Published Jul 08, 2014When he's not on tour being the musical director for Drake's live shows or flying to Australia on command to play a gig for Kylie Minogue, you can find guitarist Adrian Eccleston, better known as Adrian X, in his home studio. Located on a leafy street in the west end of Toronto, Exclaim! caught up with Adrian X a few days before he opened for the Roots' Toronto Luminato gig in his basement — a place he affectionately calls "The Grotto."
"Over 40 or 50 people have sung in this Grotto studio," says Adrian X. "It's so funny, it's like this special creative space. You wouldn't think some of the people who have come through here would come to a basement studio. But then people come here and they're like 'I love working in your studio.'"
As its name implies, the Grotto isn't huge and has perilously low ceilings. Yet Adrian X has ensured it is an exercise in space optimization. As you enter the space, the exposed brick wall room on the left houses a set of drums. Further along is another space devoted to a computer, a keyboard and guitar pedals. "My studio is first and foremost a guitar studio," says Adrian X. "When people ask me 'Do you want to come and do a session at my house?' I'm like, "You really want to go to your house to do guitars? Come on. Let's go to my house. "And then people come over and then they're like. 'Oh. Right. Your house,' 'cos everything is ready to go here, guitar-wise."
The basement eventually leads to a cosy open area with wood panelling, highlighted by a wall of amps that span the height of the basement. Most of Adrian X's 25 guitars and other sonic equipment are arranged on either side of the pathway. "This is like my space. I live here, it's my studio and it's my storage, and most musicians, that's three separate locations," says Adrian X. "Three different rents, know what I mean? I'm doing all that on one rent so I don't need to go anywhere."
"It's been a few years in the making getting it to where it is today," says Adrian X. "As of this year, it's like I have the gear to do everything here. Like everything you hear on the radio except for 'Dave Grohl' drums. I have drums and I have mics on the drums, but the last thing I'm working on is getting a nice sound. I went to music school and recording school and it's all about where you place microphones and stuff. You can get a good sound anywhere. You can get a shit sound anywhere."
Adrian X recorded the bulk of his solo debut Soulgazer, released earlier this year, in the Grotto but he still does not rule out working in other locations. "I don't want to do final mixes in my house because I do love professional recording studios, like the big massive things." On Soulgazer, Adrian X enlisted Drake producer Noah '40' Shebib and Doc McKinney, known for his work with the Weeknd, to produce tracks.
Soulgazer is a record that demonstrates Adrian X's versatile ability to play virtually any type of music. Yet his most recent high profile work has occurred with R&B and hip-hop acts like Drake and the Weeknd. He played on the first two mixtapes by the Weeknd, co-writing "Life of the Party," and has appeared on Drake's last two studio albums, grabbing writing credits on a handful of songs.
Adrian X loves and endorses his Gibson guitars but is also keen on using his Les Paul guitars for these recordings. "They're pretty special because they have whammy bars on them and stuff," he says. "It's just got all these extra sounds that really help touring and these urban music productions because everyone is into like weird little bendy, wavy soundscapes and stuff so the whammy bar really helps. So I have two Les Pauls with Floyd Rose tremolo systems on them and those are like the main guitars right now."
Adrian X still hasn't snagged his ideal guitar yet. "Of course Jimi Hendrix [was] a Strat man. My Les Pauls don't sound like Strats, 'cos I had to go there. And then the Strat I want to buy I don't own yet, 'cos it costs $25,000. But one day. One day, I'm gonna be one of those fools with a few more guitars. I'm not going to have 150 like some people do." To have that many guitars would necessitate him having more than one space for his gear, which is probably not what Adrian X wants. It's apparent that despite the superstar arena tours he's participated in, the intimate and collaborative vibe of the Grotto is what he prefers to replicate when he's not in his recording home.
"I did a month of guitar clinics with Long and McQuade and went to all these guitar shops and sat down and there'd be like 15 to 20 people sitting down on chairs listening," says Adrian X. "We literally sat and just talked to people for two hours," says Adrian X. "I played for like five minutes. It was all, just, 'Let's talk.' I think doing stuff like that is cool. I just like being around inspiration you know and I like to inspire people."