By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Rope Store.
Some artists prefer the outdoors to get their creative juices flowing. Wide open plains, spectacular mountains, sun-kissed beaches, maybe even a teeming city–all can serve to stir inspiration.
For Jason Baldock and Gemma Dietrich of the British neo-soul inspired duo Rope Store, however, an underground bunker surrounded by three feet of concrete makes the perfect muse for songwriting.
The space is soundproof, for one, which renders it an ideal environment to play the drums. It also happens to be the last Cold War bunker built in the UK–which was converted into a recording studio. Baldock has been recording his own music there (along with other local Norwich artists, under the moniker Mr. Jason, for our very own BreakThru Radio) for years now.
You might say that the damp, shadowy hold serves as a warm home for the songwriters… or, rather one of them.
“There’s no windows, so it can get a bit depressing if you spend too much time down there,” says Dietrich, her voice echoing into the phone from inside the bunker.
“I disagree, Gemma,” Baldock counters. “I get happier the more time I spend down here.”
“He likes the dark, I like the sun,” she adds with a laugh.
The pair’s playful banter perfectly surmises the dynamic that is Rope Store–something each member refers to as their own special kind of “yin and yang.”
Even the band name manages to blend together darkness with light: it stems from a particularly bleak standup comedy act that the two enjoyed while staying in New York City.
Unfortunately, neither can remember exactly how the joke went (a couple too many Coronas might have been involved–Baldock’s favorite as a gluten-free drinker), but they both remember thinking it was hilarious. The comedian Norm MacDonald used the term in reference to feeling depressed and taking a stroll to “the rope store” to weigh his options.
“We were both going through a bit of a rough time,” explains Dietrich, “and so when we got back from New York if one of us was having a bad day we would message the other person, ‘rope store?’”
It’s some dark humor, sure, but all in good fun. Which is exactly what Rope Store is–their playful blend of ‘60s inspired pop, old school soul, and laid back rock and roll comes across like a breeze that’s hard not to groove along to. Everything sounds natural, or even effortless.
It doesn’t come as much surprise that the chemistry between Baldock and Dietrich should embody such casual interplay. The two first met while Dietrich was working as a bartender for a local pub in Norwich.
He would come in as a regular, and before long the two realized they had the same taste in music and became friends. Baldock owned studio space in the neighborhood, so Dietrich would drop by and work for him in exchange for session time.
One night while Dietrich was cleaning the studio, Baldock sat around fiddling with a melody on his guitar–which would become the duo’s first song, “All of You.”
In a spur of energy, the two arranged the tune on the spot and recorded it.
“Then I said, ‘What should our band be called, Jason?” Dietrich recounts with a laugh.
“She forced me into it,” Baldock adds, undoubtedly smiling.
The organic and lightning-fast process would become a staple of Rope Store’s writing and recording process. Bands who slave over multiple takes, endless overdubs, and months of sifting through a single album might wise up and take note of these Norwich creatives.
The recipe is surprisingly simple, and even better, it sounds damn good.
All you need is:
– One bunker (or just a recording space, if it’s easier).
– One microphone to use for every instrument.
– A reel-to-reel 8-track recorder.
– One or two live takes tops recorded to a single track.
– Minimal overdubs.
– A single 24-hour period.
– Lots of good cheer and Coronas.
Serious recording vets and aficionados might scoff at the idea of tracking everything with a single mic, but Baldock is adamant about the results. He owns upwards of 50 different microphones–but why fix something that isn’t broken?
The records speak for themselves. Aside from sounding superb, the energy crackles to life off of each track. It’s palpable, and becomes both honest and fun in the process.
“We don’t want to be down there three or four days working on one song,” says Baldock. “We’ll often write the song the same day as we record it and have the whole thing mixed and mastered that same evening. We’ll release it online that night.”
“Adrenaline and a good amount of beer gives [our music] excitement,” agrees Dietrich. “If we took too much time we wouldn’t have that; we’d end up polishing the thing within an inch of its life.”
All of this is true with the exception of the band’s most recent single, “Never Too Late To Love.” Two months ago Baldock lost his mother to cancer. She had been battling it for years, and the songwriter returned to Norwich to establish a closer relationship with her.
The song began as a tribute that he wanted to play for her, but as conditions worsened, Baldock found himself unable to finish the writing process.
But time started running out, and Baldock realized there was nothing he wanted more than for his mother to hear how he felt about their rekindled relationship. In a last ditch effort (with moral support from Dietrich), the musicians completed an early mix that they were able to play before her passing.
“It was a very special gift,” recounts Dietrich, “and she really loved it.”
To hear the rest of our interview with Rope Store, tune into this week’s episode of Discovery Corner.
Or interpret the band for yourself by clicking here.