The medium-sized Burnaby studio has a client roster that reads more like a laundry list of the Canadian music industry's most popular and critically acclaimed musicians. Dan Mangan, Japandroids, Yukon Blonde, Black Mountain, Ladyhawk and many more have all made records at The Hive that have reached millions of cumulative listeners.
At first glance, The Hive isn't much to look at. The studio is located in an industrial park, buried beneath a tacky orange awning among a mishmash of indiscernible small businesses. When you go inside, it's more of the same. A shabby grey couch, and an old, yellow fridge. Further inside the studio, the surroundings are still humble, but much nicer. This is where some of the best records in Canada have been made over the past ten years.
Colin Stewart and Jesse Gander have been running The Hive Creative Labs over that period of time. They are both producers and engineers. Many on the Vancouver music scene consider them to be the unsung heroes of indie music in this town.
It was back in 2003, when Stewart, who had been recording in his basement for a number of years, decided it was time to take the plunge. He wanted to open a medium-sized facility and found the perfect spot for it out in the Burquitlam area.
“It had been built by the cousin of Jimi Hendrix, he thought he was going to be a rock star and he threw in a quarter million dollars and built this studio inside this empty warehouse and then promptly went out of business,” said Stewart whose bread and butter is recording indie rock bands.
“We waltzed in three months later and it was a tough grind because the rent is high and we’re only recording these little bands, but that’s why I brought Jesse in.”
Gander, whose expertise laid in recording powerfully loud punk rock and heavy metal music, said The Hive was able to thrive because of its no frills, unpretentious atmosphere.
“We tried to keep it feeling like a family, it’s all friends of friends of friends that were coming through the door,” said Gander.
“To me it was a real blue-collar, mom and pop place. We didn’t spare any expense with the sound quality of things, but there’s also no real luxury here.”
In a time when the music industry was in the midst of a major transformation, and studios every where were closing, The Hive Creative Labs managed to attract legions of indie bands and stay open for business for ten years. The Hive helped launch successful music careers, it also furthered careers that were already well underway.
When fuzz punk band Japandroids came in to record their debut effort “Post Nothing” with Gander, they were little known outside of the East Vancouver music scene. That album changed their lives, garnering for them critical acclaim and launching continent-wide tours.
When it came time to record the follow-up “Celebration Rock”, which would achieve international accolades in the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, lead vocalist and guitarist Brian King said there was little question where they would record. But initially, it was all about the community of musicians that had already recorded at The Hive. The studio had established a kind of indie music lore.
“It was affordable and we liked a lot of the records that had been made there. It was kind of obvious, at least to us, that that’s where we wanted to make our record,” said King.
“We wanted to be on the list of records that were made next to all those other ones that we listened to, that we owned.”
While Japandroids were almost completely unknown when they showed up at The Hive, Dan Mangan was anything but. His record “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” had already launched him into the upper echelon of the Canadian music industry, and still, The Hive’s reputation for pumping out great records found its way into his world.
“I just kind of knew there was this thing happening out at The Hive and I didn’t know much about it, but I kept seeing Colin Stewart’s name on a bunch of records that I was listening to,” said Mangan.
“It has just sort of been this benevolent, quiet, unsung hero of so many great bands, all these bands that kind of put Vancouver on the map in a very credible way.”
Despite all of its successes, financial pressures and consistent rent increases have made The Hive’s business model extremely difficult to sustain. And that’s why, after ten years, it has been forced to close its doors.
Even though the studio is now closing somewhat unceremoniously, Stewart said it will leave behind it a legacy of greatness.
“I’d like to think that we made some of the best music to come out of Vancouver in the past ten years. When you think of bands like The New Pornagraphers, Black Mountain, Destroyer, Japandroids, bands that have been very successful, those are done in little studios like The Hive, they’re not done in the big studios in town,” said Stewart.
“I do know that we did something special.”
With between 800 and 900 records under their collective belt, Gander said its bittersweet to be closing down, but for him it's “mission accomplished”.
“I think there’s a few records that we’ve made now that are going to stand the test of time and people are going to continually listen to, which is the ultimate reward,” said Gander.
“All we want is for people to enjoy music and for the bands to feel happy about what they created, and hopefully their fans enjoyed it.”
While the Vancouver music scene is losing an indie institution, aspiring bands practising in garages and jam spaces everywhere will be happy to know that Gander and Stewart aren’t going any where. Stewart will be opening a destination studio at his new home in Saanich, while Gander is moving to Rain City Recorders in East Vancouver. But even if they were never to make another record, their legacy at The Hive would still be influential, long-lasting and indelible.
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