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Calvin James Pynn
It may not look like much from the outside, but within the aged brick exterior on Rorer Avenue in Roanoke, Va., big things are happening for the local music scene.
The venue is Coffin House Studios, Roanoke’s newest spot for locals to enjoy the area’s best acts, nationally touring bands, and other art forms around the area. While the studio’s inside is still in development, big plans are underway, and the venue is facing a prominently busy future.
Coffin House Studios was founded by manager Heather Keogh, as well as metal group Doom Syndicate, who perform as the venue’s “house band” for shows. Although the venue is still in its infancy, the brains behind Coffin House Studios helped bring large acts such as Dope, Cattle Decapitation, and the Misfits through Roanoke for over a decade. At this point, bigger plans are in store.
Coffin House Studios resumes the work that an older venue called The Iroquois had carried out from the 70s through the 90s. When it became a hip hop club called Desires, the group started hosting metal shows in the loft. According to Keogh, Doom Syndicate guitarist Scott Doyle worked with Kevin James, The Iroquois’ owner, to open a venue called Factory 324 in the early 2000s, when the lease for Desires expired.
“We ran it for about three years,” Keogh said of Factory 324. “At that time it was the only metal venue in Roanoke, so we’ve had a lot of big shows here.”
Coffin House Studios held their first show with the “Helloween Metal Fest” this past Halloween. Since then, the owners have gradually been holding shows to spread the word about the still developing venue.
On Feb. 17, blackened death metal band Goatwhore headlined the stage at Coffin House Studios. While booking such a popular act was not a strange venture for Keogh and Doom Syndicate, it was a milestone for the new venue, and another addition to the impressive list of bands the group had booked before.
“I’d have to have a résumé to list them all,” Keogh joked as she tried recall the bands they had booked.
While Coffin House Studios is making its name as a premiere metal venue in Roanoke, Keogh and Doom Syndicate have more in mind. According to Keogh, Coffin House Studios will host art shows in the coming months, showcasing local photographers. They also plan to have bands perform during the art shows.
Coffin House Studios will also function as a full purpose multimedia studio. Live recording and live photography will be an option for band. Video recording for performances, as well as music videos, will also be available. They even have plans for an in-house tattoo artist.
“A lot of times in music videos, you need live clips of the band,” Keogh said. “This is a good place to do that because the crowd can get right up there, which you can’t do at the [Roanoke] Civic Center because there’s security in the way. Here, it’s very up in your face!”
Non-music related photography will be available as well, such as family portraits, senior pictures and more.
“There are just so many possibilities, and we’re exploring everything we can as far as artistic stuff goes,” Keogh said. “We want complete mixed media.”
At this point, Keogh hopes to have the photography studio open by June, and plans are already underway with artists around Virginia. The first exhibition the group plans to hold will be for Sean Taylor, a well known band photographer from Virginia Beach.
The next major show planned for Coffin House Studios will feature Dying Fetus, one of the original pioneering bands from death metal’s early existence, on June 7. While Keogh chose to not discuss any other upcoming bands until they were officially booked, she made hints towards a promising future.
“Goatwhore and Dying Fetus are just the beginning,” Keogh said. “Those shows will be small compared to what we have planned.”
Coffin House Studios will also host a variety of genres, despite its initial association as a metal venue. Garage rock band The Influential Broadcast played the venue in March, and artists from all other music styles are welcome.
Since Coffin House Studios began, Doom Syndicate has helped play a huge role in developing not only the venue, but Roanoke’s metal scene in general. Guitarist Doyle, vocalist J.R. Martin, drummer Dan Brooks, and bassist Chip Mengerink make up the band, which has been active since the late 90s. Since their formation, Doom Syndicate has maintained a loyal dedication to helping their hometown’s heavy metal scene.
“Our base is right here,” said Martin. “We have a loving fan base in Roanoke, and we have a lot of stuff in the works.”
The history of the band dates back to later days of The Iroquois, where the members of Doom Syndicate got their start playing alongside a wealth of other bands.
“Back in the day, The Iroquois was the place for everybody,” said Doyle.
In addition the bands that have played at Coffin House Studios, Factory 324 and The Iroquois, Doom Syndicate have shared the stage with other large metal acts such as All That Remains, Deicide, Every Time I Die, and Origin, and even have played the first Las Vegas Metal Fest. They have also played alongside other non-metal acts such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and rapper Ice-T.
Overall, the band hopes that Coffin House Studios will be a location that can be enjoyed by the whole community.
“We’re just trying to bring metal to our community as well as the traveling bands out there” said Martin. “This is an all ages venue. We don’t care about alcohol sales. We care about music.”
Starting June, Coffin House Studios will start having a monthly “featured artist,” which will include bands, photographers, painters, sculptors, tattoo artists, videographers and more. They are also looking for local and regional artists looking to play a show, hold an art show, shoot a video, or photograph the bands playing. All arrangements can be made through Coffin house Studio’s Facebook page.
With a passionate backing and a full agenda ahead of them, Coffin House Studios is well on its way to becoming a staple in the Southwest Va. music scene. A lot is happening already, and as Keogh said, it is only the beginning.
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