The Sound and the Glory
Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai
With an easy smile and a firm handshake, Greg Critchley ushers a visitor inside “The Sound,” his high-security Hilton Head recording studio that local musicians are touting as the only truly professional recording space to be found for many miles in any direction. It’s a cozy but impressive space, packed with state-of-the art recording equipment that also includes a vintage 1967 Ludwig drum kit, favored by the likes of Ringo Starr during legendary sessions by The Beatles.“Drums can be moody and one of the hardest things is to make them sound good in a studio,” said Critchley, a drummer himself with The Storks who pounded out the beats on the self-titled Cranford Hollow album, which was released in October.
Critchley, who rebuilt and co-wrote many of the band’s tunes, envisions success, and maybe an overdue national breakthrough for the island’s most popular band with an updated sound he describes as finally capturing Cranford Hollow’s trademark blend of “stomp, swamp and grunge drinking songs.
“It’s got mojo all over it,” Critchley continued, “and they have raised the bar and matured a lot. I think several of the tunes are radio-ready, and John Cranford has everything that can make him a rock star. He’s got the right combination of good looks, charm, charisma, talent and a bit of arrogance that it takes to make it big in this business.”
But now the hard work begins, and Critchley surely speaks from experience. He started playing professionally while still in his teens growing up in a small Canadian town just north of the U.S. border, gigging and constantly touring with bands including a progressive trio (Regatta) that achieved notoriety north of the border but failed at achieving rare crossover success in the States.
“Now it’s time for Cranford Hollow to hit the road and show off their skills in new venues across the country instead of just the Eastern seaboard,” Critchley said, “and while that sounds glamorous, normal life simply doesn’t exist for touring musicians. You have girlfriends waiting at home, families that miss you and the day-to-day grind is so tough.”
Those same factors eventually forced Critchley to abandon touring, despite skills that found him backing the likes of The Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith and Michelle Branch, the latter performer carting him off to Japan where he stood transfixed in the wings just feet away during performances by rock icons The Who and Aerosmith. “That was such a memorable thrill,” he said, “right up there with getting to play with [Canadian superstars] Rush, who were my childhood heroes. But it was time for me to get back home, turn the page and start a new chapter in my life.”
Settled down, he quickly received no shortage of Canadian session work, wrote well-paid commercial jingles and figured he’d finally found a welcome musical niche. However, friends and former band mates who had immigrated to Los Angeles, then the center of musical universe, urged him to give the place a try. Somewhat reluctant, he loaded up a truck and traveled cross-country, first setting up a makeshift recording studio in a Santa Monica cottage that was so small it required him to store his bed in a van until the sessions ended.
But within a matter of days he found himself re-arranging strings for multi-Grammy winner David Foster, composing songs for television shows, Disney productions and solo artists including American Idol’s Clay Aiken. His expanding skills allowed him to set up a full-fledged studio that exists today and explains the 310 area code he maintains.
“It was a hotbed for work,” he recalled, “and I probably have 300 to 500 different pieces in circulation. But L.A. is very competitive, and it’s infested with sharks concerned only about making money. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not about the human soul, and disappointment and failure happens every day.”
His view of recent American Idol winner Candace Glover of Lady’s Island reflects the harsh duality of a business bent on profit and remaining part of the gravy train. “The best thing that ever happened to her was winning American Idol … the worst thing that ever happened to her was winning American Idol,” he said, noting she’s under contract for the next three years and has no options beyond playing along with her handler’s decisions or dumping her contract and later re-launching her career from scratch.
Family reunions on Hilton Head first brought Critchley to the island, and he admits he paid little attention to the local music scene in favor of enjoying family and the area’s natural beauty. But eventual sit-in sessions backing singer Whitley Deputy and The Storks helped expose him to other local talents, and Critchley’s wheels started turning upon learning that the Lowcountry lacked a first-class recording facility.
“There’s so much talent here, and with the way the industry is changing, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to channel my skills and, I hope, create what I think could become another musical hotbed like Athens, Georgia, or Seattle,” he said. “There just wasn’t a place here where someone with my (collective) experiences can usher artists through the entire process.”
Storks principal Joe Vicars offered to help him move his studio equipment from L.A., and Critchley became an official islander in early 2012.
“There’s no need to be in Los Angeles anymore because of all the advances in instant communication these days,” he said, although he recently returned from Smog City where he took meetings to expose the fresh sounds coming out of Hilton Head for potential commercial projects including film placement. “It’s funny, but by moving away, it’s now even easier to get meetings with important industry people.”
The Sound facility was completed June 6, and Critchley has worked with budding amateurs as well as seasoned pros. He describes the role of producer as “part-time psychologist, confidant and relationship counselor” with a goal of bringing out the best in every artist. “I work differently with everyone based on their needs, and being together in the studio you become a family in all the good ways and sometimes the bad,” he smiled.
A devotee of Yoga and meditation, Critchley spends precious spare time with his girlfriend and their dogs. “When I’m not working in the studio we’re usually running on the beach or taking long walks through nature,” he said. “We feel so fortunate to be able to live in such a beautiful place, and when we go out for dinner we could be back in Los Angeles because there are so many great restaurants.”
As a professional songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and experienced producer, it’s impossible for a visitor to avoid asking Critchley what kind of music he listens to at home. “There are so many different styles of music I enjoy, but when I’m home my favorite sound is simply sitting on the porch and listening to the rain,” he said.
The Sound is located on the island’s south end, but the exact address near Arrow Road is best excluded because of priceless equipment inside the studio despite 24-hour security measures. For more information, contact sound mixer Trevor Harden at (843) 341-2513 or via email@example.com