If you’re a singer-songwriter who only needs an acoustic guitar for company, you can create and rehearse your music pretty much anywhere. But if you’re in a band, you need a place to spread out and be loud without bringing down nearby property values—or the police.
Bands in Asheville are so desperate for affordable spaces that there’s enthusiastic support—and growing financial support—behind an effort to open what would amount to just four rehearsal spaces.
“We know it’s kinda tiny and it’s not gonna accommodate everybody,” said Brett Spivey, a music producer in town partnering with Claude Coleman Jr., best known over the past 24 years as the drummer for the rock band Ween.
“We’re trying to use this to work toward a larger facility that’s gonna accommodate enough people in town,” Spivey said.
He and Coleman want to convert the former Rabbit’s Cafe and Motel in Asheville’s South Slope into what they’re calling SoundSpace.
If all goes according to plan—and that’s a gigantic if—SoundSpace will open in mid-2019 with four rehearsal rooms and then, over a second phase, add two more rehearsal rooms, along with a soul-food restaurant. It’s an ambitious proposal, with an even more ambitious timeline.
Their IndieGoGo campaign has raised about a third of the $70,000 they need for the downpayment to buy the property, and there are competing offers breathing down their necks.
“Literally, we need it sort of now, actually, like at the end of this interview, we’re going to putting a call into our business planner and discussing what we can do to give us another few days of leeway time,” Coleman said.
In most cities with healthy music scenes, there are at least one if not several complexes—entire warehouses—subdivided and converted into use for bands to rehearse. They offer secured access around the clock and quality sound isolation. Coleman and Spivey intend to outfit their studios with PA systems and other equipment that will allow bands to bring their instruments, plug in and get to work.
“We’ve been trying to put this together for a bunch of years now,” Coleman said. “We’ve just been trying to find a willing property owner to go along with us and share our purpose with what we’re trying to do.”
But the business model for these spaces is tricky. Most bands don’t have the kind of money on their own to pay the kind of rent that owners need to charge to make it worth their while, so bands end up sharing spaces with two, three or four other bands. People come in and out, renege on their commitments. It can be a mess.
Tony Black lives in Waynesville and for the past two years has been the bassist for the Marshall Tucker Band. But several years back, he converted a former dance studio in the River Arts District into a rehearsal room for bands. He got out of it after a year.
“I don’t know if it was just a place to hang out and have parties. If it was a midlife crisis or a man-cave hangout I was trying to create for myself,” Black said.
Black discovered one challenge right away: There weren’t enough bands in Asheville earning enough money from their gigs to warrant devoting, say, 20 percent of that income to a rehearsal space.
“Everybody’s been hunkering down in the basements and garages and storage lockers for a long time, and I think it would take a little bit of time to establish one,” Black said. “You’d have to float it for a while before it took off.”
But the market has evolved just in the past few years. Local bands that were willing to live with the horrible sound storage lockers offer have been recently kicked out of those lockers, and as more and more bands make Asheville their home, there are more bands needing space.
“The scene is becoming more multi-dimensional. There’s a considerable amount of rock, of jam bands,” Coleman said. “And there’s a lot of kids and adults and hobbyists now in the game of making the art of music.”
On top of the challenge of building and operating the studios, Spivey and Coleman are also determined to add a soul-food restaurant, honoring the history of the Rabbit Cafe.
“It took one brewery in this town and look where we’re at now,” Spivey said. “We’re not going to be the next ice cream shop. We’re building something to help this community and town.”