Touring Band Has Common Sense Stolen Out of Van in St. Louis
by Jaime Lees
A rash of van break-ins in St. Louis have left touring bands vowing to ban the entire city as a future concert destination.
The most recent victim is GroupBand, on the road now from Rocker City, US.
“Our phones, laptops and equipment were all intact, but our common sense seems to have been targeted,” says lead singer and guitarist John Falsetto, “We turned our backs for two short hours and – poof! – common sense gone. I mean, my vintage common sense is just such a heavy burden. I don’t know why I should be the person who has to carry it around all the time.”
GroupBand’s van had been left fully-stocked and entirely unattended outside after its show at Venue in the well-known Hell No part of town.
Ringo Snares, drummer, explains, “We’ve never been here before so we just assumed that it would be fine. Who steals something like that? I worked for years to gain this kind of common sense. It is my livelihood. This is what feeds my family of iguanas. Things like this never happen in my own town where I’m completely familiar with all of the areas.”
Guitarist George Noodle expands on GroupBand’s regular precautions, saying, “It sucks because there is really no substitute for good common sense, you know? I actually kept my backup common sense in a bag clearly labeled ‘Common Sense Backup’ and they took that, too. It was just sitting in plain sight on the dashboard – it didn’t look like anything special. I don’t know why they would think to grab it.”
Fearful for their reputations and revenues, venue owners and promoters have met with police and representatives from the mayor’s office to open up a dialogue on the crimes and to brainstorm on possible solutions.
Police Chief Wiggum is eager to get this problem under control. He put these issues into perspective when he said, “It’s cool. The St. Louis Police Department hasn’t been very busy lately, anyway. Things have been pretty quiet around the office. Personally, I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting at my desk and learning how to knit. We have nothing more important to do, really, than help these non-residents try to find their common sense.”
Mayor Slayer, for his part, seemed baffled. He released a statement on the subject via Twitter that read: “Not sure why people from out of town would be targeted for this type of item. Everyone in STL already has their own common sense. #fgs”
Some venue owners are now happily paying hundreds of extra dollars per night to hire off-duty nannies from the Babysitter’s Club to watch over touring bands’ precious common sense while the members are out drinking. Venue owners and promoters don’t mind having to pay for extra security because everybody knows that they always have heaps of extra cash.
It’s a move that meets with approval from GroupBand’s bassist Paul Thumper, who says, “My mom always takes care of me at home so why shouldn’t venue owners do the same? When I’m on the road, venue owners are my mom: they give me money and feed me and all that. Is it too much to ask them to take care of me like my mommy would? I think not.”
And though these changes aim to help bands touring through the midwest in the future, Marshall Feedback, GroupBand’s completely necessary third guitarist, says these new security measures can’t change the damage that has already been done.
“Some people think that street smarts are more important than book smarts. But now I’ll never know which is more valuable because I don’t have either,” he lamented before adding, “It’s not so much that our common sense is gone, it’s that our talent seems to be gone, too. And that’s the kind of thing that you just can’t buy.”
Vintage Vinyl Partners Split; Lew Prince Moving On
By Jaime Lees
Tue., Jun. 16 2015 at 7:15 AM
Tom “Papa” Ray is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl. After more than three decades of sharing duties with co-founder Lew Prince, Ray assumed full ownership yesterday, as Prince moves on to new adventures. Both men talked to the Riverfront Times, sharing their pride in the store. The reason for the split? As Prince says, “I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it’s paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It’s just that simple.”
Vintage Vinyl started in 1979 when Ray and Prince began selling used records out of a booth at Soulard Farmer’s Market. The business thrived and eventually put down roots on the west end of the Delmar Loop in University City.
The store was recently named as one of the ten best record stores in the U.S., which only confirmed what locals already knew. Vintage Vinyl has long served as a hub of St. Louis music culture. In addition to the expected music store wares, Vintage is also a friend of the local scene: it stocks tons of local music, frequently hosts local bands for in-store performances and boasts a thriving paper fliers section just inside the front door, internet be damned.
“I’m looking forward to continue working with the best staff that we’ve ever had in the 35-year history of the store,” Ray tells us. “And being a part of the musical community in St. Louis as well as the record store mothership in the Delmar Loop.”
Vintage Vinyl ownership isn’t the only musical venture in the life of Tom Ray. He’s also a long-time DJ at KDHX who currently hosts the Monday drive-time slot with his show the Soul Selector. He was also recently tapped to curate a compilation released by Trojan Records and is known to play a bit of harmonica with blues acts around town and on tour with Los Angeles band Vintage Trouble.
