Ever wondered what it’s like working as a Engineer, Mixer or Producer in a Recording Studio? We hear from ‘Start Together Studio’ – One of the leading Professional Studios in Northern Ireland, Vocalist / Guitarist & Synthesizer extraordinaire from synth-pop band Oppenheimer.

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Belfast, Electronic, Interview, Malibu Shark Attack, Moog, Music, Oppenheimer, Recording Studio, Sound, Sound Design, Start Together, Tribe One

Start Together Studio, Mix Room, Belfast. Northern Ireland.

AosHello Rocky o’Reilly & Welcome to ‘Architect of Sound’.  Firstly I would you to tell us a brief introduction about yourself?  

Rocky: I’m a producer/engineer/mixer/musician from Belfast. I own a couple of spaces called Start Together Studio, which have been open for over ten years now. In the past I’ve been a live sound engineer, played in a few bands, toured a lot, worked in a post production studio and composed music for television.

AosAt what age were you first drawn to Music & Sounds? What inspired you growing up? Influences could range from 80s / 90s Television Shows, Bands, Family, Culture, Computers or Synthesizers? 

Rocky: One early memory is standing in front of the TV watching a Lucozade ad which featured “Phantom Of The Opera” by Iron Maiden. Upon looking this up, it was 1985, which means I was only two or three years old!

By age seven I was massively into Guns N Roses, Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper and all that. Then when I was nine my brother came home and put on a tape he’d just bought called  “Nevermind.” I can still remember sitting in front of the hi-fi and just thinking “WOW” Nothing was ever the same after that.

Nirvana, Nevermind.

AosStart Together Studio’ is a recording facility situated in the heart of Cathedral quarter, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Can you tell us exactly how ‘Start Together Studios’ started in 2007 and how it has evolved and grown in size to a three-studio facility with a vast array of instruments, Microphones and Equipment, in just over a decade since its birth?  

Rocky: I played in a band called Oppenheimer, we were set to make our second album in the summer of 2007. I emailed or called all the local studios to see if I could hire their spaces for a few weeks. I was either ignored, laughed at or abused! The next logical step was to find our own space to record. We found the rooms in the newly opened Oh Yeah centre and spent a summer experimenting and making sounds. I fell in love with the sounds of the rooms there and knew I wanted to stay. I spoke with the guys at Oh Yeah about getting the space on a long-term lease. At that point they were having difficulties with using the studio space for themselves, so they agreed. I got together with two like-minded musician / engineers Ben McAuley and Barrett Lahey.

We opened December 2007. The first projects were things like In Case Of Fire, And So I Watch You From Afar, Mojo Fury, General Fiasco, Cashier No. 9, Panama Kings. For the first few years we trundled along, growing our collection of instruments, amps, microphones etc. Then in 2010, the others were grumbling about how much time I was booking in the main studio, and that we should get a second space. I went overboard and with the help of some friends we found an SSL console and set up studios 2 and 3.

After that things started to change a little. There’s a phrase thrown around at the studio “Start Together: End Alone” that makes me laugh. Barrett and Ben have long since departed the studio. Ben is still around as a freelance producer and drummer, but the day to day decisions are mine. This, worryingly. means no one is there to talk me out of buying Moogs and microphones. In the last few years I’ve serviced our six drum kits, all of our guitar amplifers and added lots of pre amps by Chandler, Neve and Avalon. We’ve just installed new Pro Tools HDX systems in studio one and studio two, added some classic analog synths like a Juno 60 and MiniMoog Model D to the mix room in studio 2 and we’ve also been working on the layout and signal flow of studio one.  I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years now, and that we now have everything that we do. Everything felt pretty organic and logical in terms of the growth, never over-stretching has probably been key.

‘Rocky’ (Left) micing a drum kit for the artists in Start Together Studio 1, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

AosAs the owner of ‘Start Together Studios’ and one of the many producers, engineers and mixers working day-to-day in the studio helping artists / bands create and perfect their own unique sound, Can you give us an insight into what it’s like on a normal working day in your recording studio?  

Rocky: I have a few types of “standard” days. If I’m recording a band, we usually start around 9 or 10am and work for around 8-12 hours, sometimes more. I usually let the project flow naturally, fnding good points to stop for the day. These days can be anything from full band live recording, to mapping click tracks, starting with drums then overdubbing. Every project is different and planned out for the individuals involved. The other main type of day is a mix day. Usually I mix alone, in studio 2, often for bands from outside of Northern Ireland. So it’s downloading files, listening, mixing, listening mixing, driving around listening, mixing. Lots of short breaks to stay subjective and sane! Both very different, both really enjoyable!

