You can never have enough good neighbors. I think that Mark Twain said that. And in the spirit of that indelible sentiment, we were stoked to hear that Spacebomb Studios had moved into a new studio right down the street. Matt White’s music is on a pretty heavy rotation here at the office. Maybe for his follow up effort Matt will recruit a few of us to lend a hand in the rhythm section. We’ve been known to shake a tambourine or two around town. That’s how making records works, right?
Speaking of recording music, Spacebomb is in a category of its own. Picking up where labels like Stax, Atlantic and Motown left off, the studio is putting out arrangements that sound big, distinctive, and complex. Often recording on analog recording equipment with full string sections, horns, and backing choirs, Spacebomb adds warmth and texture to their music. It’s an approach that has defined and differentiated their sound.
We first spoke with Matt and Spacebomb on the blog shortly after the studio released their first full length album, Big Inner. That was way back in 2012, and we realized that we were long overdue for a follow up. We grabbed our tambourines and rolled down to the new space to meet with Matt, Trey Pollard, and Cameron Ralston of the Spacebomb team to learn more about studio’s growth and maybe lay down some funky tracks.
Big Inner and the Outer Face E.P. received a considerable amount of attention. How did these albums add to the momentum at Spacebomb?
Matthew: Big Inner took on a life of its own. I think it did a lot of things that were unexpected for me, as well as my solo career. For Spacebomb, it allowed us to gain national and international recognition for an album that we made and produced in Richmond. It helped spread awareness of Spacebomb, bring in resources and develop relationships. It accomplished all the kinds of things that we could only hope for when we were trying to grow a business with low profile.
Cameron: While we were on tour, we got to be ambassadors for Spacebomb. It was a great and unexpected gift. We’re trying to export Richmond out to the world, as well as the people who we’re associated with as a community. I think the spreading awareness of Spacebomb was the greatest benefit. With Matthew having a lot of success as a solo artist, he was given the forum to talk about Spacebomb to a large audience, which was great for all of us.
Richmond’s music community is an important part of Spacebomb. What characteristics about our city allow the record label to be based here?
Matthew: Spacebomb isn’t just about being proud of where we’re from. What we’re doing couldn’t exist in that many other places and that’s key to understanding how we think about Richmond: why we’re proud of it, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re able to institute a business model and plan that’s unique in the landscape of popular music. A lot of this is related to the musicians that are coming out of VCU and the musicianship and skills that they’re being taught. We’re able to do things here that we couldn’t do anywhere else in terms of small market cities. Richmond is unique because the amount of people and quality of talent that is here. As a freelance musician, you’re often doing things that aren’t ideal and you get stuck in the pattern of not being able to be creative in the way that you would like. Spacebomb is an attempt to create a business and creative community where we can do things that we’d like to do in our careers here.
Trey: We’ve been able to take these great musicians from the music community and create something bigger than that. So we’re not just one band making one record every couple of years, but we are a group of people making a records with Natalie Prass, Grandma Sparrow, Howard Ivans and Matthew. If we didn’t have that community of really strong players here, Spacebomb wouldn’t be possible.
Last time we caught up, Spacebomb Studios was based inside the attic of Matthew’s house. Was the move to a larger studio inevitable? Was that the plan all along?
Matthew: Moving into this space was a combination of really practical things and some nice opportunities that came up. Since the beginning, we were very aware that the attic would not be a long-term solution. Not just because of the quality of that space, but in terms of city development because the street that we live is being zoned for commercial use. There was an element of, “let’s get out of here before we get into a really tough spot.” The attic has its charms, but we didn’t choose to use it because it was an amazing place. We chose it because it was a space that worked and was available.
Trey, and his business partner Ryan, had a studio here together before us. While Trey and I were on tour, we got to talking about it and it was a very mutually beneficial situation where they would hand the space over to Spacebomb and we’d be able to expand what we could do and what we could offer in terms of production and inviting other people in. In the new space, we’re able to offer a fuller package here. Now we have the players, the music and the space, as well as a place that Spacebomb can really call our home and headquarters. When we would bring people into a 100-degree attic, this was a little difficult.
Trey: We never did all the records in the attic. We’d do a big chunk in the attic, and then have to go into another studio to finish them up. Spacebomb would inevitably have to use this space anyway. There was a time when there were more Spacebomb recordings happening here, than in the attic. So the move here really made sense. Our recording process hasn’t changed, but now everything is much easier and more streamlined.
When taking a listen to the albums that Spacebomb has produced, there’s a distinct style to the sound. The arrangements are complex and feel big. How do you get there?
Trey: The Spacebomb sound is one that doesn’t happen any other way. No amount of time spent in the studio with one person and over dubbing them can create that. There’s a way to get there, and that just happens to be what we like doing – writing complex arrangements and bringing a large group of musicians together.
Matthew: There’s sort of a musical brain trust among Trey, Cameron, Pinson and me. We have our various roles but we develop the core of whatever we’re working on. Sometimes we have project leaders, but most of the time, we’re all working together to develop a soul for whatever the project is. What we like to do most is bring in different sections, strings for example, and have them be a part of what we’re making. It’s just as simple as having a long list of musicians that we love and being able to reach out to them. They happen to be our friends, and also people who are great at what they do.
What’s next for Spacebomb?
Matthew: We have Natalie Prass’ record that we will be releasing soon. We’re excited about this because it’s an album that we’ve had an immense amount of faith in from the beginning, plus it will allow us to have a bit of closure on the first chapter of the records that we made. Big Inner, Grandma Sparrow, Howard Ivans and Natalie Prass got us to this point. It got us significantly more structure as a company. It also got us a space to work in, a bit of international recognition, and business coming in. Once we get Natalie’s record out, we’ll take a look at what the landscape is like and continue to make records.
Spacebomb is a big idea and it takes a lot of energy to get it off the ground. It’s a whole group of people trying to make music in the way that we want to do it. Typically, major record companies were making records like this during a time in the industry when they were overflowing with resources. We’re trying to do the same thing in a small market town on a small label. It requires a lot of support from record buyers and for people who believe in what we’re doing.
It’s been exciting but also a bit scary. The music industry is the Wild West. The historical ways of producing music are gone and don’t exist anymore. What are left are the things that might be changing too. We’re sitting right in the middle, with a business model and process that’s unique and plays to a lot of the strengths of what’s changing. It’s been tricky trying to find our way, but it’s exciting.
To give us an idea of the music that they’re listening to and feeling inspired by, the Spacebomb team put together, Autumn Is Coming, a Spotify playlist. Stream the playlist here.