Ray credits the shop’s success to the rich musical history in St. Louis.
“I would say that we started with the knowledge that we saw that there was a responsibility to not only serve our customers but to understand how important of a foundation city St. Louis is in American music — which is something that I often saw ignored by other store owners,” he says. “It was almost like they were oblivious to the fact that, you know, we have musical greatness in our DNA here in St. Louis.”
And though the Soul Selector is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl, co-founder (and White House award-winning) Lew Prince was kind enough to grant us a jovial exit interview of sorts late last night. (Prince is also a former RFT writer.) Here, he walks us through his history with Vintage Vinyl, his political views and his plans for the future.
Will you please explain to me your current situation?
It basically is: Tom and I started this company 35 years ago. I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it’s paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It’s just that simple. I don’t know what it is yet, but something different!
Until then, maybe you get a couple of naps in?
[laughs] You know, I am going to take the next month or two off. I love to travel. One of the benefits of the job that I had was the way that Tom and I structured the company. It wasn’t something that was going to make us a bunch of money, but [it did] give us free time to do the things that we want. I mean, you see Tom go on the road with Vintage Trouble, the band he plays with. You see Tom go off on the road opening for bands as their DJ.
And over the years the two things that I’ve done is, first, pretty much every year or so I take a month or two off and go hiking in the Himalayas, go hiking in the Andes. I go up a river in Thailand. I spent months and months walking around China in the late ’80s. I spent months walking around Tibet in the early ’90s.
Oh my god.
Yeah! And this job is what freed me to do that. I think I’m headed to the Himalayas for August and part of September. There’s a little former kingdom up there called Sikkim that’s between Nepal and Bhutan, that used to be a separate country but now it’s part of India. It’s one of the places in the Himalayas that I haven’t walked so I’m going up there, I think. When I get back I’m hoping to find a job.
And the second thing that I’ve always been able to do is to go off and do these political things that I’ve done. I’ve been a spokesperson for Business for Shared Prosperity and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which is a national organization for almost a decade now.
So, I don’t get paid for any of that. But it sort of frees me to be part of the political process in a really interesting way. So maybe I’ll do something with that.
I really think that you’re a local hero when it comes to stuff like that.
[laughs heartily] You know, I totally backed into that stuff. I was really pissed off when dumbass George W. Bush kept talking about “job creators” and all of these backwards things. So I thought, well, through Vintage Vinyl I’ve created a couple of dozen jobs. I had about 25 employees. And I just thought that he was wrong. Most small business owners that I know really want their people to be able to earn a decent wage and understand that national health care or some form of healthcare for everyone is really important. And I’ve always done issues that, like, essentially have a moral center.
Yeah, it seems like employees who are well taken care of are better employees, too, right?
Absolutely. I think as Americans we sign this deal that we’re going to take care of each other. That this is a country that is constructed to be — at its root — classless. That is to say: anyone from one class can move to any other class if the system is working correctly. But it’s not working correctly right now. And simple things like a basic wage and safe working conditions and reasonable health care are how we help each other in this country.
I’m interested how you build on your interests. You built Vintage Vinyl so clearly you can do things and get them done, and now that applies to your political interests, too.
I’m really good at organizing certain things and motivating people to accomplish things together. The structure at Vintage Vinyl has never been top-down. It’s always been sort-of like an amoeba. [laughs] We’re all pushing against the wall and we’re all pushing in the same direction. And that’s sort of how I do what I do.
Well, Vintage Vinyl is a retail store but it’s also a community center.
Yeah, Tom and I very much wanted it to be the musical center in St. Louis. We wanted it to be a place where people who were interested in a certain kind of American music or world music could find each other. Because Tom and I found each other at college, you know? We have known each other since 1970. I was a sophomore and he was a freshman at Webster University. I was playing guitar and he was playing harmonica and we hit it off musically. We had very broad, broad tastes. The range of the things that we liked was really similar. And in the days before the internet, the way that you learned about music was going through each other’s record collections. And he and I both had pretty vast ones, even then, and we discovered things. Like, “Oh, you like that! Wait until you hear this guy!” You know? That kind of stuff. That’s how Tom and I bonded. And, you know, here we are getting close to 45 years later.
You’ve been riffin’ off of each other for a long time.
