Energy Plant Arts builds ground floor for a flourishing music scene
When an organization is said to have been built by the founders “from the ground up,” it is generally a figure of speech. In the case of local recording house Energy Plant Arts, however, it’s quite literal.
“The studio was built entirely by volunteers,” said Robert “Bo” Brockman, director of operations at Energy Plant, as he discussed the studio’s history during a recent tour.
Brockman and his likeminded co-founders—Nasser Qabazard, Blag Ivanov and Tyler Weber—started Energy Plant in 2011 with the goal of providing local musicians a place to record and master their art on a reasonable budget.
The studio started out as a single cement-floored warehouse in the Gasoline Alley industrial complex on Highway 32, to which an entire second floor was added to house a control room stocked with professional recording equipment. There’s also an isolation room, as well as a beautiful live-recording room—lined with sound-dampening wall panels—that doubles as a cozy performance venue. All of the work was completed thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and paid for out of the founders’ collective pockets.
The finished product is impressive. Patterned rugs now cover the stripped and stained floor, and a large piece of avant-garde metalwork hangs from the ceiling against the backdrop of the warmly painted walls.
The day-to-day operations are handled by a board of directors composed of Brockman, Qabazard, YJ Carson and the recently added Josh Hegg. Both Qabazard (the chief financial officer) and Carson (director of programs and development) are Chico State alums, having majored in business and music, respectively. Hegg (community relations) and Ivanov (who has since moved, but remains involved remotely) also majored in music at Chico State, graduating with recording arts degrees. Brockman, a Chico native, is a self-taught musician and producer who began recording and mixing as a DJ in high school. Co-founder Weber is in charge of Web design, and does some work as an assistant engineer.
The studio also employs a handful of independent sound engineers, and since opening has recorded a wide range of local acts, including Strange Habits, metal crew Sorin and power-rockers Furlough Fridays. But as much as the studio is a studio, it’s also a hub for a range of local-arts activities—from live concerts and art shows to video shoots and band rehearsals.
“Ultimately what we want to see is Chico becoming a musical destination, instead of just a stopping point,” Brockman said. “Chico has produced tons of amazing bands over the years, and they’ve grown up here, developed their sound, and then when they get big enough, they have to move to the Bay, or to Portland. … We want to build support in Chico and make it feasible to stay here.”
To help in the scene-building, Energy Plant wants to focus on music education for the area’s musical youth, perhaps offering courses in audio engineering.
“We would like to make it accessible to some of the high-school-age kids in the area who may be underprivileged and would otherwise not have access to this kind of knowledge,” Brockman said.
Energy Plant already has begun making scholarship offers of sorts to local musicians—both bands and solo artists—in which community members are encouraged to donate and vote via Bandcamp and GoFundMe, and the group or artist with the most votes receives a series of free recording and mixing sessions to produce a 10-song album.
And for its latest project, Energy Plant has started collaborating with Hegg and the multidiscipline Uncle Dad’s Art Collective to produce a video series by the name of Energy Plant Sessions, in which artists will play intimate shows to small audiences at the studio, with professionally shot videos of the sets being released online the first Sunday of every month. The first session, which features local folk group Western Divide, was just recorded and posted online at www.energyplantsessions.org, and taping of the next one—featuring indie-experimental trio CITIES—takes place Tuesday, Nov. 11.
“We had a lot of help from a lot of other people,” read a post on the studio’s Facebook page. “And to Energy Plant that’s the most exciting part—that members of the community are increasingly willing to put in the time and love to collaborate with us.”