KORE Studios | Interview
KORE Studios is a London based recording studio created and set up by owner George Apsion back in 2004. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Florence and The Machine, Magic Numbers, Paloma Faith, Stereophonics and Plan B have recorded here. I caught up with George to find out how, when many studios were closing in the UK, he managed to create a successful, popular recording studio very much still in demand.
KMR : When did you open up Kore - and what made you think 'I want to open a studio', at the time when many other established Studios were closing?
GA : Kore opened in 2004 but I think I initially had the idea in 2000. I had been in bands and started to get an idea of how to record demos at home and I just weirdly one night decided I wanted to work in a studio and eventually run my own.
KMR : How did you start off?
GA : I got a job as a runner at a studio called Westside Studios, which was in Holland Park, London that was run by Langer and Winstanley *. I was very lucky I got a job there and was there for three years first as the runner, then assistant engineer route.
*Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley recently received the 2018 MPG Outstanding Contribution Award for their work with Madness, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Dexys Midnight Runners, Bush, a-ha, Morrissey and Blur amongst many others.
All the while I guess I was studying and figuring out if it was worth doing, or if there was a gap in the market whilst talking to many people and making contacts. I think it became clear that whilst the bigger studios were struggling and the smaller more basic studios weren’t really relevant anymore there was sort of this middle ground where you’d need:
a.) Good Soundproofing, because you couldn’t always record a drum kit at home
b.) Good Acoustics
c.) Good signal path - good preamps and compressors
d.) Monitors you could trust.
All bundled in with a good service attitude like you would get in a traditional recording studio. Not just recording with some guy smoking a joint and recording as-and-when the mood takes them!
KMR : You were aiming for a slightly more professional angle than that!
GA : Exactly! slightly more professional haha! - So yes that was the idea for the studio, and you know at the beginning it was slow - as it’s very difficult to talk somebody into a recording studio without them having had any word of mouth feedback about you. If you’re starting from zero it’s very hard, so we did the cheap deals so we could to keep the momentum going, and we were very lucky as I had one or two very good mentors from my time at Westside, one of whom was Tony Platt.*
Tony was brilliant, he booked us and gave us lots of great feedback and started putting the word out and then it sort of rolled on from there really.
*Tony Platt recorded AC/DC's Back In Black and Highway To Hell as well as working with Foreigner, Gary Moore, the Cult, Marillion and Iron Maiden to name but a few, after starting his career at Trident Studios and then Island Studios.
KMR : Did you find being in West London was key to making your location accessible?
GA : A lot of it was obviously price dependent and, rather than lease or rent, I was in a position to actually put money down on a freehold building. I was initially looking further out at places like Park Royal, but there was nothing really out there, no restaurants and it feels pretty soulless.
I guess the biggest factor was always going to need to be close to where I live which is West London, and I’ve always felt that there’s been lot’s going on in that part of London historically. There's Universal and there were labels like Mercury, Decca, and whilst many of these aren’t here anymore, at that time there were a few studios, and a little creative industry.
KMR : There used to be the Guitar Institute, Bass Institute, Drum Tech and you had/have Stanley House and Westpoint Studios nearby too?
GA : Yes, and two doors up we had the record label Cooking Vinyl so there was a good creative atmosphere in the area, so we felt it was a good fit.
KMR : When you’d gone through layouts for the studio, what did you focus on first? Was it the acoustic space or the equipment, as sometimes you have to compromise when you start off a new venture?
GA : In order of 1, 2, 3 - it was Acoustics and Isolation that was number one, they go hand in hand. Number two was wiring. We wanted to make sure it was wired really well and make sure no gremlins would come up further down the line, we spent quite a significant portion of the equipment budget on wiring.
Then number three was the main equipment which was the minimum we felt could get away with! I think we had a pair of Neve preamps and a GML EQ, and then the rest were things like the Audient console and a Pro Tools setup, as we started off with an Audient desk.
KMR : The Audient ASP8024 is a great desk and gives a proper console workflow, why did you choose this for your room initially?
GA : It was very easy to pick up the routing and understand the workflow especially for anybody coming in. It was very reliable it never went down or misbehaved, which is what we needed. That was the first twelve years, and I loved that desk. I would never say a bad word about that desk - it worked great for us.
KMR : You changed to an API 3208, what made you go API route rather than say Neve or SSL?
GA : I think the main thing is, there aren’t a great number of them in the UK. There’s RAK and a couple of semi-commercial places, so that was the first thing. I was also really focusing on ‘selling that sound’ - so rather than just being a name on a list of studios, I wanted to stand out. I wanted people to book us not because of price but because we have an API. It becomes a destination thing " I want to do my drums through an API ", so come to us.
KMR : When did you install it, was it 3-4 years ago?
