Mountain Studios in Montreux
It is the fascinating story of this studio in Montreux, earlier described by the musicians as the best studio in Europe, that we will relate here.
David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B.King, Yes, Duran Duran, Chris Rea, Sting, Phil Collins, AC/DC, Brian Ferry, Status Quo, Marvin Gaye, and of course Queen …. they all pushed the door of the mythical Mountain Studios in Montreux.
On December 4, 1971, the Montreux Casino burned down while Frank Zappa was performing there. An event whose notoriety had become global thanks to the famous song "Smoke on the Water" from Deep Purple.
The Mountain Studios was built four years later, in 1975 by Alex Grob and singer/pianist Anita Kerr, with the financial help of Dutch shareholders who had no connection to the music industry.
Alex Grob then declares: The walls, ceiling and floor must perfectly reproduce the sound. I imported 32 tons of wood from United States because its density better emphasizes the sound of certain instruments. I was thought to be a madman (smile...), but I am convinced that the quality of a studio is due to things like this. Scholarly theoretical calculations never replace experience, intuition. Each square metre of covering is designed for different needs: we have installed a false ceiling with suspended elements that absorb vibrations. As for the control room, it is designed like the inside of a loudspeaker, it is necessary to avoid the "collision" of sound waves, to restore a perfect stereo effect wherever you are.
The cost of the work then amounted to two million swiss francs.
A young British sound engineer, David Richards, settled in Montreux and quickly took over the control of the brand new recording studio that was set up in the new Casino. A certain Eugène Chaplin, son of the famous comedian Charlie Chaplin who lived in Vevey, joined the Mountain Studios team and worked for six years as a sound engineer with David Richards.
Their first customers were none other than the Rolling Stones, who came to work on their new album, "Black and Blue". They were the first of a long list....
Back in England, after the recording of their album « Jazz » in Montreux in 1978, Queen got caught by the tax office who claimed an astronomical amount based on past earnings. Their advisors suggested that they should acquire Mountain Studios rather than pay back the tax authorities.
When Jim Beach contacted Alex Grob telling him of their intention to buy the place, he was happy to do the negotiations, as were the Dutch shareholders. In 1979, the contract was signed. Freddie was reticent in the beginning but he finally fell in love with the town where he appreciated its tranquillity.
At that time, the Dutch shareholders who owned the Studio were not very happy with the way the studio was managed. Alex Grob, spent more time in Los Angeles with Anita Kerr, his American wife, rather than managing the Studio.
When Jim Beach, Queen's lawyer-manager, contacted Alex Grob to begin negotiations for the purchase of the Studio, he was particularly surprised by the reaction of the latter, who seemed happy to be able to "get rid" of the Studio. The last six months of operation had not been very successful.
On July 15, 1979, we officially learned that the sales contract had been signed, the amount of the transaction is still unknown even if we know that it exceeds half a million. "But we didn't buy the studio to make money" said Royer Taylor Queen's drummer at the time of the buyout. Freddie Mercury, reluctant at first, became attached to the town.
When Queen owned the place, rent prices to record in the studio have been lowered (at least 25%) and the technical equipment upgraded. For example, the studio was able to record on 48 tracks. The band Queen then declared : "With its exceptional geographical location, highly qualified staff (maintained as a whole) and first-class technical facilities, the studio deserves to record the best musicians".
In 1993, shortly after the death of their leader, Queen sold Mountain Studios. David Richards, who has been working there for more than 15 years, was interested and bought it back from them. He officially became the owner of the Mountain Recording Studios on February 1, 1993.
What the new owner wants is to continue in the same spirit.
David Richards then declared: "Fortunately, I was able to reduce operating expenses by half by separating myself from Montreux festival services, which continues its various activities on its side. For all the administrative part of the studio, I set up a small office at home, in the pebble. That's more than enough! And this reduces the rental price of the studio. In these times of recession it is not unpleasant to be able to offer a complete service at reasonable prices".
This means a fixed price of approximately CHF 2400.-, including the rental of the premises and all the equipment for a full day.
A few years later, in 2001, the French group Barrière bought the building and made major renovations to introduce gambling games.
Mountain Studios was then forced to cease its activities in the summer of 2002. The area, which had been inaccessible for a few years, is now under threat. Indeed, the soul of the place, David Richards could not find an agreement with the management of the Montreux Casino. The refurbishment and soundproofing of the ageing Studio is estimated at more than CHF 400,000.—
David Richards then said, "If we can't agree, I'll go elsewhere. I hope that the Casino management will at least consider using these premises as a Museum".
In addition to the fact that the Casino refused to make a move, the rent was also increased at the same time. This is too much for David Richards who leaves the place and decides to set up his Studio in Attalens, a small village a few kilometers from Montreux.
After his departure, the place was transformed into a disco inspired by music from the 70s and 80s. The Mountain Club was born without much success and, a few years later, the permanent exhibition "Queen: The Studio Experience" finally gave new life to this mythical place.
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