Our Lady Peace's Raine Maida on Why They Opened Their Own Fitness Studio
Our Lady Peace
For 15 years, singer Raine Maida, drummer Jeremy Taggart, bassist Duncan Coutts and guitarist Steve Mazur wrote there, honed their songwriting there, recorded there, rehearsed there - and generally rocked out until the wee hours of the morning, if they so chose. Until, the area gentrified and the band found themselves answering one too many knocks at the door asking them to knock it off, as kids in adjacent homes were trying to sleep.
The solution? Say goodbye practice space, hello boutique gym. Union Studio is the joint effort of Maida, Coutts, Taggart, Christie Ness (formerly of GetSpun) and John Kawaja (of Taylormade-Adidas Golf).
Noisecreep talked to Maida about this unexpected new business venture.
What type of fitness is offered at Union?
Right now, it's Union Barre, Union Spin and Union TRX. Those are the three. I look at my background and Bruce Lee was a huge influence on me, what he was able to do with blending three different martial arts disciplines. He was the first one to do that with Jeet Kune Do and that's what we tried to do here is find three different fitness disciplines that are complimentary to each other. People can switch between them during the week or throughout the month and feel like they're getting a really great workout.
When you bought the building, what was the neighborhood like?
Bathurst and Wellington 15, 16, 17 years ago was pretty desolate. It was kind of like an industrial wasteland. I remember they opened a Dominos [pizza] around the corner from us and that was a big deal. There was really nothing to eat around there. Over the years, the gentrification has been incredible.
So the boom was fairly fast?
I'll say this: as soon as that Thompson Hotel opened, maybe three years ago, it felt a little like someone slapped us in the head, saying, 'You know what, this is not for you guys anymore.'
Up until then, that was the perfect practice space for you, isolated, not in the big Rehearsal Factory with a million other bands. You can get to work, undisturbed.
Up until the Thompson coming in and the condos that were built beside us and behind, it actually got to be the perfect place because all of a sudden we did have all these great restaurants around us, little coffee shops and places to hang out even late at night, as it gentrified. So there was a five or six year period when it was amazing, then all of a sudden, condominiums, these big fancy townhomes, were built behind us. Fathers would come up to us, banging on the door going, 'Hey guys love the band, but I can't get my kid to sleep; the music's too loud.
Did you think of selling?
We never really thought of selling it. It was starting to infringe on us musically. We never really rehearsed during the day because there were businesses beside us, but once we realized that nighttime was a pain in the ass because of the noise levels, we knew that we were going to find somewhere else. We felt like we'd rent it out to someone, but then a friend [John Kawaja] who used to run Adidas in Portland and had been in the space before [suggested] 'Why don't you guys do something interesting with it, like a fitness place, a little gym with barre and other stuff?'
It was the first idea. And not that we laughed at it but we said, 'Oh that would be cool' and then really didn't talk too much about it. Then a friend of mine introduced me to Christie [Ness, General Manager and instructor at Union], had this conversation on whim. I was in a car after I landed in Toronto one day, going downtown, and I talked to her on the phone. She owned her own gym called GetSpun and she said, 'I have to move because my rent's too high and I'm looking to do something different.' We talked about maybe opening up a gym and the next day we all sat down, and said, 'Okay.'
Any stipulations like 'If I'm going to do a gym, it will have to be like this...'?
Definitely. That's what we talked about. I work out in gyms all over the world because that's my life when I'm on the road. I go find a gym or martial arts studio to go work out for a couple of hours so I don't shoot myself from being bored to death. So I just felt like Toronto didn't really have any gyms like the one we were building. It's not really a gym, you know. There are no weights. It's not your typical, social, creepy-guys-trying-to-pick-up-girls gym. It's very zen. And it's very music oriented. I think people going there are going to discover new music.
Music at most gym classes is very annoying. It's hard to endure an hour of thumping dance music or whale music.
Like I said, people will do a class and then they'll want to - and are able to - download the music list afterwards. It's everyone from Chairlift to The Antlers, the Band of Skulls, The Go! Team, Hot Panda. It's all interesting new music. You're not ever going to walk into our gym and hear some garbage that you just heard on the radio driving. It's meant to transform. Whatever hour you spend in there, you're escaping to something new - and music is part of that.
No OLP class with all OLP music?
You will not hear OLP music in there, unfortunately.
There's no OLP stuff anywhere.
Christie wants to have some sort of homage to what that space was so we just thought we'd look through some old photos to see if there's some stuff that we can put in there to keep the history in that building.
Can people just pop in to enjoy a class or do they have to join for a year?
There's no yearly membership. You can buy bulk packages. There is no upselling. It's not like you walk in there and before you do a class, you have to do a tour and someone tries to sell you a $1500 membership. I deal with that all the time when I go to gyms. I walk into a gym in Chicago and I just want a day pass. 'Well, can you sit down with our sales representative?' I just want to work out for an hour! So there's not that bullshit.
If Union Fitness takes off, would you expand or franchise?
If it does really well, sure it would be fun to open up a few more. If people want it, then for sure.
Is this your second business venture with Jeremy and Duncan?
I don't know what the first one is. OLP?
It was easy. We own the place. It's a business venture in the sense that it was really easy for us. It's not something that we have to manage or takes away from the music. It as something that was handed to us on a silver platter from meeting Christie and the idea coming from John.
571 Wellington Street West (at Bathurst)
Get more information at www.UnionStudio.ca.