When international bankers and local playboys get together in Siem Reap, sweet grooves ensue – and that’s exactly what happened at 60 Road Studios. Ian Croft, former banker and co-founder of the recording studio, long wanted to work with the Kampot Playboys band; and now, that ambition is realised with the launch of the Playboys’ debut album, Garuda, recorded at the studio.
That such a high class recording studio exists in Siem Reap is amazing. That such a studio has celebrated its third anniversary and is still going strong is even more amazing, all credit to Croft who set up with local entrepreneur Clive Butler and sound engineer cum producer Steve Bloxham.
“One of the challenges of being a young recording studio is that it takes time to showcase what you are capable of,” Croft says.
“Last week, Hong Kong indie band The Sleeves launched a really good album called Deliverance. They recorded that here nearly two years ago. The Kampot Playboys album was faster, but still took close to one year.
“It has been a great three years, where we have been fortunate to record many talented musicians. One of the highlights for me was working with Norwegian blues/rock star Amund Maarud. Each time he came, he set himself a new challenge, recording with many traditional musicians, and then finally Cambodia’s chapey dong veng legend Kong Nay.
“The music we have recorded is very diverse, from western classical to jazz, Cambodian traditional to Khmer Pop. Only last week we recorded a French lady tap dancing.
“Some of the better-known Cambodia-based musicians we have recorded include Cambodian Space Project, Laura Mam and Kmeng Khmer.”
Croft is one of those talents that luckily are drawn to Siem Reap to live and set up a shop.
“I spent 16 years working in banking, largely based in major Asian cities,” he says.
“In the financial crisis, the firm that employed me went bankrupt, so I joined a Japanese investment bank and helped to develop their Asian business. It was a great challenge, but there came a time when I needed a break.”
“So in early 2013 I came to Siem Reap as a volunteer with a local NGO, to explore something more charitable. I loved my time here and I guess it changed me a little. So while I did go back to work in Singapore, it only took a few months for me to decide banking was no longer for me and I moved to Siem Reap permanently.”
Croft quickly hung his ‘Definitely in Business’ shingle in Siem Reap, and in June 2013 he co-opened The New Leaf Book Café. Later, he helped found the Chubmet Music and Art Festival in 2016, although now he’ll be downscaling that.
“I am a family man now, and expecting a second child soon,” he says. “So the next ChubMet is likely to be a bit smaller.
He is also working on live music gigs, and last year helped host DJ Sakura Boom in October and Cambodian Space Project live in December, both in the studio garden. More concerts are planned, but it is the studio that’s really Croft’s baby and he’s especially chuffed with the Playboys’ album release.
“Since I moved to Cambodia I have been a big fan of the Kampot Playboys,” he says, adding that he met them at the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival and convinced them to record at 60 Road Studios.
“The Kampot Playboys are very good musicians, which always makes our job much easier,” he says. “As music technicians, it is really important that we capture each instrument cleanly and separately. One of the strengths of the studio is we have great sound isolation.
“This meant that we could record the Kampot Playboys performing together as a band, where we could really grab the energy that you feel in their live performances. If a studio does not have proper isolation then the band needs to record one instrument at a time, and you can lose a lot of that vibe.”
Croft added that the Khmer Tro, a traditional bowed string instrument, was fun to record.
“It is the lead instrument in their band,” he says.
“So we spent some time experimenting with different microphones and placing it near different surfaces to see what works well.”
Not only is Croft chuffed with the result – the band is also rapt.
“We really wanted to capture the live sound and energy and I think, thanks to the talents and hard work of Steve Bloxham, audio engineer, and Jason Shaw, producer, we have achieved that,” says the band’s bass guitarist, Mark Chattaway.
“The recording experience was fantastic and this was down to being in such a beautiful studio in Siem Reap. It was great to be away from home and to travel everyday along the river to the studio.”
“This was the first recording for many members in the band, but I hope it won’t be the last.”
Kampot Playboys will launch their album with live performances at Laundry Bar, Street 9, Siem Reap tonight and tomorrow night, Saturday June 2, at Duplex, Street 278, Phnom Penh.