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Malibu recording studio serves as creative incubator

The Woodshed recording studio in Malibu houses unique instruments as well as inspiring, scenic views that have been taken in by famed artists from various genres. Photos by Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
Indie retro pop band Purple Mountains Majesties performs a recent show in front of the Woodshed, a recording studio located at the Malibu home of Linda and Richard Gibbs.
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
9:45 am PDT August 11, 2017

The ability to create and compose is a gift. Sharing that gift by nurturing others’ creativity is noble.

Scores of musical geniuses are reclusive, lost in their own creative introspection as they generate new works.

However, Malibu is honored to have Richard Gibbs, a prolific musical genius who is also a generous, endearing nurturer of other artists’ endeavors. 

Gibbs and his wife, Linda, have a peaceful home on a point overlooking the Pacific that includes the Woodshed — a recording studio like no other. 

It’s a place to gather, experiment, compose and perform.  

Gibbs, a composer and ex Oingo Boingo keyboardist with credits including “Dr. Dolittle,” “The Simpsons” and “Say Anything” is that rare mix of a creative genius and a paternal encourager of other artists. 

As one enters the family’s home, they are immediately transported to a pastoral, Nirvana-like environs ensconced in the permaculture of native plants.

The plants are delicately and diligently tended to by Linda, an environmental activist who, like her husband, knows the value of thinking generations ahead.

Pervasive in this permaculture and the Woodshed’s creative incubator is the knowledge that, like the soil that feeds nature’s ecosystems, having roots in a place where one feels secure is central to composing and creating.

“The two-and-a-half-hour trek from Costa Mesa can be a bit daunting, but once we walk through that front gate, the weight is lifted,” said Ryan Wagner of Purple Mountains Majesties, a band that Gibbs is producing. “Recording with Richard at the Woodshed is a treasure to us. 

“From watching him run sessions with horn sections and string sections, to having writing sessions with him at the piano, to just having a nice, homegrown dinner, we’ve learned so much from him.”

Purple Mountains Majesties’ music is avant-garde, yet possesses something comfortable and familiar. 

The band has a bassist, a drummer, and four frontmen who switch instruments as they create. Throughout a set, band members may play any of a number of guitars, ukuleles, keys, flutes, trumpets, Melodica, recorders, assorted percussion and even a glockenspiel.

“We had to learn how to use the studio. At first, it was a little intimidating, but over the years, it has become a second home,” band member Keith Manda said. “Whenever we record overnight, we sleep in the Woodshed. There’s nothing quite like waking up in this church made from mahogany, with the sun rising over the Pacific shining through the panes of glass and gently waking you.”

The Woodshed is bucolic. One breathes in the coastal country air, is humbled by the panoramic mountain views and settles in. 

A potpourri of unique musical instruments are openly available to musicians, allowing them to innovate and improvise.

There are a variety of percussion instruments that are part of a gamelan orchestra, traditional ensemble music from Bali. When Gibbs rings a bell, sweet, harmonic tones reverberate throughout the studio. Among them is an angklung, consisting of tuned bamboo tubes that render a sweet, resonant pitch. 

“This instrument is a balafon, an early precursor to the marimba,” Gibbs said as he displayed the African xylophone. 

Respect for the creativity and solace needed to produce works pervade throughout the Woodshed and its surrounding home.

“This creative space respects and acknowledges the spirits of the plants,” Linda says. “They inspire the music. 

“We breathe in what plants breathe out. When visitors come into the garden, they send love to all of the plants.”

The property hosts dwarf fruit trees, including Cherimoya, a tropical fruit native to the Andean highlands in South America, stone fruit, persimmons, passion fruit and more.   

“The handlers of key artists sometimes come in totally stressed and I can see the transformation as soon as they enter here,” Linda said. “They immediately begin to relax, their shoulders drop into their body and they can begin to create.”

The Woodshed has hosted a panoply of performers from a wide array of genres. Lady Gaga. Barbra Streisand. U2. Kanye West. Cher. Neil Young. Lenny Kravitz. Anthony Hopkins. Coldplay. Those are but a few of the talents that have found refuge at the Woodshed.

Gibbs has also used the studio to compose and produce scores for many films and television projects, including “Battlestar Galactica,” “Queen of the Damned,” “28 Days” and “Barbershop 2.”

Now, the Woodshed is a catalyst for the next iteration of creativity, as it will serve as a venue for live streaming on Twitch, a relatively new video platform and creative community.

“Using Twitch for these productions is in the experimental phase, which is what the studio is and always has been about,” Gibbs said.

Lyrical legends have gathered in this special space to focus and create, and many more will follow.

They all find the Woodshed to be a safe, harmonic haven for composing. 

Linda and Richard tell a story about RZA, of Wu Tang Clan fame, who has been a frequent habitué of the studio. RZA was giving a tour to an executive and moved to one of the French doors in the Woodshed overlooking the ocean. As he opened the door he said, “All you do is open the doors and the music comes in.”