AosDo you find each individual staff member in ‘Start Together Studios’ brings with them their own unique distinctive quality & experience with them into the studio environment where they are able to offer a different musical perspective & approach when you are all working together on a recording project?  

Rocky: We actually don’t work together too much on full projects, often we’ll draft each other in to play on each others productions, if we need drums or synths/noises etc. We all work in our own ways, have our own “go-to” ideas and sounds, but we have a central theme running through our work that I think you can hear in all our productions, no matter how different they seem. The team is growing and evolving recently. In Niall Doran we have a Head-Engineer who technically knows more about the studio than anyone, who has eight years of experience with pop, rock, indie productions and mixes as well as podcast production, recording music for television and he has a vast knowledge and love for extreme genres within the metal and hardcore world.

Ryan McGroarty dreams about synths and harmonies. He’s been working on some amazing indie pop productions and been busy with his own band Beauty Sleep.

The thing we’ve realised this year is that we should approach all projects the way we approach our own, freely, openly and focused on the excitement of getting to do it. Sophie Arscott is our new studio manager. She has been amazing at pulling us all together, boosting staff morale and focus, introducing us to amazing new artists and thinking of new and exciting ways to help musicians and music fans in Northern Ireland and beyond.

AosIs the logo for ‘Start Together Studio’ based on a polar pattern?  

Rocky: Yeah! It was designed by our friend Alex, who played in the amazing band ‘Tracer AMC’ from Bangor.

AosIn 2004 ‘Oppenheimer’ was formed which seen Shaun Robinson & yourself write, record and tour until 2009.

During your time as a band you recorded three albums, signed to American label ‘Bar / None’ records and had albums released in the U.K, Australia and Japan, toured Europe and America and had your music played on American hit TV shows like ‘How I Met your Mother, Gossip Girl and Ugly Betty’.

Looking back on that time period what was that like as an experience from a personal & musical point of view?

Rocky: Personally, it was life-changing! We got to experience so much in a really compacted amount of time. It started as an experimental bit of fun and it quickly became our whole lives for five years! Travelling through 47 US States, playing with so many of my favourite bands, It was like a movie. I loved the travel, meeting people. I’ve made friends that have changed my life.

Musically and professionally, I met a collection of truly inspirational and motivational people that really influenced me. I was only 22 when the band started, still finding my way and figuring things out.

Mark Lipsitz at Bar/None Records showed an unnatural amount of enthusiasm for us. He booked us U.S tours, got people out, got us record deals all over the world, paid for flights, visas, tour vans. Without him and Glenn at Bar/None nothing would have started, I would have left Belfast before we’d ever have recorded our first album.

We got to meet and work alongside some incredible people. The main thing I learned was to love music, or don’t be there! Getting to play so many gigs with They Might Be Giants (link for band) was really special. I learned so much about musicianship, live showmanship, awareness of every aspect of being a great artist, I’ve probably seen them play one hundred times and I genuinely can’t wait to see them again!

Oppenheimer, Birmingham, Alabama, 2007. Photo by Sam Lare.

Aos‘Oppenheimer’ was formed from your mutual love for Synthesizers and Vocoders which is clearly recognisable in your music. What Synthesizers, Drum Machines and software programs did you use to create the ‘Oppenheimer’ Indie Pop / Electronic Signature sound?  

Rocky: We used Pro Tools to record everything, some early songs were made in Acid Pro and then moved into Pro Tools. Synth-wise the Roland Juno 6 did most of the bass sounds and lots more. There was a Jen SX1000, Moog Prodigy, Roland Sh-101, ARP Quartet, Roland JP8000, Yamaha YC45, various organs, Moog Voyager, Roland Tr606, Rhythm Ace, Cazio CZ1000, Yamaha Sk1 and probably more that I’ve forgotten about. Yes, the Korg Ms2000.

AosDo you have a favourite Synthesizer?  

Rocky: If I could only ever have one again, it would probably be the Roland Juno 6, but I have a special love for the Moog Prodigy (link). It does one very special noise that sounds like a spacecat howling, so Id have to say that.

AosAs mentioned earlier ‘Oppenheimer’s’ Music was played on American hit TV shows like ‘How i met your Mother’, Gossip Girl and Ugly Betty’.  How did that opportunity come about? Did it open up new doors and expose your music to a wider audience?

Rocky: It really did! I love the fact that our songs blended and grew with other productions and became a part of so many people’s lives. In terms of profile and reach it took us to many surreal locations and helped us afford many sparkly synths too.

AosWhat’s your favourite touring memory from your time in ‘Oppenheimer’? 


