It's all a very long way from Abbey Road

An East End chapel is the latest offbeat location for bands to record. Elisa Bray hears the attraction of boats, factories and even forests

The studio where Noah and the Whale recorded their new album isn't your typical recording space. A converted Methodist chapel in Bethnal Green, its warm atmosphere and favourable acoustics have also led to its hosting Guillemots, Mystery Jets and Arctic Monkeys.

Bands are increasingly ditching the soulless environment of the professional studio in favour of unique, atmospheric venues that best suit the sound and mood they hope to create in their albums. Noah and the Whale's new single "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." is the first released track that's part-recorded at the Bethnal Green chapel, The Empire. But we'll be hearing a lot more in the coming months, as it's where Arctic Monkeys recorded their upcoming album, while Klaxons have just moved in for a month. Since the chapel opened as a recording studio, it has been booked solid and you can see why. The live room's size and 1.7 second reverb puts it on a par with Abbey Road's Studio 2, but the acoustics are not the only draw. Bands get the keys, have 24 hour access, and private use of the dining room, lounge and in-house record collection, creating a homely atmosphere more akin to a countryside residential studio than a commercial London studio.

Noah and the Whale chose the chapel to record Last Night on Earth for its sonics and conduciveness to creativity, combining recording there with a commercial studio to harness the sound. "The high ceilings give the room an amazing natural reverb and that can often be quite forgiving and flattering to a performance, which is really useful while you're figuring out arrangements. It also makes the drums sound huge," enthuses singer Charlie Fink. "Brian Eno often insists that his bands record vocals in churches because of the natural reverb. It's impossible to replicate that sound in a small room – you can always tell. Also, working in a studio with big windows and natural light is a real joy compared to the usual dark caves. It stops the band getting lethargic as the session goes on."

My Morning Jacket recently moved all their equipment into a 1900s chapel never before used by a band, to record their upcoming album. Other albums recorded in a church include Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, Beach House's Teen Dream, Coldplay's Viva la Vida, and Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden back in 1988.

Aside from churches, bands are choosing other unusual locations such as factories, barns and the outdoors to add atmosphere while saving the expense of a costlier commercial studio. Rising indie-folk trio Flashguns chose a derelict barn in Somerset to record their debut. Reviews of The Low Anthem's new album Smart Flesh all seem to agree that the choice of recording space was an excellent tool in shaping the album's eerie and otherworldly sound. The band, who made their name in 2008 with the folk-rock album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, eschewed both the 10 by 12 foot basement of the house where they recorded that album and commercial studios, moving their skeletal equipment into a disused factory in Rhode Island. They had plenty of empty buildings to choose between, and settled for a former pasta sauce factory, where friends had been squatting, disguised as guerrilla guards. "We wanted to get away from the limitations of home recording," says singer Ben Knox Miller. "We did our previous record in a small room and all the reverb was created artificially. We were trying to get away from that and make our sound happen in real space. The sound forms naturally when it's resonating in a giant chamber. It's less plastic."

You can certainly hear the natural reverb throughout the album, thanks to the spacing of microphones across the floor, capturing the sound around the room. Some songs did not survive the acoustics afforded by the building though. "The busier the songs were, the less they translated," says Miller, "so it created a cohesion within the album. It's very lethargic. It's a pretty lonely sound. It sounds like you're out in a desert, a weird expanse that's not quite human. It's moody." Temperatures in the factory frequently falling to freezing as the band recorded into the night also contributed to the "lethargic" sound.

Sometimes the recording venue becomes a part of the album's mythology. Bon Iver took himself to a secluded cabin in Wisconsin for three months and the location sparked For Emma, Forever Ago. It became the perfect framework for an album by a broken-hearted lover, shut away from the world, recorded with nothing more than a few microphones and old equipment. A peaceful rural location was also essential to Seattle duo Thousands, whose hushed guitar-picking was brought to Bella Union's attention by Fleet Foxes' guitarist Skye Skjelset. Unable to create the fragile sound they had in mind at home, Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman travelled around in search of inspiring places to record. The Sound of Everything was recorded in a cabin on the Oregon coast, the banks of the Columbia River, abandoned barns and old farmhouses. "We want people to listen to this with headphones on and feel like they're immersed in these locations," Bergman explains. That you can hear the breeze and occasional birdsong complements the album's nature imagery, giving it a magical sense of place.

Some of rock's most cherished rock albums were recorded in obscure places. The Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main St. on the Côte d'Azur in 1971. Nellcôte was the first place the band had recorded outside of a commercial studio. Sometimes a fresh venue provides essential inspiration. Before it was designated the UK's number one wedding venue, Clearwell Castle, in the picturesque village of Clearwell on the Welsh border, was used by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Mott the Hoople as a rehearsal and recording studio. It was where Deep Purple recorded Burn in 1973. It was also the last port of call for Black Sabbath who had tried and failed to write their album in Californian studios. In an underground cavern in the castle, the band found their inspiration to write and record the acclaimed Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in 1973.

But recording in a church, factory or barn is made positively ordinary by Erland & the Carnival. In an attempt to "create a soundtrack to an imaginary horror film about the supernatural", they took their equipment to the bottom of a ship moored at Embankment, where they soaked up the atmosphere provided by perpetual damp and the constant sound of water. "You could hear sounds in the hull when we were mixing the record," says drummer David Nock. "We set up contact mics all around the ship to capture its unique sounds."

So what does this mean for the commercial studio? Marlon Brown who runs The Empire, and is seeing a huge increase in business, believes the capital's commercial studios' time is running short. "A couple of people own most of the commercial studios in London and it's a stitch-up between them and the labels. Bands have now seen through the labels and are beginning to question the commercial studio set-up. Most will go out of business in the next couple of years," he asserts. "I'm dealing with the bands directly, explaining that The Empire is a creative space and not a commercial studio. They seem immediately relieved and creatively empowered."



Noah and the Whale's 'Last Night on Earth' and Erland & The Carnival's 'Nightingale' are out on 7 March. The Low Anthem's 'Smart Flesh' is out now. Thousands' 'The Sound of Everything' is out 26 April. My Morning Jacket's 'Circuital' is out in May

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?