Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Room of One's Own: Band Practice Spaces

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 1:42 PM

click to enlarge drum_basement_space.jpg

Local rockers (and TLC grungifiers) Ocelots sent out a request today on the Twitters asking if anyone had ideas for a practice space. And I realized that a lot of the bands I know in Nashville practice (and many of them also record) in the house of one of their band members. Sure, there are some storage facilities that allow bands, and there are some more posh setups around town with P.A.s and couches and lights and showcase rooms, but very few of the sorts of squalid, thinly partitioned rock slums I recall from other cities--places everyone knew by word of mouth that played host to a steady stream of bands at all hours of the day and night.

I was once in a "band" in Chicago that "rehearsed" (when we rehearsed) in a gutted old apartment building on North Avenue. In addition to being at the edge of a fairly gang-infested neighborhood--we ordered from a carry-out place down the street once and counted the bullet holes in the front window while we waited for our sandwiches--it did not have heat. Winter in Chicago is not a good time to not have heat. Have you ever tried to warm your icy, icy fingertips by the faint orange glow of your amp's vacuum tubes? As you may have guessed, it doesn't work.

The bathrooms in these kinds of rehearsal spaces are almost never cleaned, unless someone throws up all over the place, and even then it might be a few days. Or longer. There is often carpet stapled or nailed to the wall, and it is almost always the color of tobacco spittle mixed with beer and termites and dandruff and sawdust. But rent is cheap, and that's why bands still use them in places where almost everyone in almost every band lives in an apartment.

As difficult as it can be getting one band to sync its members' schedules, it can be damn-near impossible getting three or more bands--all chipping in on rent to try to bring the cost of rockin' down as far as possible--to all agree to a schedule and actually stick to it. I once walked into a rehearsal space to find that not only was another band there when they weren't supposed to be, they were using our equipment and had spread it all over the room. They looked at me like, "Uh, hey. Uh." This is less likely to happen in your own basement. (At least I hope so.)

Anyway, as gross and inconvenient as the practice tenements can be, they also serve as de facto social centers: Bands talk to each other, book shows, steal ideas through the walls and generally get in each other's way--which can be productive and help foster a sense of community. Or resentment. I was once in a space that had two different Pixies cover bands that always practiced at the same time--one directly above, one down the hall. It almost ruined me on one of my favorite bands.

Since housing in Nashville is relatively cheap, a lot of bands choose the home rehearsal space route and are thus spared both the grossness and the community-building grossness of big city practice-dumps. Poster Children bassist (and one of my heroes) Rose Marshack once said something like, "The quality of bands in a city is inversely proportionate to the cost of living." Maybe there's something to that.

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