Rocky: There are too many! From 3am beers on Venice Beach to playing Disneyland with They Might Be Giants and then running down the road to see The Bronx play, supporting A Camp in a 92 capacity venue in Brooklyn, playing to thousands supporting Hot Chip in 43c sunshine, playing Koko with Ash, playing a pool party in NJ that was shut down by the cops after they danced for a while, going to SXSW for the first time, seeing a plane land on a highway somewhere in Colorado… far too many!

Oppenheimer in Tokyo, Japan.

Aos. Your favourite ‘Oppenheimer’ song?

Rocky: Wow, just one! I’d say for the music fan in me, I’ll have to pick “The Never Never” We recorded the music in Belfast and I’d recently become totally obsessed with The Bronx. So I emailed their manager and asked if Matt would like to do vocals on it. We’d previously emailed people like Nina from Cardigans, Lauren Hill and KRS-ONE, so I wasn’t expecting a response! One night at 3am my phone rang and it was Matt, he was like “Hey, I’m at the Post Office, what address should I mail my vocal parts to?” We got a CD the day before we left for tour. Shaun wrote his chorus vocals in the van and we hired a studio in Portland Oregon and recorded and mixed. I still to this day can’t believe we have Matt on there.

Aos. The band decided to split in 2009. Why did you both decide to call it a day?

Rocky: We had a sensational comfortable and fortunate experience as a band. We recorded three albums, got a record deal, toured all over, had songs used and many lovely people bought our music. In 2008, things started getting a little trickier I guess, our expectations were heightened by good fortune and a growing team, but the music industry was in free-fall. People cried down the phone to us about declining sales, pressure grew to write more. At the same time Shaun had moved to Manhattan, and felt his own pressures of financially living in NYC, splitting time between the band and his personal life, and it all just sort of arrived at us stopping. Looking back, it was a good time to go. We got to experience so much and I feel like I haven’t stopped making music for a moment. I loved all of it, and I’ve learned from my moments of frustration.

We chat occasionally and have promised ourselves that we will never ruin the ghost of Oppenheimer by appearing on a stage together again.

Aos. ‘Malibu Shark Attack’ is a trans-atlantic duo featuring Rocky o’Reilly & Atlantic rapper ‘Tribe One’.  The Debut album features collaborations with Tim Wheeler from Ash, MC Lars, Dizzy Dustin, Linley Hamilton and Input from a host of other Musicians.

How did this imaginative sonic little doozy come about and can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Rocky: After Oppenheimer ended I put a few tracks online and there were genuine howls of upset from Opp fans about how it sounded “just like Oppenheimer” – That really scared me, because it’s just what I sounded like when I wrote music. So I took a step back and thought about what types of music I was in to, and decided I wanted to move really far away from indie-pop for a while. I heard a Tribe One song called “Different” and I knew I had to work with him. We swapped ideas for many months, recorded the album got lots of amazing friends to join in and then we met in a train station in Leicester, walked to a venue and played a show later that night!

AosWhat does the future hold for ‘Start Together Studios’, Malibu Shark Attack and Rocky O’Reilly’? Is their any particular records, bands or future projects we should keep an eye-out for?

Rocky: Malibu Shark Attack was an amazing experience, but I think it’s been put to bed for now. I’m working on a project with my friend Rory Friers, from And So I Watch You From Afar. We’re called ‘The Future In The Seventies‘. We’ve just released the first single. I’m also writing another album with my friend Ryan McGroarty from Beauty Sleep as well as a collaboration record with Sonja Sleator, an artist from Holywood, County Down. I’ve also decided that it’s time to make a synth heavy krautrock band. With so many synths, it’d be stupid not to at this point.

I’m really enjoying writing again, so going to do lots more of that.

And I’ve continued to be lucky to work with many amazing bands. This year in particular has seen me actively move away from the genres I’ve been best known for, in order to find new and exciting challenges musically and sonically. It’s been a dream to work with artists like Brand New Friend, TOUTS, Queen Zee and The Wood Burning Savages this year.

We’ve been building up our collection of nice equipment and making the studios look as dreamy as possible. We’ll hold some special parties and events throughout the year to help bring musicians and music lovers together, to create special and unique moments. We’ve also launched an exciting new project called The Live Room Belfast, where we film special performances from the studio of incredible bands that you may or may not have heard of from all over the world.

Asides from that, I’m just playing synths every day.

Many thanks to Rocky O’Reilly for the Interview with ‘Architect of Sound‘ blog. We hope this interview can inspire young people to create more music. If anyone would like to book a recording session with the team at ‘Start Together Studio’ the contact details are below, Thanks a lot.

Pop-up Studio, Music Creation and Audio Recording Program, Youssoufia, Morocco 2015.

Start Together Studio, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Start Together Studio - Studio 1
First Floor, Oh Yeah! Music Centre
15-21 Gordon Street

E-mail: info@starttogetherstudio.com

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