Mid-Century Oceanside Studio Seeks to Extend Analog Life in the Digital Age
Stepping into Oceanside’s analog Thunderbird recording studio is like stepping back decades in time – wood-paneled walls, mid-century modern furnishings, and vintage instruments and recording equipment adorn every room in the building. 1970s.
Memories of decades of local Southern California musicians fill the spaces unclaimed by the tools of the active recording studio.
However, a recent spike in rents is forcing Thomas Yearsley, landlord, musician, engineer and self-styled home cook and brewer, to look for a new home for his studio.
“Our last party will be here on Friday with (musician) Sue Palmer,” Yearsley said at an open house on Sunday. “It should be big enough. Then I have about a dozen follow-up sessions, and in between I’ll break it all down and try to find somewhere to put it.
“Everything” is a lot. The studio houses several Yearsley upright basses, a desk, a T-shirt screen printing operation, a 1940s record lathe and a 1985 24-track 2-inch tape recorder.
The centerpiece of the building — once the Oceanside home of the defunct North County Times — is the airy recording and performance space, centrally located under an arched skylight that illuminates the studio’s grand piano and Hammond B3 organ.
This space, said Oceanside skateboarding legend turned professional musician Adrian Demain, lets the music “breathe” in a way that modern soundproof studios don’t.
“You get feedback from the floor,” Demain said after a performance Sunday at the open house. “Not only do you feel it, but instruments sound different when they’re in a place like this.”
Modern digital tools can replicate some of this effect, Demain said, but the experience for the musician and audience cannot be programmed into a computer.
Yearsley said this is also reflected in the recorded product – which he explains as a type of magnetism. Magnetic tape, he said, captures and transmits human emotion in ways that listeners might not realize unless they are listening side-by-side to digital and analog recordings.
“You’d be more impressed with the emotional impact of the tape because it’s magnetic,” Yearsley said. “We are magnetic people. Our blood is full of iron. The center of the earth is iron.
Thunderbird was launched by Yearsley in 1998 and had three homes at that time. Yearsley, a founding member of rockabilly band The Paladins, said he hoped to return to the studio’s former home in a former DMV building on Wisconsin Avenue.
Failing that, he said a vacant commercial building, such as a restaurant space, would also work.
Money is an obstacle for the popular small studio. Yearsley said he keeps prices affordable for musicians, most of whom are local to Oceanside and North County. In an effort to solicit donations, Yearsley and his partner, musician Laura Jane Willcock, among others, are in the early stages of launching the Thunderbird Analog Music Foundation as a nonprofit.
Willcock, whose band, The Tighten-Ups, are part of Thunderbird’s stable of local musicians, said the pandemic has hit the studio hard as in-studio performances and confined recording sessions are out of the question. .
The potential nonprofit association depends on Thunderbird’s ability to find a new home, Willcock said.
Demain said that Oceanside doesn’t just lose a business if Thunderbird shuts down permanently – it will lose part of its community.
“A recording studio is not just a business that exists within the community,” Demain said. “It adds to the community, where artists can create something for the community. It’s having that kind of thing where the artists here can create something in their hometown.
The final performance at the studio is scheduled for Friday, June 17 at 1715 South Freeman Street in Oceanside.