Matt Boynton and Vacation Island

Call it the Robert Louis Stevenson Syndrome. In the June issue of Stereophile in my feature on the band Hospitality, I made the fairly grievous error of calling Matt Boynton’s studio in Brooklyn, Treasure Island not Vacation Island. In my defense, just before I wrote the piece I had been looking at the plates that N.C. Wyeth did for the famous print edition of Treasure Island. Nevertheless, to make amends I decided to make the trek to Brooklyn to Matt’s studio to check it out and have a chat.

Established seven years ago, Vacation Island Recording is in a block building in South Williamsburg/North Bedford Stuyvesant, that actually houses two recording studios, with Boynton’s being in the back, away from the street. A guitar player who moved to New York to become what he calls an “avant garde jazz noise musician,” Boynton learned much of his studio craft at Steve Rosenthal’s Magic Shop studios in Manhattan where he worked on surround sound remixes and tape transfers of the Cameo Parkway catalog and also the Rolling Stones catalog for ABKCO. Boynton worked on the surround sound mix of the track “Sympathy for the Devil” which came out in 2003 on the Sympathy for the Devil Remix disc.

“To be able to transfer things like the multi–track tape of Let It Bleed into Pro Tools and be able to listen to each track was an invaluable experience.

“Al Kooper wanted surround sound mix of Super Session and the first Blood, Sweat & Tears record. He came to us and said `Sony gave me this much money, and I’ve spent it all. Can you help me please?' But how are you going to do surround sound on an early Seventies broadcast Neve console? I had to figure out the routing and how to do it and it turned out great.”

Since he opened Vacation Island, which he says has been a success so far, he’s made record for acts like Vietnam, Arbouretum, Gang Gang Dance, The Lemonheads, Bat for Lashes, and MGMT. The three rooms are large and acoustically treated to reduce flutter and standing waves. Not overly loaded with gear, his studio does have a couple of rock collectibles like a pair of speakers that, legend has it, were used in the recording of Sonic Youth’s Dirty.

“I did an interview for a magazine,” he says smiling, “where they asked me who I’d like to record and I mentioned Neil Young but that call hasn’t come in yet.”

Rather than any kind of hard sell, Boynton has built Vacation Island's client list through word of mouth and building his rep one recording at a time.

“[With Hospitality] I worked with them on something, and then the next summer we made a whole record together. It takes a relationship for this to happen. I work best with people that already have a strong grasp of their songs. I can help them with ideas and help the whole process to happen, but I’m not writing songs for people. Rather than having musical ideas and changing parts and rearranging songs, I create an atmosphere that is very conducive for people to be as creative and artistic as they can.

On the Hospitality record, and the song “Inauguration,” they went out and played a drumbeat, and it didn’t really work so I sorta chopped it up and made a whole new drumbeat out of it and then that song was born. Originally, it was the whole band playing, and we recorded that too for a single, but for the album it morphed into this more electronic direction because of what I did with the drums.

Asked about the future of recording studios in the age of Pro Tools, when everyone with a laptop thinks they are an engineer with Boynton’s trained ears, he shrugs.

“You can’t get certain sounds at home. Space, separation and textural quality are things that require a studio.

“But I don’t fight it [home recording]. If they want to make it at home, great. Then bring it to me and I’ll mix it. I’ll do the best I can with it. And honestly some of the shit they do at home is cool. They want to achieve this certain sound and so they work at it until they get it and it’s unorthodox how they get there, I think that’s cool. Not to shoot myself in the foot, but I’m for it because it’s a new creative outlet for a band or an artist to utilize as a tool to create their music.”