Exactly, exactly, exactly. Between us both, I think it’s three wives and five kids later. [laughs]
Tell me about, maybe, your best moment as far as organizing the store or tell me a story about something that really sticks out that really touched you.
Somebody sent me a column that some young woman wrote on the internet a couple of months ago. And it was a woman that I absolutely remember. I think she was a high school kid. What she wrote was that she came into Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis and she described to the guy working there — and she described me as the guy: bearded old guy with a t-shirt — she’d told me what kind of music she was interested in. And I suggested some things to her and she chose a Led Zeppelin record. And I told her it was good choice and why. She took it home and she loved it, of course.
And since then, she said most of the time when she goes to a record store and describes her taste, that people laugh at her. You know, there’s kind of a music snobbery that goes with some record stores and she was really appreciative that the first time she went into Vintage Vinyl that nobody did that to her. She wrote that it made her feel brave and the whole thing was kind of a thank-you note to me.
I always felt like that what’s we’re supposed to do and that’s what we try to teach the employees. And in the beginning it was hard. In the beginning Tom and I were really bad at hiring people. The store got better when Tom and I quit hiring people because we hired people that we thought would be really entertaining, as opposed to people who might be good for the job. [laughs]
So, once we handed over the hiring and said, ”Look, what we want are people who are evangelical about music — people who are going to take the sound that someone is describing and find it for them. And the next time they come in maybe the employee says to them, “If you like that sound, here’s the next one. If you like ZZ Top, maybe you wanna hear Muddy Waters.”‘ And that’s kind of the theory.
That’s very sweet. Then you guys get to kind of go on a journey together.
Yep! And I’ve gotten to do that with thousands and thousands of people. You wouldn’t believe just the nice things that people have done for me and said to me over the years. I’m at the point now where people who I turned onto music as teenagers are now working for me. They became managers at my store. And it’s pretty cool.
But the thing to really get into this article is that I’m looking for a job! Because what I got for Vintage Vinyl won’t support me until I collect Social Security. So anyone out there who is looking for somebody who can run something or organize people or who has a nice slightly-unpopular charity [laughs], I’d be really good at that. So this is my job application. I’m hoping to get about five or six of these interviews so that I can use them all as my job applications, I gotta tell you.
I do have pretty good skills at building an effective value-based organization. Vintage Vinyl is built much more on a value system than on a commercial notion or I’d have some fuckin’ money! [laughs]
I am bizarrely selfish about how I spend my time. Basically, in life, you’re just trying to keep yourself entertained. And I’m desperately trying to keep myself entertained by doing things that please me. But at the same time, what pleases me involves both my aesthetics and my value system. And that’s really all there is. If you spend your life that way, I don’t think you get to have many regrets in the end. I’m inside of twenty years from the end. Eh. And it’s part of the reason that I don’t want to go to work everyday doing retail. I want to do something else. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll find it.
Full disclosure: this writer volunteers at Vintage Vinyl one day a year to distribute free Schlafly Beer to music lovers on Record Store Day.
The Blue Pearl, New Bar/Music Venue, to Open on Cherokee This Summer
By Jaime Lees
Tue., May 26 2015
At 2926 Cherokee Street, owner/manager Julie Sommer is getting close to opening a different kind of Cherokee bar — one she hopes will appeal to an older, more sophisticated clientele. The Blue Pearl plans to feature roots music and light food offerings.
The business has already had its hearing for a liquor license. While Sommer needs to apply for occupancy and health department permits before her license can be finalized, her goal is to open within the next few months.
Sommer explains, “Part of the idea for the space was to appeal to an older, working crowd. Basically, I still love to hear live music, but I am older and work a lot, so I don’t want to go out to see a band that doesn’t even start until 11 p.m. or midnight. … I think a lot of ‘non-traditional’ folks in the Cherokee neighborhood and St. Louis generally might welcome the idea of early live music. There are many contractors, artists, and other self-employed entrepreneurs who I believe would appreciate the opportunity to go to a nice place to hear music in the late afternoon or early evening.”
The hours aren’t yet set, but Sommer expects to be open to the public four days per week. In addition to a full bar, she plans to serve salads and simple snacks — dried fruits, pickled beets and marinated olives.
Even before its opening, the bar has already become part of the Cherokee Street scene. Local film maker Bill Streeter used The Blue Pearl as one of many locations for his Lo-Fi Cherokee music video series, with the soon-to-open venue hosting the performance of local “hyperactive synth and guitar rock band” Whoa Thunder. [The Lo-Fi series premieres this Friday, May 29 on Jefferson Avenue near Cherokee Street. Event information here.]
