Pittsburgh's independent music source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

ABC Self Storage’s closure has hit hard for Pittsburgh musicians

A black and white photo of band equipment.
Courtesy of the bands Gaadge and Ex Pilots.
With its storage units repurposed as studios and creation spaces, tenants of the building estimate that nearly 40 bands were utilizing the facility by the end of last summer.

Playing in a band requires countless hours of practice and potentially thousands of dollars of equipment, no matter how professional the ambitions. There is also a need for a rehearsal space where neighbors won’t call the cops if noise continues past 9 p.m. If a band wants to record songs and release music, that’s an entirely different endeavor and additional investment. Finding these spaces to do all of this, even in a city strewn with empty warehouses like Pittsburgh, is challenging.

Since at least the early 2000s, many Pittsburgh acts have rehearsed at ABC Self Storage in Allentown. With its storage units repurposed as studios and creation spaces, tenants of the building estimate that nearly 40 bands were utilizing the facility by the end of last summer. More than a set of individual rooms strewn with personal belongings, ABC Storage was an active location that served as the birthplace of countless works, bands, and, ultimately, friendships.

That all changed last summer. On the evening of June 15, 2023, tenants of ABC received an email stating there had been a small fire in the building and music rehearsals were no longer permitted in the facility. According to Jake Kelley of the bands Feeble Little Horse and Ethan Oliva of Ex Pilots and Gaadge, tenants were given two weeks to claim their gear before it became the property of ABC.

Kelley recalls a weekend of madness when all 40 bands were forced to move out. “On cleaning day, there were so many people I had never seen before,” he says, “and a guy holding a clipboard checking everyone in and out.” While a band like Feeble Little Horse had been preparing to go on a North American tour, that day of exodus revealed that everything from dad-rock cover bands to production companies with fully built-out recording studios had called it home.

To an outsider, ABC Self Storage might not seem like the home of an artistic community. Reviews of the building on Google have included sentiments like “This place is scary,” and “Avoid at all costs.” Composed of rusted piping and random “Pittsburgh Toilets,” with the added smells of cigarettes and beer, the space is easily a perfect foundation for rock music

Migrating from Erie to Pittsburgh in 2016, Mitch DeLong of Gaadge found out about ABC Storage through casual word of mouth. Getting a couple of friends to go in on a rental, the space came out to cost between $20-$30 dollars per person each month, an ideal amount for a starving musician.

The room had people going in and out continuously, and had to be organized using a group-wide Google Calendar. “We would all just practice back to back, and sometimes it was a pain,” says DeLong. But these interactions lead to a community that was hard to fully acknowledge until it was gone. “We were always running into everyone from the scene, always hearing new things, and definitely learning and playing off of everything that was going on in there,” he adds.

Subscribe to WYEP's In Tune Newsletter

* indicates required

Ethan Oliva of Ex Pilots agrees. “You can easily lose your whole day in there,” he says. “You start off at a practice, then decide to record some parts, walk down the hall to a friend’s room, and all the sudden the day is gone.” Within those days lost to ABC Self-Storage, recordings such as Gaadge’s Yeah?, Feeble Little Horse’s Girl with Fish, Ex Pilots’s Ex Pilots, Water Trash’s No Dice, Giovanni Orsini’s Inebriated, were created and produced with the smoky walls..

In 2018, settling in the basement of ABC, Giovanni Orsini developed a fully functioning record label and multimedia company, Steel City Death Club. The setting allowed him and his friends to delve into different media. Since the beginning of SCDC, the collective recorded dozens of live performance video sessions titled “Live at SCDC,” and albums by local bands such as Natural Rat, Fortune Teller and Daisy Chain. (All of SCDC’s projects can be found on their website, www.steetcitydeathclub.com.)

Tenants heard that the fire that caused the evictions was supposedly started when copper piping was stolen from one of the lesser-trafficked parts of the building. (Attempts to reach the building’s management were unsuccessful.)

Since the closure, Kelley, DeLong, and Oliva all agree that things feel different on the music scene, with some bands struggling to find a new place to set up shop. The accessibility and affordability of such a space can play a crucial role for artists who are driven more by inspiration than financial rewards. Bands are rebounding in different ways but it’s clear that this community space, raw as it was, will be missed. “You would never guess those rooms were in a storage facility. We all really took care of it and transformed it into something really special,” says Oliva.