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Oceanside mid-century studio seeks to extend analog life in digital age

Adrian Demain plays the ukulele and sings at Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside on Sunday.
Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio, an old-fashioned studio in Oceanside, held an open house Sunday to try to save their studio. Among the performers Sunday was Adrian Demain who sang and played the ukulele.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio will vacate its Oceanside home

Walking into Oceanside’s Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio is like stepping decades into the past — wood-paneled walls, mid-century modern furnishings and vintage instruments and recording equipment adorn every room in the 1970 building.

Mementos from decades of homegrown Southern California musicians fill the spaces unclaimed by the tools of the active recording studio.

However, a recent rent spike is forcing owner, musician, engineer and self-described cook and house brewer Thomas Yearsley to look for a new home for his studio.

“Our last party will be here Friday with (musician) Sue Palmer,” Yearsley said during an open house event Sunday. “It should be pretty big. Then I’ve got about a dozen or so tracking sessions, and in between I’ll just be breaking everything down and trying to find a place to put it.”

Thomas Yearsley with one of his stand up basses.
Oceanside, CA_6_12_22_ Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside, an old-fashioned studio, held an open house Sunday to try to save their studio. Thomas Yearsley, owner for the last seven years and bassist of the Paladins band shows off one of his stand up basses.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Everything,” is a lot. The studio is home to several of Yearsley’s stand-up basses, an office, a T-shirt screen-printing operation, a record lathe from the 1940s and a 24-track 2-inch tape machine from 1985.

The centerpiece of the building — once the Oceanside home of the defunct North County Times — is the airy recording and performance space, situated dead-center under a vaulted skylight that illuminates the studio’s grand piano and Hammond B3 organ.

This space, said Oceanside skateboarding legend-turned-professional-musician Adrian Demain, lets music “breathe” in a way modern soundproof studios do not.

“You get feedback from the room,” Demain said after a performance Sunday during the open house. “Not only do you feel it, but the instruments actually resonate differently when they’re in a place like this.”

Laura Jane Willcock, manager of the studio speaks to visitors at the studio during its Sunday open house.
Oceanside, CA_6_12_22_ Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside an old-fashioned studio, held an open house Sunday to try to save their studio. Laura Jane Willcock, manager of the studio speaks to visitors at the studio during its Sunday open house.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Modern digital tools can replicate some of this effect, Demain said, but the experience for the musician and the audience can’t be programmed into a computer.

Yearsley said this is reflected in the recorded product, as well — which he explains as a type of magnetism. Magnetic tape, he said, captures and conveys human emotion in a way listeners might not realize unless they listen to digital and analog recordings side by side.

“You’d be more impressed with the emotional impact of tape because it’s magnetic,” Yearsley said. “We’re magnetic people. Our blood is full of iron. The center of the earth is iron.”

Thunderbird was started by Yearsley in 1998 and has had three homes in that time. Yearsley, a founding member of the rockabilly band The Paladins, said he hopes to move back to the studio’s previous home at an old DMV building on Wisconsin Avenue.

Thomas Yearsley, left in poster, and studio owner for the last seven years is bassist of the The Paladins.
Oceanside, CA_6_12_22_ Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside an old-fashioned studio, held an open house Sunday to try to save their studio. Thomas Yearsley, left in poster, and studio owner for the last seven years is bassist of the The Paladins.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Barring that, he said a vacant commercial building, such as a restaurant space, would also work.

Money is an obstacle for the small grassroots studio. Yearsley said he’s kept pricing affordable to musicians, most of which are local to Oceanside and North County. In order 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, is among Thunderbird’s stable of homegrown musicians, said the pandemic hit the studio hard, since confined studio performances and recording sessions were out of the question.

The potential nonprofit is dependent on Thunderbird finding a new home, Willcock said.

A Fender Telecaster and microphone sit against a vintage Sears Silvertone amplifier.
A Fender Telecaster and microphone sit against a vintage Sears Silvertone amplifier.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Demain said Oceanside isn’t just losing a business if Thunderbird shutters permanently — it will be losing part of its community.

“A recording studio isn’t 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 those kinds of things where artists here can create something in their hometown.”

The last performance at the studio is scheduled for Friday, June 17, at 1715 South Freeman Street in Oceanside.


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