We caught up with Sommer via email to get the details: link
– link: Riverfront Times
St. Louis’ premier presenter of high-end musical weirdness, New Music Circle, is offering some pretty great deals on its upcoming shows at the Stage at KDHX.
New Music Circle is an organization that is “dedicated to the creation and performance of improvisational and experimental music” and it’s been supplying St. Louis with cool, artistic, adventurous, creative, innovative, weird, touching, intellectual, off-the-map and joyfully WTF events since 1959.
The mission of The New Music Circle is to contribute to the cultural life of Metropolitan St. Louis by sponsoring presentations of concerts, multimedia and other cultural events, with emphasis on contemporary music; to provide by means of these presentations, additional professional opportunities for musical and associated talent; to enhance thereby the attractiveness of Metropolitan St. Louis as a place of residence and livelihood for the members of these professions; and to stimulate interest in new musical and associated activities.
All of the upcoming NMC events at KDHX are available at three price points:
– Struggling Music Lover
New Music Circle board member Rad Widmer offers a little history on this system of ticket pricing:
“For many years, NMC had a discount for ‘students and artists.’ A few years ago the NMC board felt that the artists category was too exclusive and didn’t really reflect the board’s intent,” he says. “So we eventually came up with the phrase ‘struggling music lover.’ Or sometimes ‘struggling music supporter.’ Anyway, the board’s intent is to make the shows as affordable as possible, and having a sliding ticket price based on the honor system seems to work well for us. We hate to have someone miss a show because they can’t afford it.”
“While the $20 admission is a significant help to us keeping this operation going, it’s our goal to keep these shows as affordable and accessible as possible, and we just want to have options available for the wide range of audiences we get,” explains NMC program coordinator Jeremy Kannapell. “We have diverse turnouts in age and backgrounds: both younger and older people, students and artists, as well as people who have not heard the presented artists before and are just curious to check it out and see what they are about.”
So go check out these upcoming events. But don’t be a jerkburger– pay the full price if you can at all afford it. That money goes back into bringing you more cool events. But if you are struggling and you still just must attend, enjoy the show for half price courtesy of your friends at New Music Circle. Keep them in mind as a great organization to donate to the next time you’re flush.
Upcoming events and links to purchase from Brown Paper Tickets below:
Matthew Shipp / Michael Bisio Duo
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28 @ the Stage at KDHX
On Fillmore (Glen Kotche, Darin Gray)
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 3 @ the Stage at KDHX
Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25 @ the Stage at KDHX
Tim Berne’s Snake Oil
7:30 p.m. Friday, May 8 @ the Stage at KDHX
To stay updated on New Music Circle events, “like” the Facebook page here.
link: Riverfront Times
The Silver Ballroom Fosters Community Among Pinball-Loving St. Louis Punks
By Jaime Lees Wed., Feb. 25 2015
“I want this to be the place where old punk rockers come to die,” says Steve “Doc” Dachroeden of his bar. When Dachroeden and his wife, Shelly, opened the Silver Ballroom nearly five years ago, it was designed around just a couple of key elements: pinball and punk rock. That’s what they liked, so that’s what they provided.
It’s an unlikely business model that has found solid success in south city’s Bevo Mill neighborhood. Since opening in April 2010, the Silver Ballroom has become an internationally renowned destination spot for pinball enthusiasts and a home away from home for St. Louis musicians looking to unwind. Patrons are drawn to the flashing lights of the arcade-style setup and the sounds of the games dinging beneath the blast of classic punk rock provided by a carefully stocked jukebox.
The jukebox selection is a well-earned point of pride for Dachroeden. It’s loaded with classic punk albums and selections from local bands including Nineteen, 7 Shot Screamers and the Humanoids.
“If you’re going to have a real punk-rock bar, there’s no Blink-182 in the jukebox,” he says. “When the jukebox stops, nothing comes on. Not the radio or anything. It’s punk rock or nothing. No Nelly songs on after the Dead Kennedys or anything like that.”
It’s a musical place, and not just because of the jukebox. Dachroeden’s connection to the music scene goes back much further than the existence of the bar. In addition to drumming for the UnMutuals, Dachroeden has played in fifteen or so bands since moving to St. Louis from Australia in 1987. He also spent years as the “artist relations guy” at instrument distributor St. Louis Music, specializing in Ampeg amplifiers and Alvarez guitars.
