Saint Cecilia Studios: If You Build It, They Will Rock

April 1, 2014

The exterior has a new coat of paint to differentiate it from Chicago Store's new look, but the red hue is actually quite similar to the look the old store sported for decades in Downtown Tucson.

The exterior has a new coat of paint to differentiate it from Chicago Store’s renovated look, but the red hue is actually quite similar to the look the old store sported for decades in Downtown Tucson.

by James J. Jefferies

If there’s one thing that Downtown Tucson has long been known for, it is certainly as a hot spot for incoming bands. Not quite yet a destination for arena-size mega-tours that feature the overexposed likes of Beyoncé, but many up-and-coming acts who find it difficult to pass upon the thriving scene and electric atmosphere that comes with playing Club Congress or The Rialto. It’s an energy incredibly conducive to musicians looking to hone their skills and take it to that next level as touring professionals, not to mention have a hell of a time. (This is rock n’ roll.)

Steven Lee Tracy has a vision for a studio complex, right in the heart of this burgeoning environment, that would not only serve as a fantastic recording facility, but also as a potential way point for smaller bands not quite as well known to link with other artists whose talents could benefit their work. That vision has resulted in what is now known as Saint Cecilia Studios, which will begin operation in earnest in April at 128 E. Congress.

Work continues daily on the historic address at 128 E. Congress, but it won't be long before the saws give way to axes of the electric variety.

Work continues daily on the historic address at 128 E. Congress, but it won’t be long before the saws give way to axes of the electric variety.

The very front of the building will still have the large-windowed retail-style façade, but it will serve as a terrific vantage point for visiting artists to mellow out or people-watch. “The front area is going to be a coffee bar, so clients that are here can just relax, check their email, take a break between sessions,” said Tracy. “We’d really like this entire place to be a spot where different kinds of musicians, writers, and artists can connect.”

The recording rooms are simple and sparse, but each one is adorned with a specifically-chosen chandelier. “The chandeliers are just kind of a theme throughout the whole place,” said Tracy. Tracy and his cohorts rummaged through old antique stores in Bisbee to find some cool pieces that would fit their old-time motif.

While only some of the recording gear has actually arrived, the building will not stay silent for long. “We’re actually scheduled to begin recording sessions in April,” said Tracy. There’s also a planned kitchen/dining and bathroom area that will occupy the back of the first floor, and second floor ‘apartment’ of sorts, which will come in handy for acts that plan to crash there overnight. “I used to tour myself, and I can remember setting up our merchandise table, with a little sign that would say, ‘Need a place to stay.’ It can be really dodgy on the road, and I’d love to be able to help people out,” said Tracy.

The historic location required quite a bit of elbow grease to get it where it is today. “This used to be the sheet music department for Chicago Store for a long, long time,” said Tracy. As we walk through the lower floor, great deal of work to be done remains, but things are definitely taking shape, and there is exposed brick and beautifully ornate light fixtures in the walls, which evokes an old-performance hall-vibe, especially with the newly-installed, lightly stained wooden floors. “There were no existing electric lights or anything on this side, so we had to build everything from the ground up.” said Tracy. “I spent a lot of time on YouTube figuring out how to do different things!”

This lovely chandelier is emblematic of the look Steven Lee Tracy has in mind for Saint Cecilia. It's a style that remains reverent of the building's history intended to inspire those who will record here.

This lovely chandelier is emblematic of the look Steven Lee Tracy has in mind for Saint Cecilia. It’s a style that remains respectful of the building’s history, and intended to provide inspiration to those who will record here.

In terms of lining up the lease, the timing just happened to work incredibly well for Tracy, who had just returned to his native Tucson after more than ten years elsewhere. “I was actually looking at this other property, which just happened to fall through when this spot came available,” said Tracy. It still took more than two months to simply get the place ready for any kind of renovation. “Chicago Store had used this for all of their broken or unwanted gear, and (the second floor) was floor-to-ceiling with all kinds of decaying instruments and junk,” said Tracy. “That was part of the agreement, was that we had to deal with whatever they left.”

Tracy allowed interested parties to sift through whatever instruments might have been salvageable, but there were still eleven rolling dumpsters full of stuff that had to be hauled off. While the lower floor has a very specific layout with the recording booths and lounge area, the plan for the upper floor is a bit more nebulous at this point, beyond the idea for band lodging. “I’d really like for this area to be flexible,” said Tracy. “It would be great if it could double as a recording spot for a really large orchestra/string section or something along those lines.”

Tracy is quite bullish on the prospects for Downtown Tucson. “I came out here about a year ago, and was just completely floored by the fact that this was all actually happening here,” said Tracy. Given the number of other like-minded passionate people taking action to make their dreams a reality on Congress, Steven Lee Tracy’s new venture definitely comes along as a welcome new addition to the neighborhood, and for musicians either based in the Old Pueblo or just passing through, a potentially excellent new fixture in an already thriving Downtown music scene. Saint Cecilia Studios can be found on the web here.

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