Holmberg sounds off on new audio venture

Supplied photo.

Kingston’s Aaron Holmberg has worked on some of Canada’s most iconic records. As the house engineer at The Tragically Hip’s fabled Bathouse Studios in Bath, Ont. for nearly 15 years, he ran the boards for The Hip, Bruce Cockburn, The Trews, Sam Roberts, and Jill Barber, to name just a few. Late last year, he started his own business, Full Frequency Productions, under which he offers a variety of audio-related services, such as recording engineering, film audio, acoustic room treatments, and concert promotion.

“Looking through old vinyl records, I kept seeing the term ‘full frequency,’” says Holmberg. “That really stuck with me over time and seemed to capture everything I want to do.”

After getting a taste for the music scene in high school (he started Mr. Snail with some friends from Lasalle Secondary), Holmberg moved to Vancouver in 1999 to study audio engineering at the Columbia Academy of Recording Arts.

“I love my parents,” says Holmberg. “But at the time I wanted to get as far as away from home as possible, so Vancouver looked pretty good.”

After graduating, he returned to Kingston but had no idea where his diploma would take him, or if it would even get him anywhere. Fortunately, Aaron’s father, former city politician Carl Holmberg, was a friend of Tragically Hip drummer Johnny Fay.

“I went out for a coffee with him, just to ask him about the business,” says Holmberg. “Their assistant at the Bathouse had just quit, and that coffee turned into an invite the studio to meet the house engineer Ken Friesen. They put me on a couple of sessions to see how I would do. I was 20 then.”

Holmberg was hired on as an assistant at the Bathouse and worked there for nearly 15 years, lending his hands and ears to every Tragically Hip album from 2000’s Music @ Work to 2016’s Man Machine Poem.

“The first session I worked on was Sue Foley and Colin Linden (Bob Dylan, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings). I was there for a week, cleaning the ashtrays and setting up mics. I went back a week later for mixing sessions for (The Tragically Hip’s 2000 album) Music @ Work. So one of my first memories of the Bathouse is standing on the front porch with the French door cracked open while Lake Fever (the second single from Music @ Work) was being mixed.”

Around 2005, he moved into the Bathouse full time, and stayed there until he was hired at the-then brand new Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in 2014.

“I absolutely loved working there (at the Bathouse),” says Holmberg. “But I was becoming kind of a studio mole. We did a session with The Arkells that was 28 days, with six days in a row and a day off, mostly 16-17 hour days. It was hard to find time to play softball and have girlfriends and things like that.”  

As Holmberg was beginning to think of work outside the Bathouse, Queen’s University began construction on the Isabel.

“I got a tour of the Isabel while they were still working on it because (Tragically Hip guitarist) Paul Langlois got a tour” he says. “My cousin was an electrician there during construction and helped us out. I was working there as they opened, and just about six months ago I was hired on full time, instead of only working during the concert season. So now I don’t need to freelance to pay the rent, I can really pick and choose passion projects because I know my bills are paid.”

Now, even while spending time working with other artists – he has projects underway with local musicians Kris & Dee and Thorns of Venus – Holmberg still finds time to work on his own music. He is 40 now, turning 41 this March, and he’s been working towards a self-imposed deadline of releasing his own record at 40.

“I put out a cover of Gord Downie’s Trick Rider last year,” says Holmberg. “And I’ve been writing songs since high school. So I’ve got an album’s worth of music ready to go. Again, the nice thing about having Full Frequency as my own thing is that I can do whatever I want with it, so I may use it as a record label for my music, or maybe other local artists.”

Look for Holmberg’s debut solo EP to be released in March, along with plans for a follow-up project to 2014’s Christmas is for Boys and Girls benefit album. Watch for announcements in the coming weeks on Full Frequency Productions’ Facebook page.

 

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