Producer Kevin Killen remembers the birth of Real World Studios

Award-winning producer and engineer Kevin Killen has had a long relationship with Peter Gabriel and Real World. He worked on Peter's seminal 1986 album 'So', as well as subsequent projects during the early years of Real World Studios, and has returned to Box many times to engineer projects for a wide range of artists. In this piece written to mark the 25th anniversary of Real World Records, he reflects on his experiences and the impact Real World has made on the music industry.

When we drove onto the property, one immediately was taken by the size and grandeur of the main mill building. Its Bath stone was radiant in the winter light but its scale resonated with me, as I had trained as an audio engineer in an old converted grain warehouse in the Dublin docklands — a studio named Windmill Lane.

My immediate thought was that this building would make an ideal studio environment. The thickness of the walls and the manner of its construction would afford it a rich resonance. Despite the fact that it was being used as a “spare car parts depot” and was cut up into lots of small rooms, you could still feel how naturally reverberant the rooms were.

We then walked around the rest of the property and we were astonished to discover another five buildings. Our excitement was slightly tempered when the first intercity train whizzed by us en route to London but we were all enthusiastic about its potential.

Kevin Killen and Daniel Lanois working on Peter Gabriel's album 'So' at Ashcombe House, Bath, England.

My next visit to the site was almost 18 months later, at the conclusion of the So tour. I had recorded the final shows of the tour in Athens, Greece and we were utilizing the almost completed facility to mix the songs for the upcoming POV video release. The site had changed dramatically, a nexus of activity between all of the buildings. The biggest addition was of course The Big Room which was about 80% completed. Its iconic shape jutted out from the back of the mill building and was hugely impressive.

The open floor plan for recording “within” the control room had been taken to a radically new but intuitive destination. We worked in Peter’s Work Room upstairs, which had a spectacular view of the surrounding valleys. The room was bathed in sunlight and had lots of unusual spaces and architectural details that distinguished the room and the overall site from your average studio environment.

Real World was my home away from home, an oasis in the crazy world that we inhabited. It is a testament to all that is great in our business, and somehow it manages to do it with a uniqueness all of its own.
Kevin Killen working on a recent session in The Wood Room. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Clearly embracing Peter’s ethos, all of the recording spaces had unique layouts, all of them interconnected. It seemed like anything was possible in these rooms and one could not fail to make a spectacular recording here, such was the creative and supportive nature of the whole environment. From the beautiful accommodations to the spectacular food and the ever-helpful staff and assistants, it was remarkable that Peter and his team had assembled such a cast of characters. One was just surrounded by excellence, warmth and creativity. It quickly became a home for all of us who worked there on a regular basis.

The Wood Room. Photo credit: York Tillyer

Many of the projects that I completed there were recorded in The Big Room. To say that this space shattered the old concept of studio design, was an understatement. Despite its size, every musician just loved working there. It drew out the most imaginative performances from one and all. You could lose yourself in the music while simultaneously watch the weather roll over the valley. Time seemed to float in that room and it was not unusual for 10-12 hours to literally speed by. But being wrapped in daylight really allowed your body to adjust accordingly and despite many a long day, I never had that drained feeling that was so common with ‘black box’ studios.

For me, Real World was my home away from home, an oasis in the crazy world that we inhabited. Some of my most enduring friendships began at or through Real World. It is a testament to all that is great in our business, and somehow it manages to do it with a uniqueness all of its own.

Featured release

  • Real World 25

    Various Artists

    Released 29 September 2014

    Beautifully packaged clamshell box with 3 CD wallets, 28 page booklet containing the story of 25 Years of Real World Records, and a collection of Real World Tales with contributions from musicians, producers, designer and managers.

By Kevin Killen

Kevin is an eight-time Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer. He has worked with some of the most significant names in popular music, including David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, U2 and Shakira.

Main image: The Big Room at Real World Studios. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Published on Thu, 08 May 14

Further reading

New album by The Breath out now

Let The Cards Fall is the follow-up to the band's 2016 debut Carry Your Kin

Behind the scenes with Bokanté in new video for ‘Fanm’

Featuring scenes from the recording sessions with the Metropole Orkest and Jules Buckley

Real World Sessions: Remmy Ongala & Super Matimila, 17 August 1991

Rupert Hine and Stephen W Tayler look back on the 1991 session which yielded Remmy Ongala's 'Mambo'.

Stephen Hague on bringing Big Blue Ball to the finishing line

The New Order producer faced the mammoth task of sifting through years of recording sessions.