For Tucker Bodine, it all began in the early 1990s, with a clunky 50-pound portable recording device that he lugged to the concerts of bootleg recording-friendly jam bands such as The Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead.
For his wife, Stephanie Kheder Bodine, it all began sometime before kindergarten, when her flair for watercolors and craftwork became apparent to her parents, who immediately began signing her up for summer art classes.
Now, the 33-year-old Tucker is about two months away from opening a 24-hour music studio — called Playback Recording — that will boast 2,500 square feet of space, a staff of at least three professional engineers (including himself), meticulously designed walls for acoustics, and six separate sound-proofed rooms.
Meanwhile, 29-year-old Stephanie has a flourishing retail design resource business called Bocage, and is still recovering from the deluge of orders that followed her late February appearance on The Martha Stewart Show.
Both work out of the same building, at 400 E. Gutierrez St. And, no, they don’t mind working so closely together.
“All of these worlds really meld,” said Stephanie. “Artists, musicians, entertainers — these are our people.”
The couple moved to Santa Barbara two years ago from Manhattan, where, after spending several years honing his engineering and producing chops — and working with some famous folks at Sony — Tucker had opened the first incarnation of Playback Recording Studio, and, after attending the prestigious Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, Stephanie had opened a storefront boutique on the Lower East Side.
The couple chose Santa Barbara to be closer to the entertainment industry, as well as to Tucker’s family, who live in Montecito.
“At first we thought of moving to L.A., but the whimsy is not there,” said Stephanie, a petite woman whose subtle arm tattoos and youthful appearance belie her depth of business experience. “People in L.A. really like Santa Barbara as an escape sanctuary — the ocean breeze, the mountain views. It’s where we wanted to be.”
Tucker agreed, saying he believes many artists from Los Angeles will want to come to Santa Barbara to find their muse.
“It’s the vibe that people chase,” he said. “They’ll fly all the way to Hawaii for a vibe.”
When the Bodines arrived two years ago, they quickly set up a home-based shop for Stephanie — who does most of her business online — and then began the arduous task of working on the studio.
One year was spent just finding a location and acquiring all the necessary permits. Another has been spent on construction, which is ongoing.
Tucker declined to say how much money it’s cost him so far (“a lot”), but clearly the studio is not being made on the cheap.
“I got a loan, but the music industry pays well, too,” he said. “I could probably pay for it all with just one movie.”
Since August, a construction crew of about nine workers has been working on the site every day, for eight hours a day.
The studio itself was designed by Chris Pelonis, whose body of work includes Skywalker Sound, located in both San Diego and San Francisco. (One of those studios was used to make the movie Titanic, whose raft of Academy Awards in 1997 included one for best sound-effects editing.)
“It took me forever just to get him on the phone,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s studio shares walls with other businesses in the area, but he can wail away on an electric bass guitar with the volume cranked to 11, and the neighbors working at the nearby boot designer company can’t hear a thing. Tucker knows, because he tried it.
“We were very excited that it worked,” he said, adding, “we knew it would work, but we just had to make sure it was isolated.”
Meanwhile, not an inch of space in the labyrinthine studio is designed without taking into account the effect it will have on the sound in the room.
Some entire walls, for instance, are made of a wood material that is vertically lined all the way across, almost like window shutters. The material, known as “Flutter Free,” stops the sound from vibrating, yet prevents the room from sounding too dead.
Also, jutting out from other walls are patches of what appear to be miniature skylines made of toy blocks, carefully, mathematically, unevenly arranged to ensure that the sound scatters after hitting a wall, as opposed to bouncing around like a pinball.
“When it scatters, a little comes back — enough to give the room a nice punch or snap — especially for drums,” he said.
The studio’s interior design has been undertaken by Stephanie as well as Bernard St. Croix, a Summerland designer.
One room in particular reflects Stephanie’s signature style. In it, the walls are covered in shattered glass, which, aside from creating a trippy visual effect, helps to attain the sort of reverb one might experience in a bathroom.
“People have done vocals in bathrooms,” said Tucker, citing Mariah Carey, whom he worked with in New York City, as one of the many artists who have gone for this effect. “We wanted to kind of bring that more to a real room.”
The Bodines aim to imbue Playback Recording with a unique sense of feng shui. On its way to the studio is a chandelier custom-made of driftwood, because sound would ricochet unfavorably off of one made of metal or glass.
Tucker grew up with his family in Philadelphia. Like many in the entertainment industry, his interest in music started young, at age 10.
“I was buying hip hop, like the Fat Boys, but also buying Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd,” he said. “I was a skater, and so also listened to groups like the Dead Kennedys.”
Tucker said his most innate talent has always involved electronics.
“Electronics always clicked with me,” he said. “I never had to read a manual.”
