“I try to help others get to a place of happiness and satisfaction to do what they love to do.”
Welcome to the first in a new series of interviews, based on 6 questions with artists/creatives/good people doing good work here on the Isles.
We’re very grateful to be kicking off the series with Keith Morrison, Founder of ‘Wee Studio’ - a recording studio based in Stornoway that, as you’ll find out, has championed local musical talent on the Islands for over a decade. He also finds time to play with two huge stalwarts of the contemporary Celtic music scene - Heron Valley and Face The West. We nabbed some of his precious time:
Hi Keith. Glad to catch a busy man like yourself. Let’s start at the start because that’s always the best place… When and why did you set up ‘Wee Studio’?
February 2008 was the ‘Wee Studio’ official start. However, I'd been recording and performing music pretty much since around 1995 when I was 12. My parents are musicians and my dad had set up a small studio in the house. I'm super fortunate to have been born into the family I was. It was still a lot of hard work but I couldn't have wished for a better start.
I started with an 8 track tape machine but moved onto the earlier computer-based recording systems around 1998/99. I was learning my craft at the beginning of the digital revolution which was exciting at the time. Computers were SLOW though!
I'm really good at taking advice. Throughout my childhood, I was told to "Never make your hobby your job". This is terrible advice by the way. If you can make your hobby (a better word is ‘passion’) your job you will have the best life. I got a computing degree from Lews Castle College to pursue my career as a computer programmer. Seemed pretty geeky and fun.
In the end, I ran out of holidays and time off to play music, travel and create. So I made the decision to put my IT career on hold and try the music thing for a while until I went bankrupt. Nearly 12 years later, and 10 years in my own proper studio that I designed, I can say it was one of the best decisions of my life.
“I made the decision to put my IT career on hold and try the music thing for a while... it was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Oh boy. If I actually counted my roles I think it would come to way more things than three! It's a mixture of ‘first come first served’ and planning in advance what the priority is. It's a three-way balance between what seems like the most fun, which makes the most money and what benefits the people in my life the most.
This includes bandmates and colleagues as well as family and friends. I value happiness (of myself and others) much more than material assets or financial wealth. The Heron Valley gang have just finished studying and have an incredible opportunity to make a living travelling the world and touring. This is one of the biggest priorities at the moment because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The studio work (and other bands) are fantastic as I can schedule clients and projects into the gaps of the tours and gigs. It's a great lifestyle to be honest. Very easy to overwork though when you are enjoying it. I have the best family in the world. I'm very fortunate to be able to de-stress (or at times the opposite) with my two boys and a very understanding and supportive Wife!
To be honest I'm rubbish at balancing. WAY too many late nights. I try though!
You were on a recent tour of the US. How is your experience with audiences over there?
I've done two US tours now. Honestly one of the best experiences of my entire life. Every day felt like a road trip movie.
The tours that we go on are very varied from day-to-day. One day we would be performing to 100 people in a quiet library after hours on a Wednesday. The next to thousands on the main stage of a festival.
Meeting new people and having shared experiences with your bandmates (who very quickly become like family) is an adventure like no other. Worth all those lonely late nights practising and tough, rough pub gigs to learn how to play well enough.
Celtic culture goes down very well in the states. In fact much better than our home performances. It's very rewarding.
“One day we would be performing to 100 people in a quiet library after hours on a Wednesday. The next to thousands on the main stage of a festival.”
This year has been a special one for Wee Studio with the meteoric rise of label artists Peat & Diesel. Going from Pub act to selling out the Barrowlands in under a year… Did you have any idea they’d get this big so quickly?
Did I think they deserved to do this well? Absolutely, yes. Did I believe it would happen? To be honest, no!
My record label was not a money-making scheme at all! In fact, it was to replace the little bits of funding that I was lucky enough to get to scout for up and coming talent and give them free studio time.
After a few failed funding attempts I decided to front up the money and time myself. Otherwise acts like Peat & Diesel would have never had the capital to afford to get recorded. I started ‘Face the West’ with Innes a long time ago (1998) and I've always championed his talents (even if he's too humble to do so himself!).
I've been friends with Boydie since we in the Stornoway pub scene a LONG time ago. He would regularly play me his new songs outside pubs at stupid o’clock in the morning. I've always loved his songs and I love the guy even more. I decided that he deserved a bit of a break after all the hard work over the years which is the main reason for me signing the band. I would have been delighted even if the album hadn't been a financial success. I'm so proud of them and what they are achieving. The boy can write a catchy song! Who knows what's next for them. It's very exciting.
What’s the future plans for the studio? Any new music to look out for?
In no particular order...
There's a new Face The West album which is about halfway done. The next Peat & Diesel album is very nearly finished. That's out Jan 24th. Heron Valley has just released an EP and we are working on an album to be out before our next US tour. I'm also recording and producing tracks for an incredible songwriter called Iain Wilson.
On top of that, there are loads of awesome local acts who are making some sick tunes! One beast of an old school sounding album that I recorded from ‘Trouble Is’ will be a huge local success very shortly.
In other business terms, I'm currently scouting for (and helping develop) more acts for my record label. Working hard on videos (corporate, music and wedding) which has been doing really well. Also spending more time trying to teach to help the creative scene. I'm about to start mentoring through An Lanntair as well as informal tutorials and lessons for up and coming geeks like myself.
The vibe of this area (The Outer Hebrides as a whole) is of great concern to me. I spend a lot of time and effort helping improve the lives or social well being of the community. There's been so much pessimism regarding job opportunities or value of life up here in the islands. I try to help others get to a place of happiness and satisfaction to do what they love to do. I started this business in the middle of a crazy recession. I've survived in a place where it absolutely shouldn't have worked. I'm honestly nothing special though. I think if more driven and bright youngsters were brave and worked for their dreams the place would be a much more optimistic place to be. It's nice to see incredible businesses start up and join the creative scene. This absolutely includes LOOM.
There's a real sense of collective responsibly for the health of the creative industry especially. It's very inclusive and wholesome in my experience. I enjoy contributing to that when I can.
Finally, besides music you’re working on, what’s on your playlist right now?
The curse of working in a recording studio is that you can't do much work while listening to music! However, I have some things that I'm loving right now. There's something so real about finding stuff online on your own. Or recommendations from inspired friends.
Look Mum No Computer is a guy called Sam Battle. He lives in places like abandoned primary schools in London. He creates random instruments like a flame-throwing synth, or a Furby organ. His music is so freaking cool and he's such an odd character. He appeals to my child-like nature.
Jacob Collier is a musical genius. He's a Musician’s Musician and blows my technical music brain right open. I watch everything he does 10 times and still notice new things. Unsuccessfully trying to steal all of his tricks.
I listen to Carpenter Brut when I'm doing my taxes. I'm not sure if I like it. I'm not even sure if it's good or not. I don't care though. It's mental.
I listen to Foy Vance when I want my heart to hurt.