Show Us Your Space: Spacebomb Studio, a House Band's Homebase

Welcome to the latest installment of Show Us Your Space, a Reverb series that explores and celebrates the unique music-making environments of studio owners, independent builders, and musicians at all levels.

Throughout the last few years, we've had virtual tours of recording spaces from all over the world—from Árbol Naranja in Bogota, Colombia to Bern, Switzerland's Influx Studios. Today, we're staying in the US but going somewhere truly special, Spacebomb Studio.

As the all-purpose recording space for Spacebomb Records, Spacebomb Studio brings the analog, old-school recording ethos of Matthew E. White to life. It's a place where songwriters work on their craft, where a label's house band can all sit together and work out an arrangement, and where the homemade feel seeps into records by White, Natalie Prass, Hiss Golden Messenger, and more.

As The Guardian has said, "There is something deeply odd about Spacebomb. It's not just that they have done the one thing that everyone in the music business agrees you shouldn't do in a world where anyone can make an album in their bedroom: set up a recording studio. It's that they set up a recording studio along the lines of Stax or Motown."

Keep reading to hear straight from Spacebomb. Check out Spacebomb Records' website here to learn more.

Have you assembled a great practice space, project studio, or music workshop? Be sure to drop us a line at showusyourspace@reverb.com.


Spacebomb Records in Richmond, Virginia, was started in 2011 as a record label built around a house band model. Being a label that was producing its own records and backing up featured artists with the house band and extensive arrangements (think strings, horns, woodwinds, et. al.), the studio we work out of has always been a center of our creative energies.

We are on our third iteration of Spacebomb Studios. The first was in the attic of the house where Matthew E. White (producer, recording artist, Spacebomb founder) and Pinson Chanselle (house band drummer) lived, and it consisted of not much more than an old Fostex 16-channel 1/4" tape machine and a few random microphones inherited and salvaged over the years. The second studio was a small project studio inherited from a Spacebomb family member's defunct recording studio business, with a "live" room the size of a booth and a vocal booth the size of a closet.

Lots of records were made in these two early studios, but we constantly struggled to complete entire projects solely in-house and always had to migrate to a larger space at some point in the process. Spacebomb was becoming known for big sounds and big live arrangements but didn't quite have the complete studio space to pull that off the way the outside world was envisioning and talking about.

The new Spacebomb Studio, in Richmond's Fan District, is the most qualified to be the home of this house-band-centric and arrangement-heavy production team. Designed by Spacebomb engineer Adrian Olsen and in-house arranger/producer Trey Pollard, the studio was built in a shell of a building that used to be a fabric warehouse.

Construction finished in January 2019 and was built to accommodate Spacebomb's unique workflow and production techniques, featuring a large live room for tracking a large band, all-in-the-room-together, and that can fit the likes of a 40-piece string section. One booth and a few amp cubbies complement the live room for a bit of isolation if needed. But the ethos of Spacebomb has always been the people in the room, so tons of isolation isn't critical for our recording process.

Live Room

The 1,290-square-foot live room is the main reason we built a new studio. Constantly having to hire out larger studios to track full band and orchestral sessions had become untenable. The studio was definitely designed around making the live room as large as we could squeeze out of our new building. The walls are lined with an ever-growing collection of vintage and modern instruments.

We have a nice collection of guitars and basses, like a 1962 Gibson ES-355, a '70s Guild 12-string, house bassist Cameron Ralston's workhorse '72 Fender Jazz Bass, an old '60s Kay upright bass, as well as one of our favorite sounds, the Fender Bass VI. Keyboards range from the vintage go-tos like the Wurlitzer 200A, Rhodes 73, Farfisa, Hammond organ and Leslie, a Yamaha U3 upright piano as well as modern toys like the Prophet-6 and Moog synths.

A drum and percussion rack is wonderfully curated and cared for by Spacebomb's house drummer Pinson Chanselle. There are some old vintage amps like a 1966 Fender Twin Reverb and a 1967 Ampeg Portaflex B-15 bass amp, as well as some modern workhorses. Outliers like timpani, marimba, and orchestral chimes are a part of the cherry-on-top sonic touchstones of Spacebomb productions. One of the most important elements of the room, that we worked very hard to cultivate, is that it just feels good. It features large sound panels/art pieces designed by Spacebomb art director Travis Robertson, and we hear from visiting musicians that it's just a great room to be in. A good baseline for starting any recording project.

Control Room

Our control room, like the rest of our studio, is a mix of old and new gear. Our goal is always to be inspired by the sounds but also pragmatic about how we achieve them. Not purists about only vintage stuff, we always say we have "no morals" when it comes to sounds, however best to achieve what we're aiming for.

We use a '70s MCI JH-110 8-track tape machine for tracking basic rhythm tracks or bouncing things to and from it. A current favorite is a 1980 Lexicon Prime Time Model 93. It's got some of the darkest delay sounds, and it approaches becoming its own instrument when using the hold button to grab short loops and then using the VCO to change the pitch.

We're constantly building sounds from sampling our string sessions or keyboards and then running it to the Prime Time. It quickly becomes the favorite of any new visitors once they see it in action. In this same vein, an old Roland RE-301 Space Chorus/Echo is similarly in constant use.

There's a bunch of new-ish stuff up front for us as well, like our Cadac J-Type 28-channel console which sounds killer, we monitor through Focal Twin6 BEs and the rack features a bunch of modern 500-series preamps (Neve, Chandler) and various channel strips and compressors like the Universal Audio LA-2A, EL8 Distressors, BAE 10DCs, an Avalon 737, and others. Another favorite that lives in the control that you'll hear on tons of Spacebomb records is an old Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. Put a Big Muff pedal in line and go.

Microphones

Our mic locker is as pragmatic as it comes. Save for a pair of 1972 Neumann U87s, it's pretty much all modern workhorse stuff. Our favorites include a pair of Coles 4038 ribbons—which we use as a stereo pair on just about anything, but of course shine on brass instruments, strings, guitar amps and drum overheads—and a pair of Mojave MA-200 tube mics (these sound amazing, especially considering the cost). We've been using these as vocal mics and drum overheads. Of course, we have the usual suspects of AKG, Neumann, Shure, Sennheiser, and others' fare that fill out our collection.

A mix of modern and vintage, pragmatic and inspiring, Spacebomb Studio is built on an old recording model, while still being able to function in a malleable, modern way. We've built a studio that's comfortable for our day-in day-out production work as well as welcoming to the artists that come from around the world to work with us and our musicians.

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