Riding the Sound Wave 

How Al Lucchesi built the biggest incubator in Bay Area music.

Page 4 of 5

There's always a lot of chatter around Soundwave about who is on the verge of really making it, because often it's hard to tell. Flipsyde formed four years ago in one of the practice rooms, and within two years began touring with the Pussycat Dolls and the Black Eyed Peas. The late Mac Dre, whose image is now immortalized, Che Guevarra-style, on airbrushed T-shirts and bobble-head action figures, used to be just another rapper bringing questionable people into Soundwave. "We had a party at Soundwave a couple years ago — he played, and not a lot of people were watching him," said Lopez. "I thought, 'Wow, that's crazy, not a lot of people are here to see Mac Dre. A couple months later, he died."

These days, Lopez and Lucchesi are both putting their money on local producer and bandleader Forrest Day, who started renting from Lucchesi shortly after 21st Street opened, but didn't really consolidate his career until last year. On a recent Thursday night, Day was rehearsing in his second-floor studio for an acoustic set at the Independent.

Like the Flipsyde, Forrest Day is very much a product of Soundwave, and the trajectory of his career parallels that of the 21st Street studio. He began rehearsing there shortly after it opened, singing with a band called View From Here. It was a mixture of traditional ska and artsy rock that broke up a couple years later, at which point Day left the studio and began producing gangsta rap at home. For the next year he worked with two rappers from Oakland, one of whom would later get shot in the face. The other has since disappeared. In 2005 Day resumed working on his own material and came up with a full EP of strange, glitchy, hip-hop-influenced stuff that reflected his omnivorous appetite for all forms of pop music. He needed a touring band to support the record, so he went back to Soundwave.

Forrest Day was broke. He got his EP done on "bro deals," which means, as he explained in a 2007 interview, that whoever the "bro" is "gets a piece of it down the road." He did dump runs for Lucchesi in exchange for rent, borrowing a friend's truck, pulling it through the studio loading gate, and hauling out all the "crazy shit" that people left when they moved out of their rooms — mostly couches and tables. At that time Day was singing (more like screaming) in a punk rock group called Sitting Duck and sharing his studio with another band. Since Lucchesi didn't have dump runs for him every month, he eventually ran out of money and had to switch to the hourly rentals on Wood Street. In the meantime, Day was building up a fan base, writing horn arrangements for Miguel Miggs and the rapper P.E.A.C.E. of Freestyle Fellowship, and consolidating what ultimately became an eight-piece band: three saxophonists, an electric bass player, two drummers, a violinist, and a keyboardist. "Then it became an actual band," he said, explaining that "an actual band" meant Day didn't have to pay for everything anymore. The result? "We bought a big ass van with a trailer that we tour in. Now we have our own room at Soundwave."

The opening lines of Mac Dre's most famous rap song, "Feelin' Myself," go: I'm out of this world, not your run of the mill'n /My name is fur I'm the owner of the building/I'm a stoner and I'm chillin with two bitches like Jack/I pimps and I mac drive a Benz and a 'lac. There's some debate as to the real identity of the big stoner who "runs the building" — seemingly a recurring character in Mac Dre's body of work. Some people think Mac Dre is referring to himself, and that the whole "Feelin' Myself" rap is really just a form of male preening. Others think "the building" was a giant warehouse on 21st and Union streets, and the "owner" — who isn't actually a bona fide owner — was Al Lucchesi.

Lucchesi always espoused the latter theory. He had rented studios to Mac Dre for several years, and recruited one of Soundwave's security guards to back the Vallejo rapper on guitar. Lucchesi wasn't familiar with Mac Dre's body of work, but he'd heard about the stoner guy reference from a teenager who hung around Soundwave. "Hey," the kid said to Lucchesi. "He's talking about you." "I haven't personally verified this yet," said Lucchesi. "So maybe it's not substantiated."

Mac Dre used to rent three studios, said Soundwave building manager John Santos (not the Latin percussionist of the same name). One was for music, and one was for partying. "I don't know what went on in the third one," Santos said, adding that after the rapper's untimely death in 2006, several people had to help clear out his legacy at Soundwave: condoms, alcohol bottles, empty weed baggies, leather couches with used strap-on dildos.

Dre wasn't the only person using Soundwave for his own nefarious purposes. A few years ago someone tried running a bar out of one of the studios at 21st Street. Lucchesi had to shut it down after getting a call from Nancy Nadel. Lucchesi recalls one incident in which a rap group was using its studio to fence various products; one night, a guy showed up with a truckload of stolen cigarettes. And that wasn't the worst of it, said Santos. "A couple dudes had rooms for filming porn videos. I don't know who they were, they all had nicknames," he added. "They had nothing to do with music."

"We're still colonizing down here," said Lucchesi, patrolling the halls of his 21st Street location on a recent Wednesday night. He points out the building's various amenities: 165 double-walled rooms; a creaky freight elevator; a security monitor for all the key points in the building, including some of the cars outside. When Lucchesi opened the place in 2002, his first son had just been born. He had a giant three-floor building and 160 rooms to fill, in a part of Oakland that was well shut off from downtown and all residential neighborhoods. "It used to be really wild, wild West," Lucchesi said.

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