I work and make music in a garden shed. Itâ€™s small but cosy, with windows on all sides, and a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. Didnâ€™t Nick Drake write a song called â€˜A Man And His Shed?â€™ He must have been thinking of me. My daily commute is 15 feet. Some days Iâ€™m still in my pyjamas at 2pm. When it rains hard like it is today, itâ€™s deafening. Afterwards you can hear the frogs under the floorboards, and thereâ€™s a scent of wild garlic from the empty lot next door. I love my shed!
Today I’ve got an equipment problem so I’m kinda dead in the water, sitting staring out and waiting for Robotspeak to call me back (ace synth dealer in SF.) But it’s not my shed’s fault.
I wrote my earliest songs in the corner of a Â£12/week bedsitter in South London. In those days it was every musicianâ€™s dream to own a private studio. You were forever reading bits in the Daily Mail about Ronnie Woodâ€™s 450-acre estate in Hertfordshire, the Georgian manor house with the deer park and recording studio attached, none of which heâ€™d ever been in as he was perpetually on a tour of Japan or South America. Thatâ€™s the life for me, I thought! Only unlike Ronnie Iâ€™d never leave the studio. Studio time was like gold dust. To get your music heard by the planet you had to have a record, and the only place you could make a record was in a recording studio. Trouble was, they cost hundreds of pounds an hour. Nobody had that kind of money unless they had a rich Daddy. Even drug dealers didnâ€™t have that kind of money. So you needed to find someone stupid enough to lend money to a musician, in the belief youâ€™d one day sell millions of records. You needed a record company!
I suppose I was one of the lucky ones. I found a record company, or they found me, and they shelled out for me to play around in studios for several years. I thought Iâ€™d better have as much fun as possible while it lasted, because I was convinced theyâ€™d soon find out how uncommercial my music was and pull the plug. I never really imagined I would have hit records, any more than my musical heroes did: people like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Throbbing Gristle, Joni Mitchell, Pere Ubu, George Clinton, Television, XTC and Van Morrison, these were every label executiveâ€™s nightmare because they didnâ€™t fit into the defined rockâ€™nâ€™roll pigeon holes. I would have been quite happy following in their footsteps by never getting on the radio or TV, and only selling a few thousand records each time out.
So it was quite a surprise when I found myself with a Top 5 single in the USA, a couple of gold albums, heavy MTV rotation, and a large following in urban dance clubs.
Of course, the first thing I wanted to do when the royalty check came in was build myself a recording studio. I picked out a prime location in West London, and started researching mixing boards, rackmount effects, and every keyboard imaginable. I laid it out in quite an innovative way with plenty of space in the control room for my tiers of electronics. I had an artist design unusual art deco-ish silk drapes so I still felt a little edgy and stylish, nothing like a spoiled rock star. I also bought a black 1964 Jaguar Mk2 and parked it in the driveway in the driveway and ordered in sushi while watching soccer games on a giant projection screen.
And you know what? I didnâ€™t record a decent piece of music there in the five years I had that place. Frankly it was a burden. The equipment lost 50% of its value the day it was installed. The landlord saw how Iâ€™d done it up and immediately doubled the rent. I had to hire it out for commercial projects to offset the loss. And every night when I locked up, there was always tomorrow to carry on, until it was perfect, which was never. Yet often if I wanted to work on my own songs I would have to kick out a paying customerâ€“so I ended up making a little setup in the corner of my bedroom again, and tucked away in there with my Roland Drumatix, I was happy as a clam.
So itâ€™s no great surprise that I ended up here in this garden shed. Itâ€™s got everything I need, and no guilt attached. It never needs heating or air conditioning, as the equipment takes care of one and the foggy North-Westerlies blowing in off the Pacific take care of the other. It glows at night and looks pretty high-tech, in a ham radio operator sort of way, but when my roadies clear it out for a gig, it returns to its humble beginnings and youâ€™re almost tempted to wheel a lawnmower in there.
One time I was working late and a little note slipped under the door, written in crayon by my then 7-yr-old son: â€œDear Daddy. I hope yue ar having a good time en yuor shed. Love Graham.â€ I still have it pinned to the doorframe.
Yes Graham, I’m having a great time. Hooray for my shed!