Oakland Local and Oaktown Indie Mayhem present The Studio Series. One Oakland band, recorded in a local studio, highlighting the thriving local music community in our city. 

There are dozens of recording studios in Oakland alone, but it’s probably safe to say that SANTO Studio is the most recent studio to open its doors. The studio opened to the public in March after the long multiyear process of finding and renovating a former autoshop and apartment building from the 1950s.  The owners and friends, Josh Roberts and Christopher Sprague, spent many months searching for the right space.

“It was getting pretty sad at the end there,” said Sprague. “It’s really hard to find a spot right now, especially in Oakland, especially in West Oakland where we want to be. It’s really important for us to be in this neighborhood because that’s where our community is, and it’s where I live.”

The pair were looking for spaces for so long that they felt they pretty much knew every building in West Oakland that had potential, looking at 40 or so spots to find something workable.

“The best one was a basement of a [former] mortuary with low ceilings,” said Sprague.

“It was really cheap, and musty,” said Roberts.

“It was affordable and damp,” Sprague offered with a somewhat nicer spin.

“It was big though!” Roberts was quick to add.

Finally they found their current space which miraculously gave them 16-foot ceilings to work with, but finding the building was just the first step of the process. Then came the demolition, which took a month and two 15-yard bins of trash. Roberts and Sprague recycled as much as they could — for example, the floor boards of the main control room were pulled from the apartment upstairs.

For eight months, Sprague and Roberts became construction men because while they could afford to start their own studio, they couldn’t afford a construction crew. Instead they worked on the studio themselves with the help of a good friend and carpenter.

There is a lot of humility in the way that Sprague and Roberts talk about the studio. Though each wall and floor looks painstakingly designed, Roberts describes the success of the final product as serendipitous.

“We designed it all sort of by alchemy,” said Roberts. “We didn’t consult with an acoustician, which most people like to do before they build a recording studio from scratch, but hey, we got super lucky.”

The truth is that the combination of Sprague, a longtime musician, and Roberts, an accomplished sound engineer, meant that they had years of experience and positions upon which to call.

Over a year into the process, they held a live performance in the space and for the first time tested their project.

“We hadn’t recorded anything yet but we had a show, and we heard the way the room sounded and we were just grinning from ear to ear,” said Sprague.

The live performances at SANTO Studio have continued, and the plan is to have one or two a month. In fact, after being introduced to the lo-fi garage band Mall Walk through The Studio Series, the trio headlined a show at the studio in May.

Mall Walk has just recently returned after a West Coast tour that took them from the top of Washington state to Mexico. They’d just released a 7-inch which included the track they recorded at SANTO called “Criminal Code.” After the tour, which was fun but a bit grueling, they’re taking a break before thinking about recording anything new. Their session at Santo was especially loose.

“We don’t think about it too hard,” said bassist Dan Brown. “There’s a part in there where I’m allowed to do whatever I want.”

“Yeah, I mean there’s parts like that where you’re supposed to hit wrong notes,” said guitarist and vocalist Rob Miler. “Whatever wrong notes you choose are up to you at that point.”

For this session, Mall Walk were recorded and mixed by Jason Kick, an engineer who found himself at SANTO after a mutual friend connected him with Sprague. Like Sprague, Kick lives in the neighborhood and he’s found the studio’s aesthetics to be calming and especially conducive to creativity. Not only that, but the homey, friendly feel means that Kick feels a sense of pride working at the studio.

“I feel like it’s a feat of human innovation,” said Kick. “Like this floor didn’t exist a year ago, and these walls didn’t exist. This room was created completely from scratch and it just looks great. It just feels like I’m in someone’s brilliant idea, like you’re working inside someone’s vision. I love that.”

And that’s the biggest takeaway from SANTO: Sprague and Roberts both believe that happy people create good records, and creating a space where people want to hang out creates happy people. They share the same aesthetic and the same goals, and then there’s one more thing…

“We both like rugs,” said Roberts.

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