"Amsterdam definitely qualifies as a place to go have fun," Sound of Music co-owner and producer John Morand says, with generous understatement.
But there were other reasons, too. Morand traveled to Amsterdam in 1999 for his honeymoon and says he fell in love with the way the country is run. "You can get in more trouble for littering than for getting married to a gay person," he says. He was also taken by the contradictions of life there. Residents' earth-friendly habits contrasted with their high-tech lifestyle. And the government supports the music industry through its National Pop Institute.
Morand returned to Amsterdam the next two years for music conferences and continued to cultivate contacts in the European music industry. He even hired an intern to help research potential clients. The resulting list included 250 Dutch and Belgian bands that either played Americana music or had ties to Camper Van Beethoven, the band started by another Sound of Music partner, David Lowery.
Morand began producing an album for Smitty & The Sun, a punk-rock band from Amsterdam signed to a Dutch label. After working in the label's studio outside of Amsterdam, he struck a deal with the studio, added more equipment to the facility, and Sound of Music Amsterdam was born. Morand says partnering with the studio made perfect sense because of the difficulties of opening a business overseas.
Morand says he's been to Holland 12 times in the last year and anticipates splitting his time equally between Sound of Music's two studios. He plans to offer the studio's lodging space as a home base for Richmond bands touring Europe. And the euro has made it easier to travel through several countries on the same tour. Morand says he hopes the bands he hosts will come to love the area and return to record their albums.
He also points out the popularity of the Americana sound in Europe. "The Hackensaw Boys just did a 10-day tour over there, and they loved it and got treated well," Morand says, adding that Europeans "love the Hackensaws because they're so American." Counting Crows, another band with ties to Sound of Music, experienced a surge in popularity in Europe after a Dutch band recorded one of its songs and had Crows lead singer Adam Durst sing on the track.
Morand estimates that two-thirds of Sounds' clients in Amsterdam will be European, and for them the benefit of recording at Sound of Music Amsterdam will be getting to work with an American producer. Morand says European technicians are more cautious and that bands appreciate his "out there" approach.
"Sound of Music has always used more of an experimental bent because we couldn't afford the big mixing board," he says. "So we concentrated on having like 20 different kinds of drums." Morand remembers the reaction of a Dutch band he was working with when he decided to run every instrument through distortion. "They said, 'No Dutch producer would ever let us do anything this crazy.'" Carrie Nieman
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