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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas