They say necessity is the mother of invention, right? For Tony Aguilar, a native Southern Californian, and his wife/partner, Meg Castellanos, Eastside Rehearsal became a necessity when storied band practice space Downtown Rehearsal closed on Dec. 1, 2015.
The couple, longtime musicians who moved to Los Angeles in 2009 after almost two decades in the Bay Area, were tenants at Downtown Rehearsal and knew what was coming well before the closure was announced. “About a year ago, I heard a rumor that the owners of the building were not returning calls to the owner of Downtown Rehearsals to renew the lease,” Aguilar says. “I started seeing limos pulling up [in the neighborhood], and all of the sudden there were all of these galleries and expensive restaurants and I started to see the writing on the wall.”
This development meant trouble for not only Aguilar and Castellanos, who play together in the bands Alma Sangre and All Souls, but also for many of their peers, who now would need a new place to hone their craft. So Aguilar began looking for a place in which to open up a new rehearsal space, preferably close to their Boyle Heights home.
“There has never been a place like this in East L.A. before,” Aguilar says, citing Eastside Rehearsal's quality gear and back-line equipment ready to use in each room. “You’ve always had to drive to other parts of the city.”
“Tony and I had a vision to create a space for musicians in our neighborhood to practice in,” Castellanos adds. “Something well-designed, clean and professional.” They found the perfect space on Cesar Chavez Avenue, just a 10-minute walk from their house — but it wasn't exactly move-in ready. “The warehouse needed a ton of work,” she says. “It was in shambles since it was recently an abandoned illegal marijuana growing operation.”
The renovation of a former grow house into a 1,600-square-foot practice facility with four soundproofed rooms was a huge undertaking for the couple. In addition to the actual construction work, there were also issues with their landlords — plural because the building was sold to a new owner just a month after they got their lease — and with multiple contractors.
Aguilar has strong feelings about the latter. “I had all these people tell me it needed to be this or that and come back with some bid of, like, $40,000 for doing some framing. There’s a lot of contractors that bullshit you and try to scare you right off to get you to go with them so they can basically just rob you fucking blind.”
During the construction, Aguilar and Castellanos burned through their savings (and then some) and reached out to their friend, longtime East L.A. teacher and musician Eddie Rivas, who also runs Total Annihilation recording studio. As a member of the band Leopold, the 42-year-old Rivas cut his teeth in the Los Angeles music scene and met Aguilar and Castellanos during their formative musical years.
“I’ve always felt Boyle Heights is one of those places where the talent tends to leave the area, rather than reinvest in the community. Until we do that, we’re always going to be at the mercy of developers, and the city,” Rivas says.
Since Eastside Rehearsal opened in February, business has been steadily picking up. With no marketing budget, Aguilar uses social media and fliers to spread the word, and the space is making a name for itself among musicians. Already such well-known local players as Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins and Fredo Ortiz (Beastie Boys, Gogol Bordello) have booked time there. While it can't replace Downtown Rehearsal (a lockout facility with more than 60 practice rooms) all by itself, it's the kind of space that can have a much bigger impact on the L.A. music community than its modest dimensions might suggest.
“It took nine months of mayhem, taking a loan out on our house and maxing out two credit cards. But it was totally worth it to see the studio get filled up with musicians from all backgrounds,” Castellanos says. “Metal kids from East L.A., professional bands coming in for preproduction, banda, mariachis. I hear we have the best rental equipment in town, so the rockers will eventually find us.
“And,” she adds with evident relief, “I finally have a place to practice again!”