‘He took so much absolute joy in doing music’: Gothenburg producer Pedro Ferreira on working with Joe Strummer, The Darkness and more

From northern Portugal, to London, then Gothenburg – a lot has changed since Brit Award-winning producer Pedro Ferreira first started working in the early 1990s.

'He took so much absolute joy in doing music': Gothenburg producer Pedro Ferreira on working with Joe Strummer, The Darkness and more
Originally based in London, Pedro Ferreira now runs his own SpinRoad Studios near Gothenburg. Photo: Personal

The audio wizard, who had a number one album in the UK with his work on The Darkness' smash hit “Permission to Land”, has just finished a morning in the studio when he speaks to The Local over the phone from Lindome, just south of Sweden’s second city (and arguably its music capital), Gothenburg.

“I just put a lot of gear into boxes and took it with me,” he laughs, describing his first recording set-up, a mobile recording rig in the days where that meant far more than just a laptop and software.

“I was 17 and didn't have a driving license, so the first few gigs I did I had to get my dad to drive all the gear to peoples’ garages. That’s how I started. I used to play bass in a band, but this side of things is what always excited me – and 30 years down the line I’m still doing it.”

Ferreira is from Aveiro in the north of Portugal, but after outgrowing the local scene he decided to relocate to London at the age of 21 to pursue his dream of a career in music. It proved to be a wise decision: during his time in the UK, he would end up working with one of the most influential British rock musicians ever, as well as on a multi-Platinum album.

But success or not, love conquers all, as they say, so he ultimately didn't think twice when his wife decided a few years ago that she wanted to move back to her home city of Gothenburg:

“Once we had kids she really missed home. In the beginning I thought I'd commute from here back to London. But I'd always dreamt of having my own studio too, and there's a lot of music here. Things started getting bigger and bigger, and the opportunity to build a 260 square metre studio in a factory came up – that was amazing,” he recalls.

Pedro behind the desk. Photo: Personal

The result is SpinRoad Recording studios, housed in the kind of space that would be difficult to find (and probably impossible to afford) in London.

“It would have been impossible in London, it wouldn’t have happened. As I said in the beginning because all my clients were in London I thought I’d be commuting, but I’m just here now, all the time. The studio’s going well and it has been amazing. Gothenburg is incredible when it comes to music and musicians.”

He’s not exaggerating. Sweden’s second city is not only the home of many of the groups that shaped the death metal scene in the early 1990s, but also electronic superstars The Knife, 90s pop icons Ace of Base, stoner rock revivalists Graveyard and domestic heroes like Håkan Hellström. The city proved to be far more diverse, from a musical perspective, than Ferreira imagined.

“We all know about the Gothenburg scene when it comes to metal, so we know it's very musical, but it’s much more than that. Everything else was a surprise to me,” he admits.

“There’s all sorts. Jazz for example – so much jazz here. I’ve been doing a lot of those records, people who discovered our room then loved it and spread the word. Big bands. The whole lot, it’s crazy.”

That said, the reserved nature of Swedes means it hasn’t always been easy to enter musicians’ circles, the producer points out.

“I have been welcomed because people know what I’ve done, and are keen on bands like The Darkness etc, but what I did find in the beginning is that even though they’re welcoming, to go from there to starting work with me is another step altogether. That has been a bit more difficult, to get people to come to the studio.”

“It’s a lovely place and I know when people get there they will like it, but to get them there is harder. That was surprising – if it was in London, a lot of producers and other musicians would’ve been curious and want to try it as fast as possible, there as soon as people hear about a new studio they think ‘fucking great, let’s try it out’. Here it’s almost the opposite – they’re very reserved. Once you get to know them it’s like everywhere else, but it’s that first step,” he continues.

Pedro at SpinRoad. Photo: Personal

SprinRoad studios is the culmination of a long-term dream for the Portugal native. One he had been waiting to realize in the right conditions, instead of doing it in half measures.

“It has always been my dream to build a studio and the prices are a lot cheaper here, so I thought I could finally build a decent one. I wouldn’t want to build just a little recording studio because I’m a big fan of acoustics. As a producer I like to work with the acoustics of the space. Call me old-fashioned but that’s my thing. I wanted to build a studio that had all that, the space, the acoustics, and would be inspiring for musicians to be in. For that, the minimum is 200-210 square metres.”

Though not comparable to London, Gothenburg, like many Swedish cities, is a place where space is increasingly at a premium. So Ferreira had to take his time finding the right location.

“Gothenburg is growing so much at the moment no one wanted to give me more than a two years lease. But you can’t build a recording studio for two years – it’s impossible – it’s a lot of money to soundproof it, treat it acoustically etc. It would be impossible to spend all that cash then two years later you’re out of there. So I kept looking and eventually found this space in Lindome, and it was perfect. It’s an old textiles, brick factory with really big thick brick walls. It was the perfect setting, and because it’s slightly out of town it’s slightly cheaper as well. All of a sudden I had 260 square metres!” he exclaims.

Just a few years after opening, the studio has now been nominated for “Studio of the Year” at the 2017 Pro Sound Awards, suggesting things are going on the right track:

“Just being recognized is fantastic. There have been some amazing people coming through here who loved the studio, so to be nominated for an award is great”.

Ferreira is no stranger to accolades, one of the biggest of which is the Best Album Brit Award for “Permission to Land” in 2004, a year when The Darkness also took Best Group and Best Rock Group at the same prize ceremony. Released at a time when rock music was still dominated by stripped down nu metal, for an album with guitar solos, big production and all of the traits of classic rock to be such a huge success wasn’t something people predicted. Especially labels.

