by Kevin Hamilton of Southwest Soul Circuit
I can remember a day when I was walking down Congress Street in downtown Tucson a little over a year ago. I saw an open door to the old sheet music store which was a part of Chicago Music Store and had been recently closed. I curiously looked into this huge old building that had been completely gutted. They even pulled up the boards of the wooden floor and all that remained were dirt floors and red brick walls. Robbie Williams came out of the dark empty room to greet me, and it wasn’t long that he answered my question “we’re building a recording studio”. I was immediately excited. In my mind, the more musicians and producers who are producing great work here, the better our music community will become.
Robbie introduced me to the new owner, Steven Lee Tracy, who was dirty from all of the hard manual labor he was doing. From the beginning, I realized that Steven looked young, but had a lot of experience in the music industry. We talked about music and community. He told me of his aspirations to build a studio that could serve as a community resource. One year later, I received an invite from Steven to the grand opening of Saint Cecilia Studios and the studio was more than I could have imagined.
His studio is unlike any I’ve ever been in. It’s in the heart of the downtown Tucson community. The retail display windows of the sheet music store were converted into small stages with countertops used to plug in your computer or recharge your phone, and is a place where people can gather or hangout. I learned during his grand opening event that Steven had received a little guidance on decor and studio layout from another musician who’s a very successful Tucson architect, Rob Paulus. The place is very nice.
There is an A and B studio in the facility. The Studio A control room has a large format mixing console which is the focal piece of the room. The room is very comfortable with soft lighting, elegant fixtures, thoughtful placement of equipment and a soothing color scheme. That’s where I sat down with him to conduct my SWSC Magazine interview.
Steven told me that he is originally from Tucson and was ready to leave town as soon as he could. During his late teens and early twenties, life presented many challenges. During his time of living a trouble life, his father bought him a guitar which changed his life. “I started playing the guitar and couldn’t put it down”, said Steven with the passion of a teenager who found direction in life through music. Soon after receiving his guitar, Steven bought a reel-to-reel recorder and quickly developed a knack for balancing his live playing with recording. When I asked about his musical influences, he’s not very nostalgic. He said “ . . . somehow I wasn’t born with a rear view mirror . . . It’s hard for me to remember what made me exited then, because I listen to it now and it’s not exciting to me anymore.” However, he currently gets excited about artists who are doing things that relate to his life now. “ . . . David Byrne of the Talking Heads got involved with St. Vincent and there’s something about a guy 25 years down the road from me still being creative and pushing limits and he didn’t settle . . . he’s still pushing boundaries . . . I’m always asking how do you keep the curiosity and excitement for creating music.”
Once he finally got a chance to leave Tucson and “explore the world”, Steven’s music career began to take shape. Steven moved to Seattle and lists Ironwood Studios as a place where he furthered his musical education. Shortly after, he and his studio partner opened Sonorous Studios in the B room of Ironwood. He gained entrepreneurial skill at the age of 17 years old when he started a grocery delivery service. He always had a nagging “suspicion that he didn’t want to have a boss”, he said.
Steven started playing in a Seattle based band The Myriad while producing other bands. The Myriad received record label attention soon after he joined the band. They signed their first indie deal and started hitting the road. Their first full-length record was released in 2005. They never stopped writing music. They took a chance and self-produced their follow-up record “With Arrows, With Poise”. This project was picked up by Kock Records, which made them label mates with Snoop Dog and Sinead O’Connor. A few years later, they were named MTV’s 2008 breakout band of the year. Their music video for “A Clean Shot” played on heavy rotation on MTV and MTV2. They continued to tour heavily with artists such as Switchfoot, Eisley, Lovedrug, Athlete, and many others. After 8 years of touring, Steven decided to move his studio to the B room of Matt Goldman’s “Glow in the Dark Studios” in Atlanta.
No matter how long you’re away, Tucson has a funny way of summoning you back. Steven and his wife were looking to open another recording studio. Through a long, meticulous process, Tucson seemed to be the right place at the right time. Downtown Tucson’s recent economic upswing made the move attractive. A “perfect building” became available which created a situation that was hard to refuse. Also, Steven’s mother, father and brother all live in town and provide family support. Saint Cecilia Studios may not have located to a huge music market, but it can surely take advantage of a burgeoning musical events/production environment in a community where there’s the Fox Tucson Theatre, Rialto Theatre, Wave Lab Studios, 2nd Saturdays Downtown and Southwest Soul Circuit all working well together. Towards the end of our interview, Steven shared with me that there’s “. . . a weird balance between art and commerce . . . I remember somebody told me early on, in context of my band, nobody will care about your band more than you do; not your label, not your manager, your booking agent, nobody. You will care more than anybody . . . I found that to be true in business, with the studio and with life. In building this place, nobody’s gonna care if something is slightly crooked more than I would care, so I definitely try to be hands on as much as I can.” With his teammate/wife by his side, Steven looks to be a resource to the Tucson community for years to come.