After high school, Tucker stayed out East, and his parents — an investor and an actress — moved to Montecito. Tucker enrolled at Rollins College in Florida for business and economics. But somewhere during that time he had purchased the portable recording gear that he took to concerts: a Digital Audio Tape (DAT) machine, two microphones and a power source that closely resembled the size and weight of a car battery. Tucker went to small shows at bars and asked bands if they would like to be recorded live. He went to a bevy of Grateful Dead shows and sat in the section reserved for audiofiles.
In short, he had found his calling.
In 1996, Tucker quit Rollins and enrolled at IAR (Institute of Audio Research) in Manhattan.
Since then, he has landed engineering and producing jobs at places like Beat Street Productions and Sony Pictures Studios, where he has worked on a wide range of projects, from AT&T commercial spots, to the PBS children’s television series Between the Lions, to the albums of big-named stars such as Jennifer Lopez and Busta Rhymes.
In 2002 he broke away from Sony and opened Playback Recording Studio in Manhattan, where he recorded mainly R&B, jazz, hip hop and reggae. Among the up-and-coming MTV artists he worked with there was the hip-hop band Empire ISIS.
Meanwhile, Stephanie’s career has been no less eventful. It’s difficult even for her to describe fully what she does. But one major aspect of her work involves blending high fashion with craftwork using beads, charms and chains.
Several months ago, producers of The Martha Stewart Show happened across some of her work in a book called Tease, in which a publisher found 50 fashion-related artists to demonstrate how to make creative use of old T-shirts.
“I made a really feminine cut of a T-shirt with a necklace attached,” she said. “The idea was you cut up your boyfriend’s T-shirt and go out on a date and see if he even notices it’s his T-shirt.” (The book came out before the Bodines were married. The wedding, by the way, took place at the Santa Barbara Zoo.)
“They really liked that I didn’t seem like a typical housewife, and that I had a fashion edge,” she added. “I’m really drawn to the fashion side of crafting.”
However, the show was fishing for talent, not T-shirt artists. When they saw Stephanie’s T-shirt work they realized they’d found a talented designer, and made contact with her. They asked to see more of her work. Thus began a back-and-forth exchange that lasted about two months. Among the many items Stephanie mailed them were a dress she’d fashioned out of two scarves, a vintage chain necklace that doubled as a curtain tie back, and ballet slippers converted into street shoes.
Impressed, but still in need of a Eureka! moment, the producers asked her to produce a video audition, to gauge her level of comfort in front of a camera.
With the help of Tucker in the studio, her audition was a home run.
For one thing, Stephanie was not camera shy. She had already appeared on several shows, such as the wacky TV game show Craft Corner Death Match, where she sat in as a judge. And her audition gave producers the material they were looking for. In it, Stephanie used a bead-spinner tool to make one of her trademark beaded flowers.
“They said they’d never seen Martha get so excited about a tool in her life,” she said.
On Feb. 20, Stephanie appeared on the show. Despite several months of prep work, she didn’t meet Martha until the minute-long commercial break preceding her live appearance. Seven minutes later, it was all over. How precious those minutes were.
That night, when Stephanie and Tucker returned to their hotel, she fired up her laptop and checked her e-mail.
“It was like, ‘ding, ding, ding’ — it was literally like playing slots,” she said. “The orders were just pouring in.”
People — mostly women — from across America were putting in orders for the bead spinner. Their inquiries jammed her Web site and filled her answering machine.
The next day, after flying home, Stephanie checked her voice mail.
“Someone would say, ‘I want the spinner,’ and I could hear the show going on in the background,” she said.
She and Tucker set to packing up the bead spinners. Over the course of eight days, they sent out about 200, at $26.95 each.
This week, as the dust from the Martha Stewart storm settled, Stephanie reflected on the whirlwind that has come to characterize the past few years.
She and Tucker first met five or six years ago, at a hip-hop concert put on by mutual friends back East. A few weeks later, they both attended another concert by the same band. That time, Tucker asked her out on a date. It’s a story she loves to tell.
The date was a Halloween party. Tucker picked her up wearing a full-fledged costume of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter from Star Wars.
Tucker’s apartment, it turned out, was overflowing with Star Wars paraphernalia.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, this guy is like a total nerd!’” she laughed.
“All of the toys are in storage, so they stay in mint condition,” she said. “Some of them will definitely make appearances (as décor) in the studio.”
Although things are going well, Stephanie said she’s more than ready for the construction phase to end. But for now, the journey continues.
“I’m literally dusting off products before I pack them into boxes,” she said. “We’re just really looking forward to having our own environment to ourselves.”
Click here for more information about Playback Recording Studio or call 805.730-7529. Click here for Bocage.