Interview: Musical Greats Love Recording at The Empire Methodist Church.
by Samantha Kate Jourdan
I’m sitting here with Marlon Brown, a very interesting character who leads not an empire, but THE Empire. The Empire Studio, now part of our family, is an old Edwardian Methodist church that’s been renovated into a music studio/ space and is a gem hidden in the depths of east London. People walk past the building everyday without knowing that the likes of Arctic monkeys, Noah and the Whale and the Klaxons inhabited it and recorded some of your favorite radio jams and albums there.
Marlon discovered the space in late 2001 where a photographer was previously living in it. The road was firebombed in the blitz during the second world war and despite most of the buildings surrounding it were left flattened, the church was somehow left standing. It has been often said that even Hitler couldn’t take down The Empire. The church is still left with the scorch marks as a reminder of its history. After the war, the church was then turned into a factory for 40 years or so then was left empty for 10 years until the photographer moved in but as Marlon described it when he first saw it ‘it was in a dire condition.. it was damp, dust everywhere, dog poo, cockroaches eating off the dog food.. It took 6 months just to clean it up and throw stuff out. There was no windows and the previous tenant survived one winter but couldn’t do it twice’. Marlon acquired it in April and managed to get the windows in October before the first winter’.
The first impressions from Marlon upon seeing The Empire, are described as more of an emotion than a thought. ‘It was definitely a feeling that meant music in some way’. Most people when they go in there describe it in many ways. A spiritual feeling if you like, a calm.. But its more the sound of silence which you notice.
The fact that it used to be a church is fitting as churches are built for music and for choirs to be natural amplifiers. A lot of the best studios have been churches its just they’re often difficult to maintain and to convert them into studios but with a church you’re basically halfway there.
The name ‘The Empire’ derives from Chinese philosophy it means, he who gives his authority to those who govern to govern. ‘I like the idea of independence above government and because its an independent project which fights to stay, it was then christened with the name The Empire.’
‘Working at the Empire was nothing short of a pleasure – It offered us the chance to channel exactly what we were looking for . Space and a lot of light’ – Jamie Reynolds, Klaxons
The best features of The Empire is the light you get from the place Marlon says. ‘Not many studios have massive windows on a west facing wall. Usually most writing rooms and rehearsal rooms are just dark, soundproofed black spaces, so when the sun is in there with lots of natural light you feel like you’re somewhere outside and not in a cave. It’s nice when you can watch the sunset and know you’ve done a days work.’
The Empire contains good memories from all the amazing bands that have been there but the one that sprang to Marlon’s mind was ‘when we did a thing with Mystery jets and Pulse films where they covered a Pink Floyd song and filmed it in front of a massive screen filled with explosions from Antonioni’s ‘Zabriskie Point’. That mix of audio and visual was a big highlight to me.’
Marlon see’s the future of The Empire in collaborative albums. ‘I hope we’re making albums not in the way a commercial studio operates, but with collaborations. There’s things I’m bringing to the place like really interesting old valve equipment and unique ways to record that other places don’t have because its what I’m into.’ One of the driving factors behind The Empire is the fact that every act is different, every album is different and its a sound that is unique to The Empire. Also the the best music to come from The Empire has been and will be from bands that produce or co-produce and get involved in the creative process such as Arctic Monkeys, Noah and the whale and the like’
A few musicians that need to bless The Empire are Oregon based Folk band Fleet Foxes, the wonderful Adele (her voice in The Empire would be very interesting), even Tom Jones. Just anyone with an amazing voice would suit the space. Another goal for Marlon is to test out how an orchestra sounds in The Empire ‘Mixing strings, orchestra with gospel choirs and rock is kinda where i wanna be.’
With no nearby plans for a second empire I ask Marlon where the ideal location would be. ‘It could be in an island in the sun somewhere or more likely in Canada, In the middle if nowhere! I like the process of an album where you get away from everything and make a work of art without getting distracted. The equivalent of this with the same sound in 6 foot snow.’
So with a strong portfolio, great history and some amazing plans in the pipeline, The Empire Studio is a strong force. Looking to experiment with the space in terms of acoustic sessions and live performances The Empire will definitely be popping up on some of your radars.
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