For this episode of “Great Minds Think a Lot” series, we interviewed Rick Coughlin, owner of Grove Studios, a rehearsal studio and creative space for artists and aspiring musicians in Ypsilanti. We spoke on the origins of and plans for the studio, Coughlin’s artistry roots, and his appreciation for the Ypsilanti area community. Here are highlights of our 30-minute conversation and a full audio interview.
Grove Studios is an Ypsilanti-based 24/7 rehearsal studio and creative space for musicians, podcasters, DJs, and other artists. Founded in 2017, Grove is one of Ypsilanti's premiere creative spaces. Read our interview highlights with Rick below!
Destination Ann Arbor: We are here with Rick Coughlin, the owner of Grove Studios, how's it going?
Rick: Going well man, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you guys. Appreciate it.
Destination Ann Arbor: Absolutely. So we're here to talk about your business and all that you contribute to the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area scene. My first question is, when did you get into music? What inspired you?
Rick: Wow, that's a good question. I was fortunate to be raised around a lot of music. My grandfather probably played like four or five different instruments. I spent a lot of time in their house growing up. My mom was a young, single mother at the time, and working a lot trying to put herself through school. So, I spent a lot of time there. I was always kind of exposed to music at an early age.
My mom was also a pianist. Music was always playing growing up, anything from traditional, like German and Austrian music that my Oma and Opa listen to, and classical music. But then later, my mom was into rock and disco, and always records playing. When my father came into the mix, he introduced me to Motown, and my uncle introduced me to Southern rock, like ZZ Top. So, I like all these threads of being exposed to music at an early age, but I never really showed interest in playing an instrument. I really didn't pick up guitar until I was probably 15, or 16 years old, when I started, really get into the idea of playing guitar. Piano didn't really interest me, some of the traditional instruments that my grandparents played didn't really interest me, but I liked strings...so that's all of it in a nutshell. Lots of different influences all over the place.
Destination Ann Arbor: That is really cool. So, we're going to jump back to that in just a moment. First, let's talk about Grove Studios. What was the initial thought process behind the creation of Grove?
Rick: Yeah, that's a great question. Honestly. Grove was partially born out of personal frustration. As a musician, it was always hard to find a place to practice and be loud. When I think back to Ypsi in the late 90s, when I was really starting to do the band thing. None of us own houses. Most of us lived in apartments or efficiencies. We just didn't have space...
...A friend of mine, now business partner, Eric Friebel, at the time, we all scrambled to find space. And we've been talking for years about how we could really do this well, we could do this better, we could do a better for artists. We imagined a space that was a little bit different than what had been done before.
...And we're like, well, what if we did it differently? What if we did it like this? And that we wanted to build something better, not just for ourselves, but something that would work for everybody, for many people. And that's kind of where the idea sprouted. Once the idea sprouted, there's a lot of stuff in between. But that might be a different question. (Laughs)
Destination Ann Arbor: How do you feel, since the creation of Grove, that your space has helped the culture of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area?
Rick: ...I feel like the culture of the music scene has always been here. It's one of the reasons that drew me to the area in the first place. I knew I wasn't U of M material, I liked the area, and I was good enough to get into Eastern....
So, I think the culture has always been here. It's an area with two universities, a couple of colleges. There's just always an influx of youth, vibrancy and artistic thinking around here. Like I saw that there wasn't support, direct, like infrastructure kind of support for the scene that already is here. So, when I think about Grove, I don't necessarily think of us as creating culture or even adding to it, other than we just want to support what's here. To some degree, maybe we've become part of it. Because we're just supportive of what we see people already doing. That was always a big goal. We didn't want to make it about us. We didn't want to be the arbiters of taste and culture. That's just not the way I think of it in my mind, right? People have said, “Well, you should become a record label or you should do this or do that.” And I really feel strongly about supporting artists and their business that they're trying to create, because ultimately, people that want to make it as artists are building their own business.
I see it as more of a business-to-business kind of relationship, where the art is in the hands of the artists, and we don't want to get into that transaction. And so my theory is that we build a space, that's quality, that's safe, where people feel welcome. All genres of music...as long as we can provide that support, then I think we're in the right place.
Destination Ann Arbor: Talk to me about the live music aspect of things. How do live music and performances add to the Ypsi art music community?
Rick: ...I think we played a good part in giving people an opportunity to perform when there wasn't a lot of opportunity to do that. So really, what we've leaned into is, how can we use our time, and our dollars to support the events and the people that are passionate about throwing events? Because we're really not events people. I think that's a special skill set. And there's people that are doing it already. You've got Taylor Greenshields doing Fun Fest, like that's an event we want to get behind. So how can we support that?
...That's kind of where we are now. We're looking for opportunities to support people. In sponsor stages, sponsor events, and be part of it still. Even physically show up, volunteer help, support those events, put dollars behind it, where we can, so that those events can happen. We think that's a better place for us, at least currently.
Destination Ann Arbor: I look forward to seeing what happens next. Let's move back just a little where you spoke about the diversity of Ypsilanti and why you chose this location. What is it about the city that makes you want to live and work here? What makes this area, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area special?
Rick: At the risk of dating myself, I moved out here, I'm originally from Denver. My family moved here, when I was probably 10, we lived in a small town up in the thumb of Michigan. I spent, from the time I was 10 to 18, in a very small town. 4,500 people to be exact. Being an adolescent in a small town, having seen and lived in a big city that was diverse, and coming to, what I was more of a monoculture. It wasn't for me. It just wasn't a place that I wanted to spend an extended amount of time. I had seen other things, I had experienced other types of music, other cultures, and not to mention the food.
...I saw a wide range of types of music being performed. I was just drawn to that, from my musical background, you could tell I've been exposed to a lot of stuff at an early age, from a music standpoint. I just find that exciting because I see this cross pollination of musical styles and people that are open. That's where some of the best stuff comes from. Where would rock and roll be without blues or jazz? or where would metal be without rock and roll and blues and so on. It comes from a special place. And, I just felt like that was happening here.
Destination Ann Arbor: What's the best way people should reach out or find out more about Grove?
Rick: You can go right to our website, which is just GroveStudios.space. We're on Instagram and Facebook. You can check out stuff there. We're always posting, sharing what artists are doing, sharing what the community's doing. Just generally doing what we do. If you want to get in touch with me personally, it's IamRickCoughlin on all social media platforms. So, feel free to hit me up there. If you want to collaborate, if your business wants to partner with us on promoting something or you want to put a show together. We're very open to collaborations and supporting our local businesses and obviously, local artists.
Destination Ann Arbor: Absolutely. And once again, thank you very much, Mr. Rick Coughlin for the Great Minds Think a Lot Series, we greatly appreciate you.
Rick: Thanks for the opportunity so it was good chatting with you brother.
Stay tuned as we bring you more Ann Arbor area business leaders and community members making a difference within the county.
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