[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s a mid-September evening Boston, the kind of Monday where the exodus of traffic leaving the city sits gridlocked on the nearby Zakim Bridge, and one conversation inside Converse’s still-glistening headquarters at Lovejoy Wharf is about our town’s favorite son, Mark Wahlberg.
Diamond Thug, a boisterous indie-pop band from South Africa, have travelled 7,800 miles to record at Converse’s Rubber Tracks Studio in Boston, and they’re all taking turns naming their favorite Massachusetts bands. The usual suspects are run off: Dropkick Murphys! Aerosmith! The Pixies! Danilo Queiros, Diamond Thug’s bassist, producer, and most outspoken of the group, then expresses a sudden love for Wahlberg. He offers it up as a sort-of joke, but this is Boston and we inform him that not only do we love the former Marky Mark here in town, but he and his brothers all just opened up another burger joint, Walhburgers, over in the Fenway area.
If Diamond Thug had more time in town, they’d surely add it to the list of Boston’s most proud tourist attractions, alongside the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, and people with townie accents wandering around the nearby North End. But the band just wrapped up a 48-hour stint recording at Rubber Tracks, as part of the company’s ambitious Global Studio Takeover project, and will soon head back to Cape Town with new music fresh out of the recording over.
And they’ll head back home after being part of history, one of 84 bands personally selected by Converse to record at its Rubber Tracks Studios in Boston and New York City as well as 10 other iconic recording spaces around the world. The program connects Abbey Road in London to Atlanta’s Stankonia Studio, Hollywood’s Sunset Sound to Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, and the others elsewhere all over the map. More than 9,500 bands had applied for the opportunity to record for free.
“This is the biggest global moment for Converse Rubber Tracks,” says Global Music Marketing Director Jed Lewis. “This is a coordinated moment, and definitely the new barometer for us. We wanted to bring Converse Rubber Tracks to a global scale, one moment at a time. And the best way to do that is to open doors at several legendary studios, make them all Rubber Tracks spaces …and turn over the studios to emerging artist.”
Those artists have jet set around the world from 28 countries. Here in Boston, bands from South Korea (The Veggers) and Brazil (Frida) are sprinkled in with a few locals (Worshipper, Aziz the Shake, Sparhawks), and even a stoner rock band from Nashville (Howling Giant). Just south of Boston, Providence-based classically trained pianist and rapper/producer DAP jumped over the Atlantic to Abbey Road, and ended up recording a surprise collaboration with producer Mark Ronson.
“Just to get that cross section is incredible to see,” Lewis adds. “Dropping them into a culture they have never seen… it’s been great to see this cross pollination.”
And once the traveling band settles into their new Boston digs, veterans of our city’s music scene take them in. Evan Kenney, the Rubber Tracks Boston studio manager and frontman of Dirty Bangs — who would play Boston Calling Music Festival less than a week later — tends to Diamond Thug’s needs while detailing studio guests for craziness expected for the Veggers’ session the following next morning. At the Rubber Tracks production desk sits David Minehan, known in the ‘80s as frontman of the Neighborhoods, known since then as owner of Woolly Mammoth Studio, and known recently as a member of the Replacements.
“All around it’s just been an unbelievable experience,” says Diamond Thug vocalist Chantal Van T. “We didn’t know what to expect.”
As Minehan sits laser-focused at the board, the sounds he replays back on a loop have some members of Diamond Thug giggling — they admit they’ve never heard themselves sound like that. And now with two days of recording under their belt and feeling great about the songs they just recorded — no easy task for a genre-shifting band that changes styles and rhythmic patterns on the drop of a dime — Queiros sums up the experience as “unreal.”
“The only tricky thing was the time difference,” he says with a laugh. “Converse Rubber Tracks music is very much respected by bands. When we saw the opportunity, we jumped on it.”
And Diamond Thug came prepared. “We are equally focused,” Queiros adds. “You gotta ask questions when in there, Gotta leech off the knowledge in the room. We talk to each other and communicate, [there is] a lot of collaboration, throwing ideas at each other. We come from silimiar but different musical backgrounds. This project made us branch out. We knew what we wanted to do, but things changed.”
The band expresses slight disappointment that they didn’t have more time to explore Boston, but even Wahlburgers takes a backseat to the opportunity to advance their band, on foreign shores or back home.
“This is the most happy I’ve been with our songs,” Queiros says. “If given a year here I’d just sleep on the couch.”