TOP END SOUNDS, DOWN UNDER
By Craig Hodges
The beautiful hiss of an opening beer rings out as we sit on the back verandah of Chris Blancato’s home studio in Kellyville. The verandah which used to overlook five acres of serene Australian bushland now has a cul-de-sac about 5 metres away. Despite the encroaching housing development the studio stands strong and steadfast like a diamond in the rough and Blancato is busier than ever.
Chris sits across the table from me with a phone in the middle connecting us to Northlane guitarist Josh Smith, who is chatting to us from backstage at Download Festival in the UK. I’ve been lucky enough to catch them for these winter afternoon beers (Smith assures me he is making an early start on his rider) to discuss their latest creative venture. Boutique Sounds is a collaborative store between Smith and Blancato specialising in importing and selling top quality music equipment. Boutique Sounds stocks many unique items of unique and high calibre music gear, including pick ups, cables, pedals and a copious range of other products.
“Boutique Sounds was an idea I’ve had for a very long time” says Smith. “Around December 2015 I first had the idea of having an online store but it took me another 3 months to really decide what I wanted it to be. The concept of selling top level music equipment felt right, and the fact that I could enhance someone else’s creativity that way would make this more than just pushing product.”
Both Smith and Blancato have had extensive careers in music for almost a decade now but their relationship transcends their career and they personally known one another and played music together for almost 15 years. Though the general rule of thumb is not to go into business with your friends or family, their relationship seems to be a key component of Boutique Sounds. “We can easily identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses and use that to our advantage” says Smith. “There’s nothing we can’t say to each other and we keep each other accountable.”
“We’re both pretty big gear nerds!” jokes Blancato “having a background in retail as well as an appreciation and understanding of gear from working as a full time producer. Teaming up with Josh just seemed like the right move”. Blancato has been running his own studio for over a decade and has been involved with many major artists of the Australian heavy music scene including Northlane, DVSR, and Arteries. Most recently producing, engineering and mastering the debut album for his own band Bare Bones, who recently joined the Resist Records family. “I spend a lot more time in one place than Josh so it’s a lot easier for me to manage the inventory and shipping, and with my skills and experience in production I’m also able to produce and create the media and visual content that goes into the online store and social media.”
To say that these two have a lot on their plate is a massive understatement. Smith spends a huge portion of time on tour both domestically and abroad with Northlane. The band in fact is currently undertaking a European festival circuit in support of their fourth studio album
Mesmer. The workload it seems doesn’t seem to phase either of them though. “It’s not that hard” says Smith nonchalantly. “As this business is E-commerce based I can contribute from anywhere in the world with my phone or laptop. It uses a different creative energy to writing or playing music so it’s an extra challenge that I can channel my time and effort into without really affecting my other commitments”.
Boutique Sounds owes a lot to Smith’s experience with Northlane and may not even exist (at least in its current form) without it. The growing success of Northlane has established many of Smith’s relationships with suppliers. He has worked closely with Jackson Guitars to build many custom models and also acted as a keen advocate for Bare Knuckle pickups, even creating his own signature series. “I studied marketing at university, and Northlane has taught me some valuable lessons in ecommerce, social media and forging relationships with people. So, I’ve been taking care of all of our socials as well as the majority of procurement and supplier relations and a lot of the customer service.”
It’s obvious from the way they both speak about Boutique Sounds and the products they stock just how genuinely passionate these two are about music and the equipment they use. “Josh has been incredibly lucky to make friends with some incredibly talented people making some really amazing products. Being able to sell and shed light on those very same products crafted by these friends, was not only really special, but an integral helping hand in launching Boutique Sounds. Already having these relationships meant that access to some great product was only at arms reach.”
With the influence of years of experience in both studio production and live performance the Boutique Sounds catalogue boasts an aptitude for innovative products. “I think innovation is at an all time high” explains Smith. “These days you’re seeing global touring bands take nothing out on the road but a digital amp, automate switching via midi and save thousands in the process. As technology evolves, so does the quality of live shows and the ease of use for the musician. I think innovation is extremely important. Tried and tested vintage designs will always be there, but creativity always requires new inspiration and it takes groundbreaking products used by the right artist to push boundaries in music.”
It would seem that these two are not the only ones interested in bringing high quality music equipment to Australian shores. Struggling to keep up with demand is a tried and true sign of successful business growth and Boutique Sounds is experiencing demand in hordes. “The response has been far beyond what we ever expected” says Blancato. “There’s been a few products we have had to put up for pre-order due to the demand. It’s also great to see that people are willing to wait and support us as a start up business. It really affirms what we’re trying to do and drives us to do more.”
As Smith parts us to prepare to open up the main stage of Download he leaves us with this anecdote that I believe sums up exactly what Boutique Sounds represents. “The most important thing to us is that we can inspire somebody else’s musical creativity with our products. Sometimes it’s a pickup or pedal that inspires somebody to write the best song of their lives, or simply just enjoy themselves playing music. If we can provide that product and experience to someone, we’ve succeeded.”
You can view the Boutique Sounds online store at boutiquesounds.com.au