“We never expected it to do as well as it did, though we always believed it would do something – even when people doubted us. The songs are great, and if you ignored what was cool and what wasn’t, and just listened to the music, it was impossible not to like. The songwriting made it – that extra element everyone’s trying to find. When Warner signed us, their prediction was to sell 50,000 copies of the album. It sold five million. But at least someone believed in us,” he reveals.

The album has been certified 4xPlatinum in the UK, Gold in the US, Platinum in Canada and Gold in Sweden to name a few places where it took off. That would have shocked more than a few record companies, who were very much late to the party.

“Without mentioning names I had worked for quite a few labels at the time and I was playing this record to them, we recorded it before we got signed. I played it to a few A&R people and they all went it’s great, but it’s never going to sell.”

“But The Darkness had packed the (legendary London music venue) Astoria before being signed. Even while all that was going on, they kept telling us it’s never gonna happen. Eventually – and this is a true story – one of my friends who is an A&R guy called me on the day they got signed and said ‘oh Pedro, you know that band you kept playing to me – The Darkness – can you come over and play it to me again?’. I laughed and said ‘too late!’. He must have been gutted. Imagine being in his shoes now.”

The album and the Brit Award proved to be an important stepping stone in his career:

“A lot changed. Up to that moment I’d produced a few albums but I was pretty much just a sound engineer doing some good work in London but not recognized as a producer. All of a sudden everyone knew about me, that was cool! Then work picked up a lot obviously”.

They weren’t the only big rock act he worked with around the time. Two years prior, while still an engineer, Ferreira had the chance to work with Joe Strummer, one of the most influential British musicians of the 20th century, on the Mescaleros album Global a Go-Go. It was released in 2001, just a year before Strummer’s untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2002. The Clash icon didn’t disappoint him.

“It was amazing. I’m a big fan, so when I got the call to work with him I was just like ‘wow…’. He was one of the most talented and amazing people to work with. Always on it.”

“I would get faxes from him in the middle of the night. I’d quite literally hear my phone ringing and it would be Joe, the fax machine would start going, and it’d be ideas for the next day. As far as I’m concerned he never slept. He was with us all day and during the night he was doing that. Very impressive,” he remembers fondly.

“It was inspiring. He had so much absolute joy and love in doing music. He was so into it, the art of it. He wasn’t fazed, even after all those years of doing it, he really genuinely had a passion for it. That was inspiring. Everything you would hope he would be like.”

Compared to the early 2000s, conditions in the industry are tough these days, as streaming struggles to replicate a fraction of the revenue that physical sales used to provide labels (and by extension, bands) with. Ferreira says he feels sorry for talented musicians trying to make it in the difficult modern world of music.

“A lot has changed unfortunately. The Darkness were maybe the last band to break in that way (where a label takes a chance on an act they don’t think is a shoe-in to sell). It’s impossible for newcomers. I feel sorry for a lot of these very talented musicians, they’re amazing but no one supports them. No one at all,” he bemoans.

“There’s very little money and because of that recordings are suffering. You have to know what you’re going to do before you hit the studio, and then in the studio you have to do it quick. There’s no time to improve it, let it grow. Apart from the big bands, they still do it. Foo Fighters maybe will go in for two months and do a demo. But no one else can do that.”

There are tentative signs of a change however. One example he points out is someone he has worked with, Albin Lee Meldau, who now has millions of listens on Spotify and a deal with a major label in the US.

“Things are changing slightly recently. There’s a better feel in the air that I hope carries on. Albin’s a good example. He’s from Gothenburg, an unknown, and got signed to Universal in America. For record companies to be doing that again is a good sign, I like it.”

The resurgence in vinyl sales is also a cause for optimism. One that has inspired Ferreira's next step with SpinRoad.

“I have plans for a vinyl pressing plant, right below the studio,” he reveals.

“There are none in Sweden – they all closed down, so I’m working incredibly hard on it. It’s going to be an incredibly cool space. A bit like what Jack White did in America (with his Third Man Records facility): a pressing plant, a cool shop where you can buy vinyl and Hi-Fi bits, sit down, have a coffee, and listen to music while the machines are pumping vinyl in the back.”

Like the opening of SpinRoad in the first place, the planned expansion is partially the product of the right space becoming available at the right time:

“The opportunity has just arrived, the people who were below me in the studio left, and there are 400 square metres, so I’m thinking of expanding”.

“Vinyl will always be a niche but it’s growing a lot. They think about 30 percent a year at the moment in sales. Last year in the US and UK it outsold downloads and CDs – no one wants to buy a CD any more. Bands need to sell merch, and they’re not going to sell CDs, but they can sell some vinyl. They need someone to press it though, and at the moment it’s around a four month wait,” he explains.

“I love it obviously and any music lover does. It’s great to have music on your phone, that’s fantastic, but you also want to go home and pick up a record, read who is on it, who the musicians are, what studio it was recorded in, the artwork. It’s so much more than just listening on your phone.”

With an expansion on the horizon and an award nomination, the producer has plenty to be happy about with his time in Sweden so far, so unsurprisingly, he would recommend it for other people in music looking for a new challenge.

“You can find amazing musicians in Sweden. One amazing studio,” he laughs.

“Relatively cheap, too! No, Sweden is a fantastic place to work. The industry is strong here.”

As a closing note, The Local asks for some tips on Swedish musicians we should all be listening to.

“Avatar, who made one of their albums here and are working on another, are worth checking out. They won Best Newcomer at the Metal Hammer awards and are doing incredibly well in America. There’s another band from Kungsbacka I worked with called Maddox Street, they’re fantastic and their album will be out in September. A bit retro, really cool. And Anna Lundqvist, on the jazz front, who just released an album made here. There are so many!”

So what are you waiting for? Get listening.