TURNING A LIFE OF MUSIC INTO A STORYBOOK by Donny Levit
Scott Anthony and Rebecca Turner’s Maplewood home is audio magic
Musician. Recording artist. Songwriter. Audio engineer. Yoga instructor. Landscape artist. Copywriter. Editor. One-time cemetery caretakers.
These roles sound like everything you might need to establish an artistic colony. (Ok, the caretaking part needs some explanation.) In this case, two people are responsible for playing all of these roles.
Meet Rebecca Turner and Scott Anthony, a wife-and-husband artistic juggernaut who for seven years have quietly been running Storybook Sound out of their Maplewood home. Married for over 18 years, the couple have fused their multiple talents to create a state-of-the-art professional studio as well as a nurturing home for local, regional, and national musicians. And like many artists, their life story follows a compelling and decidedly non-linear route.
Originally from Maine, Anthony came to New York in 1989 and worked as a freelance recording engineer for about a decade. He later moved into information technology and built broadcast studios for NBC with projects ranging from the United Nations to flat visual panels in Times Square. He’s also an accomplished bass player (The Fond Farewells, Nu-Sonics) and teaches Kundalini yoga at Shakti Yoga & Living Arts in Maplewood.
And if that isn’t enough, Anthony’s public art project “An Experience of Monism based on ‘Within You Without You’” won an award as a finalist design for the forthcoming George Harrison Woodland Walk, a memorial nature preserve being presented by the City of Liverpool and the Estate of George Harrison.
While Turner is a copywriter and editor by profession, she’s also an accomplished singer-songwriter with multiple records to her name. Her most recent release is called “The New Wrong Way” – an album Turner partially recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The studio is famous for putting out records by Big Star, ZZ Top, and Al Green.
In addition, she and musician Deena Shoshkes co-founded the Saturday Afternoon Song Swap, a local songwriter’s performance series that began in 2008 and boasts a who’s who of highly-regarded musicians who call the Garden State home. Turner originally hails from Los Angeles.
“[Rebecca’s] an outstanding songwriter, with the voice of an angel and perfect pitch,” says Shoshkes, well-known for her band The Cucumbers, a Hoboken music scene staple that she and her husband, Jon Fried, formed in the ‘80s. “Whenever I have a chance to sing with her, it’s a delight. I’ve sung on her recordings [and] she’s sung on mine. […] Rebecca is passionately in love with music and her enthusiasm is so contagious.”
Now before there was Storybook Sound in Maplewood, there was a house at the First Presbyterian Cemetery in Springfield, NJ. Anthony and Turner called it home for nearly 14 years. “I found it because the church placed an ad in the local Pennysaver,” recalls Anthony. “We had a studio set up in what looks like a viewing parlor that was added on to the house. It was incredible that we were living 20 minutes from the Holland Tunnel in a three-bedroom house with 12 and a half acres, for a song.” While they attended to their light caretaker duties for the cemetery, the couple were also able to use the space to develop relationships with bands and musicians that they work with to this day.
Anthony recalls throwing a party for a friend and inviting members of the Feelies and Feelies family band spin-off members to play the festivities. “We had an old Airstream trailer and set it up in the driveway of the cemetery house. We put an awning over it and they played in the open air. It was the beginning of our relationship with them,” he says.
As the years have gone by, those musicians and many others have entrusted Anthony with the mastering of their recordings, a vital task in professionalizing any recording. “When you’re going through the process of mixing, you’re working on each song individually, making sure the balances are correct,” says Anthony. “Mastering is the process of making sure those songs rest well together,” he adds. “Mastering is the bridge between the creative and the very practical steps you take; making sure the recordings are up to the current standards of streaming, or that it’s going to press well on vinyl.”
So what has changed over the years? “The job of mastering hasn’t really changed,” he says. “I think people’s perspective around mastering has changed. I kind of saw the writing on the wall. I could just see all the kids in their bedrooms [...] and knowing there’s going to be a huge generation of music fans coming up in just about five or 10 years. We might as well be ready for it.”
And so, they opened up their permanent studio in Maplewood. And it’s kept them flush with projects.
Roughly seven years ago, the couple went in search of a new home when they moved Turner’s mother from L.A. to New Jersey. They decided to look for a house that was both comfortable for her and also had the potential to create a studio space. “We didn’t want to leave New Jersey. We wanted a place that had character,” says Anthony. “We saw how fun and attractive [our Springfield home] was to artists and we wanted to do something like that in Maplewood. So when we found this house – which has a turret – we thought it had enough possibilities and mystery.”
“When Scott first told me about his plan to dig out the foundation of their home to build his studio, I thought he was crazy. I was so wrong,” says Shoshkes, who has recorded multiple albums there. “He had a vision. He created a beautiful room that is at once elegant, cozy, and comfortable […] I love working there because I feel at home and in good hands.”
For Turner, the warmth of the space plays a huge role in the way their business is presented. “I’m more of an owner-operator, and Rebecca is the owner-C.E.O.,” says Anthony. “It’s a friendly and easy place to be,” says Turner. “Scott and I have collaborated on how it’s laid out, where people can sit, how we’re going to handle food. It can be somewhat intimidating, so I try to help.”
Storybook was designed by audio and acoustical engineer George Augspurger, who did the acoustic redesign of the Hollywood Bowl and many rooms at the Hit Factory in New York City, earning him a Technical Grammy Award in 2019. And a few towns over, Augspurger designed the main studio at Magic Door Recording in Montclair.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with Scott on several different projects at my studio, as well as see him in action in his mastering studio,” says Ray Ketchum, owner of Magic Door. “Scott is a kind and gentle musician and engineer. He cares deeply about the music he’s working on and brings a level of creativity and nuance to everything he touches. The Maplewood/South Orange community is lucky to have a professional world-class mastering facility near them. Though I’ve never worked with Rebecca Turner in the studio, I have enormous respect for her music – and she’s also a friend.”
While a lot has changed since the days of informal concerts at the cemetery, Anthony and Turner’s reputation remains as respected as ever.
Bassist Brenda Sauter has been a member of The Feelies since 1983 and is co-founder of the band Wild Carnation. She’s also a contributing member of other Feelies’ family bands. “[Scott and Rebecca] are both talented music artists […] Scott’s reputation for sound preceded him when I met him at Wild Carnation’s first Rent Party show some years back,” says Sauter. “And Wild Carnation’s first recording has been remastered for vinyl by Scott; it’s on track for a record store day release in April 2023.”
For all the audio wizardry that takes place at Storybook Sound, there is one decidedly low-fi ritual.
The “Wall of Instant Fame” is a photo display of visitors who have passed through the studio doors. Taken on Polaroid instant film, the pictures have captured music history being made in Maplewood. The blurred Polaroid images with their sepia tinged colors are nothing compared to what today’s smart phones produce. But that’s the very point – the technology at Storybook Sound is timeless and comforting.
Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his indie rock shows Under the Influence and Newish Radio and his jazz show Kind of Pool on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio, @newishradio, @kindofpoolradio.