknown singer named k.d. laing (now a famous country star in her own right) to sing a duet with him. The record went on to win a Grammy, and laing has often said that the session here with Orbison was the true start of her career.

Not that only the famous and nearly-famous have made their way to Blue Jay Studios. For every visit of the likes of Amy Grant, Marky Mark, ,Alice Cooper, Genesis Boston, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Jonathan Edwards, Yo Yo Ma and John Williams (who, according to the Blue Jay Studios web site have all recorded or had music mixed here) dozens of talented local musicians and lesser-known artists have also worked in Carlisle. And as for the kinds of music recorded here and absorbed into the natural soundproofing of Carlisle soil, there have been no limitations, including folk, New Age, jazz, rock and film scores.

Although the Blue Jay facilities were considered state-of-the-art in the '80s, Lawson noted that they started showing their age through the '90s. But now, he says he is "thrilled" with the new life the studio is undertaking with its new owners.

"Marc came in and got the job done. What he's done is extraordinary. It sounds better and looks better than ever," Lawson said.

During the renovation project, the entire recording studio was gutted (the old console was sold to '70s rocker Peter Frampton, Schuler said) and completely overhauled. Blue Jay literature explains (for those in the know) that the new equipment includes "a custom Mad Labs Neve VR-72, custom 813-K monitors and full ProTools HD systems." The new acoustic design "improves the accuracy of the control room's bass response and imaging, including the implementation of perforated metal ceiling clouds, enlarged acrylic diffuser [and] additional bass trapping." In other words, Blue Jay Studios are once again at their top of the game, with among the best recording facilities available in the business.

As for the less technical and more aesthetic appointments amid the original redwood and natural stone at Blue Jay Studios, Siskind and Richardson were referred to Carlisle resident Janet Gaffey, an interior designer with Santini & Company of Concord.

"Strong colors and venetian plaster finishes were used throughout and antique furnishings mixed to create an atmosphere of high tech in a country setting," said Gaffey, who consulted with Siskind and Richardson (when he was in town) starting back in May of 2002. "They also gave me a lot of independence in the final artwork and in the accessorizing of the spaces It was great fun to work so closely with group of young entrepreneurs ,artists and music aficionados."

So let it never be said that Carlisle is devoid of glitz and glamour. We have Blue Jay Studios. And sometimes (although he is on his way to London this fall to play the role of Billy Flynn in the touring company of "Chicago"), we even have Kevin Richardson. And although there may have been guests at last week's opening who scoffed at the small-town surroundings of this big-city recording studio, certainly Richardson and Suskind have come to accept and appreciate Carlisle's humble character.

In fact, as Mosquito photographer Lois D'Annunzio and I competed for the attention of the owners and celebrities with reporters and photographers from the Boston Globe and other big-time media types, I mentioned shyly to Richardson that perhaps this was the smallest newspaper for which he would ever be interviewed. He smiled graciously and shook his head.

"You'd be surprised," he said.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito