At Jonas Bonnetta's Port William Sound Studio, Beauty Is the Only Distraction

At Jonas Bonnetta's Port William Sound Studio, Beauty Is the Only Distraction
Photo: Caylie Runciman
At the dead end of a tree-lined, gravel sideroad in Mountain Grove, ON — a sleepy rural town located about an hour north of Kingston and 90 minutes southwest of Ottawa — sits Port William Sound, a recording studio and creative retreat owned and operated by Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns.
 
Alongside his home, Bonnetta's one-acre property includes a 672-square-foot recording studio, a cozy two-room guest cabin and a Finnish sauna. Lush, uncultivated farmland and 300 acres of trees surround Port William Sound, secluding it from neighbours and traffic din. As guests like Akua, Andy Shauf and the Weather Station found, this hideaway is a breeding ground for creativity.
 
"There are no distractions here," Bonnetta says. "The distractions are the beauty. Your distraction is going for a walk. You don't spend an hour surfing the internet, you spend an hour walking down the driveway. It's easier to maintain the artist mindset [here]. I think it's so difficult to feel like an artist nowadays, because you're constantly distracted by things that you have to do to sell your art that are nowhere close to being artistic."
 
Six years ago, Bonnetta was living in Toronto but spending the winter in Perth, a small town about a 45-minute drive east of Mountain Grove. Bonnetta grew up in the country and, eager to return, would regularly browse online real estate listings for homes in rural areas. Eventually he found what would become his home in Mountain Grove. During a drive from Perth to Toronto, Bonnetta took a look at the property, fell in love with the slice of paradise and never looked back.
 
Initially, what is now a guest cabin housed Bonnetta's personal studio. After years of playing music, Bonnetta was connected to an expansive network of musicians, so when word spread about his new setup, people were eager to come up to write and record. Through word-of-mouth, Port William Sound grew busy, and Bonnetta realized he needed a bigger studio.
 
"It was never a business; this is insane what I've done now. Sometimes I'm like 'How did that happen?'" Bonnetta says about the exponential growth.
 
The new studio, completed in autumn 2018, is bright, with 13-foot-high ceilings; the 450-square-foot main room is packed with instruments — including guitars, a vintage drum kit, a Rhodes piano, and, soon, a grand piano — and is wired so that a four- to five-piece band can record live off the floor. Another room has a work station that's stacked with recording gear, but conveniently set up so outside producers can plug in their laptops and get to work. Among the gear, Bonnetta points to "the heart of the studio": a 1970s Neve 54 Series broadcast console.
 
Another defining feature of the studio are the huge windows that provide spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and accompanying wildlife.
 
"The whole [studio] is built around how beautiful this place is," says Bonnetta. "Right off the bat, I was like, 'We need to have big windows,' even though you don't get windows in studios at all for a few reasons, theft being one of them, but also noise pollution — bothering people's neighbours or noise from the street or whatever getting in.
 
"That's an advantage I have here — we don't have neighbours. We can play music 24 hours a day out here and that's a huge thing, you can't do that in places. I don't have to worry about sound getting out or coming in; often we're recording with the windows open because the soundscape here is so beautiful. It's like birdsong. I wanted to make sure that when bands were playing music, they were able to look outside."
 
Bonnetta is continuing to develop Port William Sound and even has plans to build an echo chamber in his barn. But no matter how busy it gets, Bonnetta wants to maintain the tranquil environment so that artists disconnect and tune into their craft.
 
"We're just trying to have fun out here. The days are long when you're working. When you wake up in the morning, you have breakfast and then you're at work. There's no commuting to the studio, everybody's here, everybody's in it. Nobody goes home to their lives at night and deals with their normal distractions and their emails and all that stuff. They all stay here and I really think it does something special.
 
"I didn't see myself making as many records as I've already started making here, and I think that it's just going to get crazier and crazier. But I still feel like the one thing Port William Sound can do best is be a space where people can create new work. And that's the thing that I think is really important."