Recognizing a dearth of affordable rehearsal and performance spaces in Portland, Ian Smith hollowed out an old tanning salon and built his own. He opened Sun Tiki Studios in April of last year, in partnership with drummer Cecil Gardner, and the spot has since become a hub for underground bands to perform, practice and party.
They’re closed for renovations now, but when Sun Tiki reopens in late March, Smith says to expect a new bar and expanded hours, conjuring the late, great ‘90s night club Zootz as one of the only spots open until 3 am for late-night dance parties. We caught up with Smith to discuss why a space like Sun Tiki is necessary.
What are you trying to accomplish with Sun Tiki?
It’s a practice space for people who can’t swing a full-time space, who are low-budget, and who don’t practice enough. We’re trying to provide space for the music scene in all its forms.
What kind of musicians and bands use this space?
We’ve got the rock ‘n’ roll and indie-punk scene, then there’s the hip-hop, beats people, and dance-style DJs. We’ve got dozens of different bands, veteran musicians, or solo people coming in and out. Breakwater Middle School comes in Friday afternoons. The Burundi drumming group are regulars, they’re so loud that they don’t care if a band is practicing in the background. One of our first bands was Crunchcoat. The woman who writes and sings for them, Danny Bailey, is one of our biggest supporters. Spencer Albee and The Ghost of Paul Revere were also some of the first to use this space. Chris Gervais (Nice Life, Toothbrush) does our rock ‘n’ roll billing.
Tell me about your background as a musician.
I started out in the ‘80s playing guitar with drummer Jack Blagdon, who I still perform with. I did live sound for clubs in town, but I always wanted my own space. My favorite thing to do is run live sound. That’s my primary role right now ... in addition to literally everything else.
Are there strategies that you use to make sure this place is inclusive and safe?
It comes down to booking the right people. I think people value the uniqueness of this space, so they don’t want to make trouble.
How difficult is it for new musicians to get booked downtown?
You just can’t. Very few venues book new artists. If you’re connected to an established band, they might get you to open for them at Geno’s. The Apohadion is the exception — it’s a real low-key DIY space, and they have absolutely anything and everything. I have great respect for them.
How do you guys approach booking?
The first six months were kind of a free for all. We did some shows that nobody showed up for, because they were bands that nobody knew! But it still helped the musicians, and nobody has ever blamed us for not providing a crowd.
What’s the fondest memory you have in this space so far?
The fondest aspect is the partnership and Bond that Cecil and I have created. I’ve had fun moments with bands that needed a place to stay, so we let them crash here and played music late into the night. I just enjoy meeting new people and learning how they came into music
Sun Tiki Studios | 375 Fore St, Portland