Local musicians Brian Bovenizer, Graham Nystrom and Nathan Crockett all had home studios. But they longed for a professional space without having to travel to Portland.
The trio, with help from other local musicians and friends, recently opened the Rope Room, a recording studio tucked inside a back room in the former Overbay Museum and Antique Autos Building on Exchange Street.
The studio hopes to also attract artists from Portland and Seattle looking to get out of their usual environments, come to Astoria and make records.
“The opposite being true for us,” Bovenizer said of local artists. “We want to stay in Astoria. We love Astoria. So to be able to stay here and make a record seems great.”
Inside, the Rope Room appears like an acoustically engineered hull of a ship, lined with acoustic panels and Persian rugs to absorb sound. Along the walls are thick maritime tow lines, the studio’s namesake, arranged like intestines inside wooden frames by local artist Andie Sterling.
“The ropes were in here, and we were kind of clapping, which can tell you what a room sounds like, and we thought, ‘Wow; this room sounds pretty good,’” Nystrom said. “And we went next door where there wasn’t any rope, and it didn’t sound very good.”
Nystrom, the station manager of Coast Community Radio, wired a post-production station along the wall for both digital and analog recordings. A central impetus for starting a studio was a 24-track tape machine he brought back from Nashville and rehabbed.
“I’m really excited to have the 1970s analog tape machine that’s just known for having a classic sound and is a big part of what you love about some of those records from that era,” he said. “And then we’ve got the full modern digital capabilities as well, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
Caitlyn Faircloth, of the local band Monica and the Shy Boys, was recently in the Rope Room producing the band’s crowdfunded debut album, one of the first productions coming out of the studio.
“It’s pretty cool for Astoria’s music scene,” Faircloth said. “This is a really great space to be available for all the artists here. I did not think my album would be able to sound the way it’s sounding.”
Helping her were fellow local musicians Kati Claborn and Olaf Ydstie. Everyone involved in the formation of the Rope Room is a musician themselves, and many play in each other’s bands, Ydstie said.
“It just kind of turns into a pretty cool pile of a lot of folks doing a lot of stuff together,” he said.
Bovenizer estimates between 15 and 20 bands in his circle of Astoria friends alone. Traveling to Portland for studio time can run a band between $500 and $1,000 a day, with no guarantee they’ll be happy with the finished product when they get home, he said.
“If you spend your whole budget tracking and mixing, then you’ve got nothing left for mastering and duplication and the artwork and stuff. Hopefully this creates capacity for all those other steps to get the treatment, the resources that are required to take it to the finish line.”
The Rope Room isn’t the first effort to provide a hub for regional artists. Jim Dwyer and Greg Duncan in the 2000s opened the Sound Bank, a recording studio and performance venue inside the former Astoria Bank building at Duane and 12th streets.
The building was later sold and turned into a wedding venue and eventually the Museum of Whimsy.
The Rope Room has started smaller, taking up a small portion of the building, a largely blank slate.
Throughout its history, the building has hosted part of the city’s former YMCA athletic club, the New Beginnings Christian School and an antique auto museum.
Building owner David Rafkind said he has been performing deferred maintenance but hasn’t settled on a grand vision. A self-described lover of music, he wanted to provide his friends a secluded space for professional recording.
People shouldn’t expect any parties, social gatherings or splashy events at the Rope Room, which is rentable through firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s not a social thing,” Bovenizer said. “It’s not just something you can pop into. It’s an art studio. That’s really what it comes down to.”