Behind the sound: Occasional Spectators home studio gear

We get into what makes Occasional Specatators signature sound with a tour of Rhys’s home studio.

Meet Occasional Spectators Rhys Holbrook, the mastermind behind the solo venture that took flight in 2018.

Known for instrumental tracks, Rhys now ventures into the realm of vocals, blending gritty industrial elements à la Nine Inch Nails with a dramatic alternative rock sensibility.

occasional spectators

The result? “Break Off From The Rest Of Them,” an eerie, inspiring track. We delve into what makes Occasional Spectator’s signature sound, that he honed to a T from his home studio.

Rhys’s studio has some seriously sound essential gear: a Roland Gaia SH-01 Synthesizer, Focusrite 2i2 Scarlett Audio Interface, and an array of guitars and basses. Pro Tools anchors his production, and his trusted Nakamichi Stereo/Monitoring Speakers, though not studio-grade, offer a unique listening experience.  Check out his home studio gear below and stay tuned for more.



Roland Gaia SH-01 Synthesizer

I got this synth in 2016, and it has become an indispensable  part of my music-making process since I started the Occasional  Spectators project.

At the time when I got it, I really wanted to  see what it was like playing an actual synth that has the all the  tactile features that you can’t really experience in a plug-in.

The  onboard preset sounds are great, and you can really spend  ages just tweaking a sound and recording parts as a proper live  sort of take.

The oscillator function is very responsive, and it’s  awesome that you can switch between different waves too.

The synth also works brilliantly as a MIDI controller as well, and  that’s what I’ve been using it for mostly nowadays.

Playing  drum parts or any kind of digital instrument through it is really  fun. A workhorse of a synth.  

occasional spectator gear

Focusrite 2i2 Scarlett Audio Interface  

I started using this interface at the end of 2017, during my first  year of audio engineering studies at JMC Academy in Sydney,  and it was packaged as a bundle with a Focusrite condenser  microphone and headphones that I made use of a lot as I  began to record vocals.

It’s just a great and simple interface  that sounds good, and after years of use and a little wear and  tear, it still works perfectly.

The gain knobs work very well, and  connecting it to my monitor setup was super straightforward. 


Assorted Guitars/Basses: (Fender Squier Telecaster, Gretsch  Junior Jet Streamliner, Ibanez AGB260 Hollowbody, Ashton  AB4DF, and Fender FA-115 Dreadnought)  

These guitars are what I use whenever I need to record a guitar  or bass part for a track. I picked up my Telecaster at the end of  2016, and it was my primary guitar for writing/recording for a  long while until 2020, when I started to see what else was out  there guitar-wise.

The Gretsch Streamliner’s full and  humbucker-based sound is awesome, and it’s a cool contrast  compared to the Telecaster, which is a lot more wiry and thin.

I  often switch back and forth between the two when I’m  recording, just to get varied tones. I used the Fender FA-115  acoustic extensively during the making of Beauty Lies in  Pressing On, a record I released in June, and that was a fun  switch-up because I’d been focused for so long on just playing  electric.

For me, writing songs acoustically is a good challenge  as it gets me to try and just focus on the chords and melodies  as they are, without any added production elements or  synthetic parts to bolster the track.  

pro tools

Pro Tools and Various Plug-Ins 

Pro Tools has been my primary DAW since 2017 when I started  to learn how to use it in classes at JMC Academy. It was a bit  confusing and daunting at first, since I’d only been familiar with  GarageBand for years, but it wasn’t long until I started to get  used to how it worked.

For what I do songwriting and  production-wise, it fits my working method perfectly now.  There’s also plug-ins and programs within Pro Tools that I use  regularly. These include Guitar Rig 6 from Native Instruments, which is a lot more convenient to use than mic’ing up a loud  amp in my cramped studio.

It’s really easy to operate and  there’s just so many sonic possibilities once you start to explore  the effects and different amp emulation options.

It may not  have the ultra reactive sound of an actual amp, but for how  guitar fits in my songwriting, it works quite well. Xpand!2 from  AIR is a virtual instrument collection I’ve used since the very  start of the Occasional Spectators project, and the wide array  of synth and drum sounds that you can layer together in four  slots in a multi-timbral fashion makes it easy to become  inspired.

Addictive Drums 2 from XLN Audio is another  mainstay plug-in for me as well. Until I can find a real drum kit  and get it all mic’d up, AD2 does a pretty cool job of having all  of these natural drum kits ready to play through with MIDI.

I’ll  make use of it when I’m working on something that has a lot of  heavy rock-based guitars. Switching through and editing the  different drum components is fun as well, getting the right  snare sound for a song is something I always focus on.

All of  these elements run on my MacBook laptop.  

condenser mics

Rode NT1-A and Focusrite Scarlett Condenser Mics  

These are my two go-to vocal microphones. I used the  Focusrite mic initially for a long time and had no problems with  it, it’s just really cool and durable.

I switched over to the Rode a  few years ago, and its clarity and crispness is super noticeable.  


Nakamichi Stereo/Monitoring Speakers

I’ve had this stereo setup for about 10 years, and I’ve once I  started using it for monitoring purposes instead of relying on 

headphones, it opened up a new world in terms of working on  my mixing and listening to different elements. I don’t think  they’re proper studio-quality monitors, but they work really well  for what I do!

Listening to projects in that speaker sort of  environment just allows me to hear the bigger spectrum of  every sound I’m putting together.