CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Bad breaks can become good opportunities.
That’s a theme Byzantine frontman Chris Ojeda reflected on while standing inside his latest projects, Trident Music Facility and Seven West Recording.
The building used to be an auto engine and transmission shop, near the end of Virginia Street on Charleston’s West Side.
From the street on a cloudy Saturday, it’s another anonymous building in a part of town that’s seen better days, easy to miss.
“When I found this place, I was just looking for a place to put the band,” Ojeda said.
But the more he looked at it, the more he saw potential and a fresh start, not just for Byzantine, but for other musicians, as well.
Byzantine was part of the collection of area musicians, artists, actors and boxers turned out of the old Purity Maid bread factory on Bigley Avenue in Charleston after the T-Rex Science Center took over the building in 2019.
They had all been renters. Some of the tenants had been there for more than a decade. The building had housed everything from rehearsal studios and costume shops to storage space for touring bands, including Byzantine.
The science center later moved from the Purity Maid building to a temporary location in the Southridge Center, but then closed in December 2020 after months of struggling with low attendance caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
By then all the former tenants had moved on.
“After the bakery, we just wanted to move ahead with a way to make music,” Ojeda said.
He found the old building up for auction, leveraged his finances and bought it.
“I got this place and I thought I could fix all the errors we made at the bakery,” he said.
Ojeda envisioned opening up the place for other musicians who could rent out rehearsal space and storage. He wanted to rent rooms for musicians to teach lessons and install a recording studio.
“I wanted to come up with an all-encompassing music facility, something that was more than a studio,” he said.
When Byzantine went out on tour, he explained, the band often stopped in at Tour Supplies facilities in Nashville, which offered rehearsal space for musicians just getting ready to head out on tour.
“They even had a room set up with a stage and open space, so you could see what your show was going to look like,” Ojeda said.
Rehabilitating the former garage was slow moving.
Byzantine has international status, but rock ’n’ roll is a part-time job. Ojeda remodels residential bathrooms. The pandemic canceled all live performances and then it put all of Ojeda’s other work on hiatus.
“COVID wiped out three months of my calendar,” he said.
Instead of staying home, Ojeda dove into working on the building, converting it from a garage for cars into a place for guitars.
He brought in sound engineers/musicians John Gasper and Aaron Fisher as partners to run Seven West Recording Studio, housed inside what has become the Trident Music Facility.
Gasper worked in Nashville and Los Angeles before returning to West Virginia about a year ago. Fisher, a veteran local performer, owned a recording studio in Sissonville for 19 years before deciding to join up with Ojeda and Gasper.
“It was hard,” Fisher said. “It was a very emotional thing to tear that down and come here. I wanted to move forward. I wanted to move on but coming here was a whole new chapter and that wasn’t an easy thing for me to do.”
The building is mostly finished. There’s heat, water, electricity and access to the internet.
Individual rooms have been soundproofed and insulated from each other.
“We put in double drywall and there’s a barrier in between rooms,” he said.
The construction helps cut down on music from individual rooms carrying next door.
The recording studio is ready to go.
“The hardest part was raising the floor,” Ojeda said. “We had to do that to eliminate the bass noise from the rest of the building.”
The building still retains a bit of the industrial aesthetic, which is meant to be part of the charm of Trident.
Ojeda already has a few tenants who have claimed rehearsal rooms. The facility also has a couple of musicians who want to use the building for rehearsals and some others that are in discussions about recording.
“We’ve got a couple of great, local recording studios in Charleston,” the singer said. “We’re trying to add to that community and also bring something different.”
With the size of the space, Ojeda said they hoped to make Trident and Seven West more of a destination for bands. Ojeda said they have already been contacted by a couple of musicians from outside the state who were interested in coming to Charleston to record.
“We’re hours closer to where they are than where they usually go,” he said.
Gasper said, “Everything has changed. Everybody wants to go to the studio and make it an experience.”
A change of scenery can be good creatively.
“We feel like we could really bring some business to Charleston. People have to eat somewhere,” Fisher said. “We want to be good for the local economy.”
He added that his former studio in Sissonville supported the local restaurants. The studio attracted out of area dollars.
The facility is off to a promising start, but there’s still uncertainty.
“Byzantine’s booking agent has lined up a bunch of shows for us this summer,” Ojeda said. “But all of them come with that caveat. We think they’re going to happen, but nobody knows just yet.”
Musicians have to make money in order to spend money on rehearsal space, lesson rooms or recording studio time.
They have to wait it out. In the meantime, Ojeda said he wanted to finish the lounge area and make it more comfortable for people to just hang out. Down the road, he’d like to install solar panels on the roof and make the building energy efficient.
“That just sounds so metal to me,” he said and laughed. “You’ve got to have goals.”