Recording studio

Attawapiskat musician builds recording studio in shipping container

Since March 2020, Cree musician Adrian Sutherland has been isolated with his family in Attawapiskat, a remote James Bay First Nation, without the resources to record music professionally.

That is to say until now.

During the pandemic, Sutherland turned an old shipping container into a recording studio, which he called SeaCan Studio.

“There has never been anything like it here before,” said Sutherland, who is a singer-songwriter and the leader and founder of the band Midnight Shine.

Sutherland spent last fall building the studio in a metal shipping container, also known as the sea can, located in his backyard. He said it took about a week to finish the interior of the container with drywall and wood panels, mostly on his own with help from a few neighbors.

Sutherland also uses a section of the container to store items for other members of the community.

Paul Wesley, a community electrician, installed the wiring and panels needed to operate the lights, heat and recording equipment. Wesley said he appreciated Sutherland’s creative concept for the container.

“They’re usually only used for storage, so people would come and see what we were doing. It’s a new idea,” he said.

Cree musician Adrian Sutherland has recorded a new album at SeaCan Studio. (Submitted by Adrian Sutherland)

Wesley said community members have come up with other ideas for outfitting containers for living in camps in the bush, and he’s even considering it for his own family’s camp.

Wesley said residents of northern communities like Attawapiskat have always had to be resourceful when it comes to housing and storage infrastructure.

Sutherland is working on his first solo album, which is scheduled for release in September.

He said the recording for this album was unlike any he had worked on in the past, as it worked remotely, while also learning to edit and use music software.

“I was able to take the time to learn all of these things because no one else will do it for me,” he said.

“You learn to do all the tracking and mixing and learn to mastering and everything.”

Previously, Sutherland taught music at a local school. He hopes young people in the region will use the studio in the future once the pandemic is over.

“There are a few younger men in the community who have shown interest,” he said.

“It is planned that I will re-examine how I can re-engage with young people in terms of music.”

“There has never been anything like it here before,” said Adrian Sutherland, who is a singer-songwriter and the leader and founder of the band Midnight Shine. (Submitted by Adrian Sutherland)

Creative spaces

David McLeod, director of broadcasting and member of Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba, said projects like the SeaCan studio can have positive impacts for Indigenous artists navigating or seeking to enter the Canadian music industry.

As is the case with most artists, he said, the subject matter of Indigenous artists’ music is inspired by their communities and geographic territories.

“I think we’re at a point where [audiences and music executives] are looking for a different sound, looking for new posts, ”McLeod said.

“[SeaCan Studio] is an example of resilience at the community level and also an example of the prosperity of Indigenous music. People are making it happen. ”

McLeod, who is also the executive producer of the Indigenous syndicated show Top 40 Indigenous music countdown, said he thinks that many leaders in traditional Canadian music might look at facilities in northern communities and believe it is impossible to produce high-end sound.

“But the proof is there when you hit play on that track and that sound, the music starts.”

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