Singer/songwriter Orlando Napier (left) is just one of many Santa Barbara music makers hard at work at Tucker Bodine's (right) cutting-edge Playback Recording Studio.
Paul Wellman

If packing up your life and transporting it across the country isn’t difficult enough, try taking an entire professional recording studio with you. When Tucker Bodine decided he had had enough of New York City and wanted to move to the West Coast, one of the defining factors in his relocation was finding a suitable spot for his recording studio. A stalwart of the hip-hop and reggae scene in N.Y.C., Bodine wanted to ensure the Left Coast success of his Playback Recording Studio. Luckily for us, Santa Barbara loomed large in his mind from the get-go.

“This place definitely has its advantages,” offered Bodine as he reclined at the console of Playback’s new main studio. “I wanted to get off the East Coast because I wanted a change of pace. I had been on the East Coast all my life, so I came across and checked out Los Angeles and Santa Monica, but when I came up here to Santa Barbara, it just started to make more and more sense to me. I didn’t want to be in another big city again, but I still wanted to set up camp somewhere that has a good music community. And Santa Barbara offered that.”

Bodine’s studio career evolved in New York City. He spent time at Tonic’s PBS-affiliated post-production facility before taking up residency at Sony Music Studios, where he did everything from recording to mastering. While at Sony, Bodine felt the time was right to establish his own studio, which opened its doors in Brooklyn in August 2001. After relocating from Brooklyn back to N.Y.C. proper, Playback Recording Studio was born. For three years, Bodine and his studio served the recording needs of a variety of musical entities, including Empire ISIS, Bushman, and Half Pint.

Having firmly established the studio’s name, Bodine’s next challenge was repeating his success in Santa Barbara. The first step in that process came by way of studio design maestro Chris Pelonis. Along with designing Sony Computer Entertainment America’s two new studios in San Diego and San Francisco, Pelonis also has overseen the construction of studios for institutions such as Skywalker Sound, Geffen Records, and Disney, as well as personal studios for Glen Phillips, Jack White, and Third Eye Blind.

“It took me three months just to get him on the phone,” Bodine recalled, “but we got plans rolling and he would come out and look at different locations with me and either yay or nay it. It was great to bounce that off someone else. It took almost a year to find a place, as it had to be a standalone place that had a vibe. When I finally found this spot, it was definitely a celebration.”

While the new location offers cutting-edge recording features, including 5.1 surround sound, the technical assets are only enhanced by the layout. The main studio is itself surrounded by a series of individual recording booths, allowing for a clear line of sight between each isolation room and the control booth. And since opening its doors last August, Playback has hosted a series of film, television, and voice production clients, along with an array of emerging S.B. musicians-including Jaret Campisi, The Naybrhood, and Orlando Napier.

For Napier, the recording experience opens a whole new world. “It’s exciting, and it can be frustrating too,” he conceded. “Sometimes you have a vision, and it’s hard to convey that to people. It’s about finding the right adjectives and explaining yourself and conveying that vision. I’m only 23, and I haven’t been doing this for very long, so it’s a pretty steep learning curve-but I’m learning pretty fast.”

Napier’s also quickly making an impression around town. A relative newcomer to the Santa Barbara scene, Napier began his music career in the U.K. It was there where he first ventured onstage, playing keyboards in pubs with a couple friends. Upon returning to S.B., Napier quickly found his own musical voice, and for the past three years, he steadily has been building up a song catalogue, not to mention a legion of fans thanks to regular appearances at The James Joyce.

Having already recorded two EPs-one with Tom Lackner at the Tompound, the other with Lackner’s son Gabe at his studio-Napier recently ventured into Playback to record one of his more recent compositions. While both the song and the session were meant only to test the musical waters, the result-a tune called “Johnny Angel”-will soon be lurking on Napier’s MySpace site. The experience also was a positive one for Bodine, who’s now singing the artist’s praises.

“I love working with artists who I know have the potential to become that next name on the front of Rolling Stone,” said Bodine. “I really think that if [Napier’s] songs end up in the right hands, he will get signed in a minute. There is no doubt in my mind about that. He has a great throwback sound, so it’s important to present that right. We were trying to do that in taking his songs to the next level.”

While artists such as Napier are helping to keep on Playback’s recording light, both the economy and the ongoing reinvention of the music industry are leaving their mark on S.B.’s recording studios in no small way. The digital explosion has given rise to a range of home-recording programs like Pro Tools and GarageBand, meaning that never before has professional recording been so readily available to so many. And while this certainly is making an impact, Bodine sees these technologies as a positive thing.

“Every artist will agree that the quality of a good studio is far better than anything they’ll get at home,” explained Bodine. “I think home recording is great for helping to structure songs and work out tempos, and I think it saves artists time and gives artists the feel for an album, so by the time they come into the studio they’re not wasting time. For me, that’s a good thing. And artists who are really passionate about their craft know when it’s time to get out of the bedroom and into a world-class recording studio.”


Playback Recording Studio is located at 400 East Gutierrez Street. Call 730-7529 or visit for info and specs. And for more on Orlando Napier, visit


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