By Perry Lefko
Metalworks Studios is celebrating its 40th anniversary and it is coinciding with plans to do a documentary about Triumph, the legendary Canadian band from Mississauga that started the landmark recording operation.
Metalworks began under the name Design Staging in 1977 as a sound and lighting company for the three-member band consisting of drummer/singer Gil Moore, bassist Mike Levine and guitarist/singer Rik Emmett. The following year, the company became known by its current title after engineer Mike Jones suggested the word metal because he thought Triumph’s music was precious metal, a reference to the new heavy metal sound movement. Precious metal turned into Metalworks and the band embraced it as the studio’s name.
Metalworks fortuitously was not affected by the 1979 train derailment just south of the studio that devastated Mississauga. As Mississauga evolved and expanded from farmland community into the sixth-largest city in the country with a population north of 800,000, so did the Metalworks footprint. From a single studio measuring 3,000 square feet, Metalworks is now 50,000 square feet, encompassing multiple recording studios, an institute for learning sound, engineering and production and equipment rental for band and staging.
When asked if he could have projected Metalworks expanding into what it is now, Moore, who became the sole owner in 1989, laughed.
“No,” he said. “It was impossible to foresee what lay ahead. We started with a very simple concept. We recorded some demos and started to build a studio, and by the end of the first year we had a very good recording studio – one studio, mind you – and it was the seed that just grew and grew and grew. We never intended that it was going to become a commercial studio. It was going to be private.”
Jones suggested making the studio available for other bands to record while Triumph toured. Doug & The Slugs and Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, were among the first bands to book the studio. Both did well commercially with their records, giving Metalworks immediate success. The band’s touring manager subsequently became the manager of the studio, which became a full-time commercial operation.
In late 1988 after Triumph ceased performing, it led to a pivotal decision over what to do with the studio, specifically investing to upgrade and expand it into a bigger commercial venue. When the other two were reluctant to pump money into Metalworks, Moore bought out his band mates and bought a new console for $500,000, which was a huge sum at the time. Shortly thereafter Moore began designing and constructing a second studio, which cost another significant outlay.
“As we decided to grow the business, it was just a kind of natural evolution,” Moore said. “Other businesses in the plaza moved on or went bankrupt. We just kept acquiring a bigger footprint.”
Concurrent with the expansion, Metalworks really started to grow as an international destination for major music acts, including Prince, Justin Bieber, Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie and Drake, to name a few.
“The connections we made with Triumph – with producers, agents and promoters – really helped get it started,” Moore said. “The records the studio was turning out were getting on the radio, and the word was spreading from producer to producer to producer.
“We were determined to be the best recording studio in Canada and kept pushing the envelope with more and better equipment, and building more facilities. We started getting film and TV clients as well as ad agencies. Our client roster started to get more well-rounded.”
Starting in 1998, Metalworks was voted the top recording studio in Canada 14 consecutive years at Canada’s national music industry conference, Canadian Music Week. It has won the award a total of 17 times.
The anniversary of Metalworks is unfolding as part of a year-long celebration. Moore has donated all of Metalworks’ archives to the University of Toronto Media Commons Library. A decade ago, the Triumph archives were donated to the University as well.
Coinciding with the anniversary are plans to do a documentary about Triumph. It has been in the development stages for more than four years. Former Mississauga resident Peter Goddard, who taught Moore to play piano when he was nine years old and later became a prominent music writer for the Toronto Star, is the script writer on the project. Don Allan, who directed most of Triumph’s videos for Revolver Films, is the director. John Roberts, CNN’s White House correspondent and a onetime Mississauga resident who became prominent as one of the original personalities of MuchMusic under the name JD Roberts, will narrate the film.
In addition to the film and soundtrack album, there is a tribute album planned.
It emanated from a casual conversation Moore had with Allan related to footage the band kept of its appearance in the 1983 US Festival in San Bernardino, California and snowballed from there.
Production is about to begin in 2018 and it will feature a combination of new interviews and historical footage. It will be broadcast in Canada nationally through Bell Media.
“It’s not just about Triumph,” Moore said. “It’s about the music scene in general – what was going on at the time, the cultural impact of music in the ‘80s. Peter is writing about the technology involved and the association we had with Steve Wozniak. We used an Apple computer to program our lighting system. We were ahead of the curve as far as technology was concerned in stage effects and lighting. We embraced technology and the US Festival was also embracing technology, so it was kind knitting those concepts together into a story.”
The working title is Triumph: A Rock & Roll Machine.