Meet Rocking Horse Studio Owner Brian Coombes

Rocking Horse Studio, high atop a hill in the unlikely town of Pittsfield, is known for capturing the emotional range of music with clockwork precision and laid-back soul. Impresario Brian Coombes commands the crashing cascades of vocal and instrumental brilliance from his tranquil perch at a classic control console. He and his wife Michele ditched their original location in Manchester and, following their dream, relocated to the country. They built the studio from scratch — comfortable but with ideal acoustics in mind. No compromises were made so the recording artists don’t need to compromise either.

Photo by David Mendelsohn

  • Rocking Horse Studio grew out of my dream of having a place to record my own music. Back in my days with the band Tristan Park, we were always running from studio to studio.
  • Of course, after we opened Rocking Horse, it was a good 10 years before I recorded any of my own music.
  • Tristan Park is a band I started when I was a senior in high school. The name is from an allegorical short story I had written called “The Screams for an Absent Dawn.”
  • It grew to become a popular band here in New England, and a few years after that, we signed a recording contract that led us to recording and performing in England quite a bit in the mid-1990s.
  • It’s interesting that I play keyboards on so many projects here at the studio because the keyboard is not my natural instrument. All of my touring and recording back in the Tristan Park days was as a bass player.
  • Although Rocking Horse has lots of analog recording gear, we only record to digital with Pro Tools HDX.
  • Analog-to-digital conversion has come a long way since the dawn of digital, and our vintage tube microphones, Trident mixing board and classic outboard processing add all the “analog” tone we need.
  • My influences are split down the middle between the progressive rock of Genesis, Yes, Rush and Pink Floyd, and the intelligent melodic pop that started with the Beatles and Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys and filtered down to artists like Crowded House, Squeeze, the Cars and Joe Jackson.
  • I have received a Producer of the Year award from the New England Music Awards, a Best of NH award for best producer and two Emmy Award nominations for our work on the Christmas special we produced with Channel 9 a few years ago. And just recently, Rocking Horse Music Club [a band he formed using his best studio talent] received two Independent Music Awards for our song “Everywhere is Home.”
  • This crazy industry has given me so many unforgettable experiences over the years. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. My heart is in it.

“The Mellotron is one of the coolest and rarest of the instruments that we have here at the studio and the one that is closest to my heart,” says Coombes. “It’s a keyboard instrument that plays pre-recorded tapes with sounds on them. The sounds could be anything from kazoo to bassoons, but the most famous sounds are the flutes, violins and choirs. I guess you could say that it was the first (or one of the first) samplers. When a player presses down on the keyboard, a motor pulls the tape across a tape play head, which then converts that into audio. When the player lifts up on the keyboard, a spring snaps the tape back and it can be played again.”

Categories: People, Q&A