Bill Desmond says the Sound Museum in the South End is just that, an institution, where new musicians mature and the staples of the Boston music scene get ready for the road.
Juliana Hatfield rehearses here, in a small room with large posters of Madonna and Bruce Springsteen as decor. David Bowie has warmed up in the building. The Dropkick Murphys call it home.
But the 50 or so bands that practice in the South End branch of the Sound Museum were recently told by Desmond that they must vacate by today, even the big name acts. The building's owner has sold the complex to a developer who will turn the former factory building off Albany Street into 80 high-end condominiums. Desmond, who has leased the space from the owner and acted as a landlord to the musicians, has placed as many bands as he can in other Sound Museum locations, including the Dropkick Murphys.
''Kay Hanley was a teenager when she first came to the Sound Museum," says Desmond, who is called 'Des' by everyone who knows him. ''It's a real loss. There's a lot of history here."
The closing of the South End site is another blow for bands in Boston struggling to find a good place to play for cheap. The hunt for space is part of band culture in all cities with skyrocketing rents, places with garage bands but no garages. Local musicians say that it's one of the less attractive aspects of the scene and that the space crunch is exacerbated in Boston by the glut of bands that come from local colleges.
''We moved from practice space to practice space," says Josh Dalsimer, the original drummer for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who left the band in the mid-1990s and became a member of Tugboat Annie. Dalsimer says the Bosstones moved from a basement space in the Fenway to his parents' basement in Newton to the South End early on. They had to vacate one space because of ''noxious fumes."
''It's never great," he says. ''You just go there to play music. You're not there to admire the scenery."
Dalsimer says that in Boston, the practice-space market reflects the housing market: When you find real estate you can afford, you cling to it. ''People hold on to the room longer than the band," Dalsimer says. ''The band will break up, and someone will still keep the room because a good space is just hard to find."
Nowadays, there are several complexes for bands in the Boston area, including the Sound Museum, which still has locations in Allston, Brighton, and South Boston. There are also spaces on Boylston Street, including the New Alliance Studio, which has 25 rooms for about 60 bands, and hourly rental spaces such as the Musician's Gym in Allston and JamSpot in Somerville.
Space isn't cheap; most rooms run about $500 a month.
Ian Greenhouse's band Bunk 9 is one of the groups leaving the Sound Museum. Desmond has promised Bunk 9 space at the Sound Museum in Brighton, but it will be smaller than what the group has shared with local band Raymond.
Bunk 9 just moved to the South End from a practice space in Charlestown a few months ago. But an earlier room had its own drama. When the band members first set up in it, they noticed an odor that started out as foul and soon became unbearable. They began tearing up the place, looking for the origin of the smell. The drummer climbed up on an amp and pushed some ceiling panels aside.
''This black mass fell on his neck," Greenhouse says. ''It was a dead cat carcass."
Members of the Brighton band the New Dumb say they once tried to beat the system and constructed a practice space in their former guitarist's apartment. They thought the place was soundproofed, but as soon as they started to play, neighbors were at the door threatening eviction.
''You learn your lesson quick. The neighbors even threatened to have us expelled from school," said Brian Ruscina, drummer for the New Dumb, which now practices at the Musician's Gym.
The New Dumb has a song about overcoming practice-space obstacles. It's called ''I Am Your Rock and Roll Fantasy."
The lyrics go: ''We used to play in the basement of Mulvey's house, till his [expletive] neighbors kicked us out. That day I was really down. Never thought we'd make another sound. But I guess I was wrong. We got tough. We got strong. We're too stupid not to go on."
Because of the space crunch, Boston bands have learned to share. At the New Alliance Studios, two to three bands share each room.
''You can't have your own space anymore," says Nick Zampiello of the band Cracktorch. ''The scale of the economy has changed a lot since five years ago."
Cracktorch and two other bands pay $600 for a space at New Alliance, a large studio room they've decorated with posters and rugs. It smells a bit like soot and water, and with the door closed, they can still hear the muffled sounds of musicians in neighboring studios.
Alvin Long, who manages the New Alliance building, says he always has a waiting list for his rooms, and only one or two will change hands in a year. Some bands have found their way to smaller Massachusetts cities such as Brockton and Lowell for cheaper, larger spaces, he says.
''In New Bedford, you could probably get the top floor of a warehouse for what you pay for one room in Boston," Long says. ''But here, you're a mile from the Middle East and a half a mile from the Paradise."
Desmond says that despite the gripes of local bands, rehearsal space isn't the primary problem in the Boston music community. What the city lacks, he says, is venues. If there were more of them, more bands could play for money and would have an easier time affording rehearsal real estate.
''What we need are four more Middle Easts," he says.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org