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The Castle on the Hill: Christian Douglas and his Church of Sound

(Part 3 of a 4 part series exploring some of the people making the music work in and around YXE)

by Christopher James Vasseur with photos from Tracy Creighton

“I want to take the spotlight away from the stage and shine it on the back of the room. Back where the sound guy is, maybe a couple of guitar techs are hanging out. These people in the trade (and music is a trade, to be sure) that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes don't often get the credit they deserve. This series is hoping to adjust that, at least a tiny little bit.”

The first time I met Christian Douglas, I wrote and recorded a song with him. It was part of a workshop/experiment put on by Matthew Hutchings at his studio out in Blaine Lake. Three strangers came together and wrote and recorded a song in one day. Was a super fun experiment and since that day, I knew I wanted to work with Douglas again. He had a similar vibe as me (it seemed like, anyway) and he loved the band Ween. That automatically makes people friends in case you didn't know, being Ween fans. The lovable weirdos of the world like to stick awkwardly together.

During that session, Douglas first told me of the church on the hill he was building. Well, renovating anyway. It was originally built a long, long time ago in the small community of Viscount. It started out as a church, played host to the Kinsman's storage needs for a time and most recently before Christian bought it, it was a restaurant. I travelled out to the Castle (for the first time since I recorded my first EP out there) to sit down with Christian and hear his story. My frequent collaborator and master of the lens, Tracy Creighton joined me to capture some shots of the amazing Sound Castle.

As a ton of talented producers and engineers, Douglas’ path started with his Dads old records (hearing the stereo production on his old headphones) along with his old classical guitar. His father got him into some of the stranger side of music a la the Talking Heads and bands of the like who embraced technology and used the studio not as a space but as an additional instrument. His first guitar teacher got him into metal and funk and how they really utilised studio sound to get those guitars dialled in both genres. Douglas was obsessed with sound creation and started his biggest project, the metal band Sparky.

Douglas also worked at Long & McQuade for years and a co-worker had a little studio where he offered to record Sparky’s first album. In a little office above a mechanics garage, Christian started to really get into the process of recording music. He recorded the second album himself.

He recorded it in basements, an old warehouse, a truck wash, even an old church… foreshadowing much? He was obsessed at how space and technology came together to manipulate sound. The band had some success and they toured for a while but when it came time to settle in and start a family, Douglas started musing on having his own space.

With the drummer of Sparky, Graham Templeman, Douglas started Sun Temple Studios in Templemans old farmhouse. They renovated the basement, adding a vocal audio booth, isolation booth, live room and control room. He worked out of there for about 10 years, honing his craft. When social media came about, he naturally started going with the name ToneShifter, which became his recording name down the road.

The band fizzled out and he moved over to more singer/songwriter stuff, and his solo stuff is amazing. I highly recommend the songs “My First Pandemic” and the ear worm “Illusions”.

With all these things changing and blossoming, Douglas got married and his wife started teaching in the nearby Viscount. She drove by this old abandoned church that was for sale almost every day. His dream of owning his own space was at hand and after viewing the space and falling in love with it, they bought it.

The church was in okay shape but needed some major renos like plumbing, electrical and a new roof. The interior was still in pretty nice shape from when it was a restaurant.

This was in 2019. They originally planned on moving the family over (the couple have two children) and living there whilst Douglas recorded. Then a pandemic hit and things changed.

Christian and his wife took the time and did the renovations and the Sound Castle was born. They decided to keep it as a space apart from living and continued to commute back and forth from Viscount to their home in nearby Allan.

The space is amazing as I can attest to. I recorded my first (and only) EP out there and the experience was nothing short of magical. The walls of the old church have insane acoustics and I long to record there again. Hopefully live off the floor with my band next time. One of the biggest reasons the SoundCastle is magical is Christian himself. The guy has an amazing sense of music and sound, how it works and how to manipulate it. As a producer, he guides you gently through the experience while still holding you accountable for what you are putting forth. He made me channel my voice and guitar playing in a way I still don't understand. He pulled the best performance out of me I could have hoped for, didn't actually know I had it in me to begin with. This is what makes a great producer, easy to work with but still not willing to accept anything but your best effort.

Douglas came through his candour by experience and just trying to be kind. But also direct. You have to make an artist comfortable, gain their trust. But also be brutally honest if needed. He weaves it together nicely, adding, “you kind of have to hide your criticism in a compliment sandwich sometimes.”

But producing isn't even his only talent. Same as his friend Matthew Facca (see previous part of this series), Douglas is an audiophile and a tech nerd. Watching him manipulate the screen in pro tools is like watching a maestro conduct his orchestra. He's also mixed almost every song I've put out, he always nails that too. But I’m not biased, in fact there are a number of artists who can speak to the magic of the Castle. Douglas has played host to a number of events in the space as of late including an intimate concert with The Local Group, a recording of an 18 piece orchestra, a televised music contest on CBC and a pretty cool event called the Sask One Mic Sessions. Bands who have recorded at the castle include Alien to the Ignorant, Despite the Reverence and Too Soon Monsoon.

Coming out of the pandemic, Douglas and the Castle are booked solid and loving life. He has a very relaxed way about him and is very easy to be around and talk to. At the time of our conversation, he was just starting to plan the One Mic Sessions with friend Matthew Facca. The details were still sparse but he admitted that he was going to do one. That song was called “Lovin’ Me” and it was released on May 14th. It's a beautiful song about embracing love while you're still here and able.

A lot of artists have released songs from these sessions actually and in part four, the finale, we’re going to tie it all together with a piece about the Sask One Mic Series. All of the three chaps featured in this series are involved in some way and it has featured some of this area's finest musicians.

Until then, do yourself a favour and give The SoundCastle a follow on the socials, check out the website maybe. It's one of the magical musical gems of this province and is meant to be cherished.

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