GA : I think it was 2014. API are fairly unique in the UK and we’ve always had bits and pieces of API outboard and certainly the mic preamps and EQ’s always got used, so it became a no-brainer to get the API 3208 (32 channel) console.
KMR : When you upgraded the desk, did you update other equipment at the same time or just do it bit by bit?
No, it’s just been a gradual process really, it’s just a slow process of acquisition. As you know I’m just a lunatic for it and I’ll never stop!
KMR : Talking of gear, I know you have some amazing old ribbon mics, the Milodeum ribbons? Where did you source these from?
GA : It just came down to scouring around on eBay, and looking for weird things. Just a lot of weird funky eBay stuff that I get restored by this fantastic guy called Stewart Tavener, who has just brought his own range of products called EXTINCT Audio, which are very good ( www.extinctaudio.co.uk ) - you should check them out.
Lo-fi stuff, old ribbons, the jewels in the crown are the old French Ribbon mics, they were the French equivalent of the RCA ribbons. I’ve also got a pair of U67’s from the Manor, which came from the Townhouse Sale and were used on Tubular Bells.
KMR : Where do you use the Melodium Ribbons mainly, is it as room or ambience?
GA : Sometimes it’s on room, or horns and a few times on vocals, I did a very throwback 1940’s swing album a few years ago, so we use them all over that, they can be an effect mic - or if you want some nice bottom end with not too much zingy top.
KMR : Now at KORE you have a Studio B as well, how did this come about?
GA : Originally we had that as the office, and it's sort of grown up over the last 2-3 years. We had a much smaller cupboard room at the front which was an editing suite, so we changed it around, as the idea of having an office didn’t seem worth it - when it kind of follows you around these days on your mobile!
So we made the bigger room into a studio. It's really nice as it has natural light and has a different vibe and we put up acoustic panels from GIK and tuned the room up well.
KMR : Is that mostly a mixing and overdub kind of space?
GA : It’s mainly writing and mixing yes, but there's a lot of mastering equipment in there. I do a lot of my mixing up there as I like going into a different room to mix than where I tracked.
KMR : I think it’s a good option if you can do it, track in one studio and mix in another, it can help you focus on getting the parts right and captured in one place and then focus on making the record in the other...
GA : Yes I agree. I know that may sound odd mixing in one room and tracking in another, but there's something for me that helps give a different perspective on it all.
KMR : Looking at your Studio B you have a console in there called the Tweed. Where did that come from?
GA : That Tweed was originally on eBay and it's a Scottish desk company set up by two engineers who used to work from Neve, and left to set up their own company.
It has the Neve ideas, similar circuitry and sound to the Neve broadcast stuff. It’s fabulous and has big Marinair transformers inside it. It's great for stem mixing as it has stereo inputs and has a big fat, thick sound to it, which is a nice alternative to the API.
KMR : It gives you a great balance - two different flavours in one studio.
GA : Yes, this is a mellower and a darker desk, which for my tastes I like to mix through.
KMR : Where do you think most of your clients come from these days, is it producers or engineers or bands that choose KORE?
GA : What we've tended to find is you get 3-4 producers who get comfortable with you, so as long as they’re busy - then you’re busy! Over time of course they may want to try somewhere new or move into somewhere else but, what we tend to find is they make up the majority of the work throughout the year, and then the independent stuff fits around that.
KMR : You’ve been used by Softube and UA for developing the UAD2 Marshall Plug-ins recorded by Tony Platt at your studio. Is that something you can see yourself moving into more, working with software developers when requiring studio spaces to record in?
GA : Yes of course - it’s great promotion for the studio, as your name is on the tin. The fantastic thing about running a studio today is the clients want to do to the marketing for you. There's Instagram, YouTube, Twitter etc and everybody all wanting to take pictures and make videos and post them for you. When we first started off there was only the Myspace thing going and the desire for generating content wasn’t there - unlike today!
KMR : What's some of the most recent work and artists you’ve been proud to host?
GA : The recent Anna Calvi album produced by Nick Launay.
KMR : You’ve obviously done a great job of building up and providing a studio for what clients need, and to see the variety of artists who have recorded at KORE must be fulfilling?
GA : Yes, anybody booking a studio always want to see the client list, and to see a few famous names on it definitely helps. Once you get a few clients in, and every time we’ve had a band or artist do well, we’ve noticed a spike in usage afterwards, which is great.
KMR : Last question, and one very hypothetical - If your studio was burning down …what 3 things would you grab and why?
GA : Haha, can this be in pairs?
You can get whatever you can carry - and people are all out already!
GA : ok, what would I take that I could lift ..probably be the Pair of U67’s
A stereo AKG C24 tube valve mic…that would come with me
...and I think probably a very sexy tube distortion box, that you should check out actually, called the Kerwax Replica it’s a fabulous, fabulous box, I use that on everything!
KMR : Thanks for the interview George!
GA : Thanks!