It was in 1994 that musician Kirk Moll turned a dumpy, Spanish-style office building near downtown into the Alamo Rehearsal Studio—back when “no one took Vegas seriously as a musical destination.”
Since then he’s seen, by his guess, more than 500 bands and thousands of musicians pass through his 30 rehearsal studios, including notables such as Killers’ drummer Ronnie Vannucci. He’s watched the music scene in Las Vegas grow more diverse, if less intimate. He’s seen the area morph from a high-crime sector he recalls as “the fucking Wild West” to a slightly scruffy Arts District. He’s ridden periods of success, when the studio rental waiting list ran 40 bands deep, to lean years—like, the last couple, when Moll dropped his rates by 20 percent and still had several empty rooms. Business, he says, is picking up again. Through it all, the Alamo has served as an under-sung, yet central, part of the local scene.
The inside isn’t much to look at: It’s a trio of colorful yet dingy hallways with wobbly floors and 50 different styles of carpeting. (A sign warns you to not put cigarette butts out on the carpet—but it’s unlikely anyone would notice if you did.) Oh, and it seems to be haunted. Moll thinks the noises are probably just the building settling, but then again, no one likes to walk down the long dark hallways in the wee hours. I asked guitarist Jason Davis, a metal band veteran, to confirm this, and he responded, “I wouldn’t say yes. I wouldn’t say no.”
“Music is spiritual in a sense,” Moll says. “We’ve had so much of that over the years. The amount of spiritual energy, a little bit of it stays around.”
But the biggest spirit belongs to Moll. Musicians here talk of him glowingly—they agree it’s his “customer service,” his human touch that keeps them away from shinier (more expensive) studios. Moll even runs an onsite recording studio. “Kirk’s a really good guy,” Davis says. “He takes care of us. He’s like the house mother.”
Count on Moll to give his renters a second chance when they commit rock-star provocations such as setting an abandoned car on fire in front of the building or ramming microphone stands through the walls of the studio. Moll knows that true artists are special. Bands that pay their rent on time, he says, are the ones with the least talent: “They’re just happy to be here.”
But as a half-dozen bands strum out their kinks, don’t think this is some kind of hangout joint. “These bands aren’t here to fuck around,” says drummer J.P. Holod, after a solo session. “Even if you’re not trying to get big, you’re trying to get good.”
The Alamo has seen all sorts of alt, punk and heavy metal groups, so it’s surprising to hear the flinty Latin rhythms of Gravedad, a Spanish rock band. An incarnation of the five-man group has been coming since 2003. “It’s like our nest as a band,” says lead singer Luis Lopez. “It feels like home.”
There comes a point when every “seasoned” rock musician asks whether being a rock star isn’t a game for the young—and the same holds true for those who hold the keys to the rehearsal rooms. Having just turned 40, Moll wonders whether he’s approaching a midlife crisis—“Kids keep getting younger. You’re just hanging on”—and whether he’ll continue to hold on. He is trying to renovate the space, which smells like dust and cigarettes and looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in 20 years. “It’s just hard to break away from this,” he says.