If you heard there was a series of music studios hidden under Old Navy on State Street, good luck finding the way in. The entrance has simply vanished, sealed over in a recent renovation. But the music that was produced there still exists and tells a story of underground, sometimes accidental collaboration, and a heightened period of creativity for a close-knit group of Santa Barbara musicians.
“We thought of it as our own little Brill Building,” said music producer Craig Costigan, referring to the famous New York songwriter space that produced music by Carole King and Burt Bacharach. From 2004-2008, Costigan rented a rehearsal space and recording studio that he dubbed the Garage Mahal under what is now Core Power Yoga.
During that time, Costigan and his friends produced around 35 albums of alternative, singer-songwriter based rock music.
At its height, the space at 1129 State Street had five studios operating underfoot. Ostensibly a storage unit business, musicians starting with Rey Villalobos of Coral Sea found the rooms made for great rehearsal space. They were private and rent was very cheap, just over $100 a month.
“It was cool, downtown, quiet and right near the Sportsman,” said Costigan. And on some nights it was busy as the rooms filled with music.
“We bled (sound) all over each other’s recordings all the time,” he said.
The space was not up to code, but it really didn’t matter how rough things were.“The biggest concern was all the smoking and the bad air,” Costigan said. “Everybody was friends with everybody and everybody was working on music, and so it led to non-stop collaboration between the different people that were down there.”
This cross pollination came through on an album like Jeff Sparks’ White Fires of Venus project. Costigan recorded half the album, Zach Madden recorded the other half next door, and Bruce Winter mastered it.
Costigan said this type of collaboration was unusual. “The music scene has always been fragmented in Santa Barbara,” he said. This time, though, everybody was cool with each other. ”It kind of made everybody a little bit better.”
By 2008, changes were coming to State Street, with more national chains moving in. The financial crash affected many of the mom and pop stores. When clothing retailer Old Navy announced it was taking over the large retail space on the corner of Anapamu and State, once home to the Earthling Bookshop, it wanted the underground space for storage.
There is a song devoted to the space, though: Musician Jeff Sparks’ “As the Night Rolls On.” It name checks many of the people involved, including the perpetually tardy Jason Bays of the Spires.
Craig Costigan put together a small list of artists and recordings from that time.
In part four, our final post, we go searching for military research labs and speakeasies.
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Curious Coast is a project made possible by the supporters of KCRW and a grant from Antioch University Santa Barbara.