L-R: Jeff Kanan, Nick Sullivan, Oscar Ross at The Keep
Denver's population boom has brought all kinds of new industry and opportunities to Denver, as well as a steady stream of new musicians. While new bands continue to pop up left and right, the argument surrounding the deficiencies in Denver's music scene has never been one revolving around lack of talent, but lack of proper infrastructure. Without the established industry infrastructure of a New York or Los Angeles, the opportunities to form new organizations to help musicians in Denver are numerous. Recording studios are an important piece of this puzzle.
Nick Sullivan, who has seen Denver from the angles of musician, engineer, sound guy and advocate, has, along with Jeff Kanan, recently opened The Keep Studio at 1669 South Acoma Street. Kanan and Sullivan first worked together at Macy Sound Studios in 2010 and have taken their knowledge of recording and the Denver scene and put it into their newest project. The studio also carries with it a production company, Consonance Productions, a collaboration with Sailor Records boss Oscar Ross, who works with several Denver bands.
We caught up with Sullivan and asked him about the roots of the studio and where he hopes it will go.
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Westword: Briefly describe the background of you and the studio and how you landed where you are.
Nick Sullivan: Jeff Kanan and I started Consonance Productions, a music production company, in 2013 and retrofitted an old retail location on South Broadway and Mississippi into a recording studio. [We were there] for one year before we were forced to relocate due to a redesign of the traffic arrangement in the area. We found a warehouse space six blocks into the antique-row neighborhood and converted that into the Keep Recording studio, a commercial two-room facility.
How did you decide to work with Jeff?
Jeff and I collaborated on a couple of albums while engineering at Macy Sound Studios in 2010, and we just worked well together as engineers/producers. As our business grew engineering records in Denver, it allowed us to combine our workload and go off on our own in a central location in Denver. I have always found myself learning from Jeff, who has world-class experience from his time in L.A. as a staff engineer at Westlake Audio, and am grateful he came back to Denver to raise a family.
What is Consonance Productions, and how does that differ from the mission of The Keep?
Consonance Productions is a music production company that is currently allowing Jeff and myself to invest in talent on a recording and production side to produce content for various music-industry destinations. Currently we have the bands the Host Club, Safe Boating Is No Accident, Chemistry Club, Saphrye Rain and Hanoi Apache on our roster of artists.
You've recorded bands from all over the musical map. Is there anything that unifies them? Is there a shared ethos?
I have had the experience to believe that making records is as good of a time as any[thing], and think most musicians would agree. It’s a team effort in recording bands, and I find that everyone motivates each other as they go through each process, as it’s never been an easy artistic endeavor.
You and Jeff are both are musicians. Is that important when dealing with the production side of things?
For sure — playing an instrument is just a grounding activity overall and good for the brain. On the production side of things, it allows you to communicate on musical and technical aspects. I also think playing in bands and playing music with other people, any way you look at, is healthy, and think that for me, as engineer/producer, it's good to separate from the mechanical side of making records on computers every day.
What do you have coming up in your own respective musical projects?
The instrumental band Peña I play bass in is still kicking the can around to make math/post-rock weirdness fun times. I think we just completed our first song in four years after a couple of years on the sidelines. I’ve been working on a blues-rock project called Blown Edges with Jeff and engineer/producer Clark Hagan that I’m having fun doing in between engineering and producing.
There is and will be a studio band formed around the cats who helped build the studio last year called Whore Hands that features the likes of mastering engineer Dan Utter, all around rock-and-roller Jonny Barber and a cast of characters. Just the sound of it bleeds potential.
Everyone has musical idols. Do you have engineers or producers you look up to?
Audio engineering and music producing to me is such a deep well of great people working with great technology. I can't say I idolize any one person, but have enjoyed lots of influence from the classic records and their producer/engineers such as George Martin, Ethan and Andy Johns, James William Guercio, Mutt Lange. So many ways to make records and find that fascinating about this art form.
You recently reunited with American Relay (Sullivan's long-time blues-rock duo). Any more shows on the horizon?
Alex [Hebert] and I have nothing planned in the future currently, but had a great time playing some shows together again. We met a lot of great people in our run, and it was good to reconnect with some of them over the summer. Colorado Public Radio has been keeping us in the locals rotation and [we] keep getting a positive response to the tunes, so we appreciate them promoting local music as they do.