Doc mentions, almost offhandedly, that he’d “have to do things like fly to AC/DC’s rehearsal and make their practice sound good.”
Tim Jamison, singer of St. Louis’ long-running punk band Ultraman, met Dachroeden many years ago while filming an episode of Critical Mass, a late ’80s public-access show not unlike a smarter, St. Louis-based version of Wayne’s World. His favorite aspect of the Silver Ballroom is the inclusion of historic concert fliers, displayed on the actual bar itself.
“The coolest thing about them is that they’re a totally lost art form,” Jamison explains as he taps a flier near the far corner of the bar.
The flier is for Scream, Dave Grohl’s punk band from the 1980s. It triggers a hilarious story from Jamison, who explains that the show was canceled, rescheduled for a different location and then shut down during sound check, with the bands eventually bailing on the whole thing and hitting a house party instead. A different flier for a Minutemen show at Mississippi Nights has Jamison recalling that the raucous event occurred just a month before the death of Minutemen vocalist D. Boon, with five “hoosier bands” opening the show and fistfights breaking out all night.
The handbills offer a glimpse into St. Louis’ musical past, advertising shows at shuttered venues and one-time performance spaces. Names including the Alley, Animal House, Bernard Pub, Bille Auditorium, Bryan’s, Carriage Bowl, Club 367, Creepy Crawl, Delmar Sports Palace, Frederick’s Music Lounge, the Galaxy, Jefferson Underground, Mississippi Nights, OP-P, Other World, Turner’s Hall, Solid 50’s and Victory Center are all represented in the fliers, and most of them have an accompanying story.
“At Bernard Pub the threat was being mugged,” Jamison explains. “At Turner’s it was getting beat up just for being a punk rocker.”
Punk rockers are still taking hits, as the Silver Ballroom and its patrons found out last month. On January 12 local musician Joe Manwarren was the victim of an attempted robbery as he left the bar and began walking to his car. Manwarren was shot in both the hand and the leg before he was able to run back inside for safety. The bar provided security-camera footage to the police, but so far no arrests have been made.
Manwarren says he feels lucky, not just for surviving the harrowing ordeal, but also because the incident happened near a place where he feels safe and has some “amazing friends.” In addition to installing extra outdoor lights for security, Dachroeden is hosting a pinball tournament on March 1 to assist Manwarren with his medical expenses. He is also in the final stages of inking a deal with the city to purchase a nearby parking lot, providing another well-lit place for patrons to park.
Despite this senseless act of random violence, the Silver Ballroom has a reputation as one of the friendliest, most welcoming establishments in the city. Dachroeden smiles proudly as he boasts that his place hasn’t even had one bar fight in its entire five-year history. And in many ways the Silver Ballroom illustrates how a noisy little corner bar can help to anchor a whole neighborhood. He keeps an eye out for his neighbors, and his neighbors keep an eye out for him.
Each day at the Silver Ballroom a staff member updates a wipe board that hangs inside the front door. On it is a list of shows happening that night. It’s an odd move for a bar to highlight what’s going on at other bars — basically encouraging its customers to walk right back out its door — but it’s that type of spirit and consistent dedication to the community that keeps the patrons coming back. They know that customers will return after the show and tell their tales. They’ll make new connections and form new bands. And then it will cycle again.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18
Christopher the Conquered
w/ Googolplexia, Patrick Eagan
Wednesday, February 18
Foam Coffee & Beer
8 p.m. | free
By Jaime Lees
As Christopher the Conquered, Chris Ford has a remarkable ability to silence any room as soon as he sings the first word. Ford’s breathy and passionate vocal delivery make comparisons to Jeff Buckley unavoidable but not entirely accurate. Sure, Ford is young and handsome and sings hauntingly beautiful piano songs, but he eschews all of Buckley’s wispy tragic-poet-posing and replaces it with strong, soulful confidence. Even in his lyrics, Ford’s personal despair usually cycles into tentative, but sturdy, optimism. Christopher the Conquered will shoot you right in the heart, and then you’ll pull yourself up off of the floor and thank him for his good aim.
Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt Writes Book, Offers Advice To Bands: “Keep It Fun, You Know?”
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Jan. 22 2015
Pavitt’s devotion, skill and connections fed the early days of this regional music movement that eventually led to a sea change in the entire music industry, but Pavitt is more than just a tastemaker; he’s a hard worker. And over the years he’d built a respected brand under the “Subterranean Pop” name– first as a radio show, then a zine and eventually as the name of the record label that he founded with Seattle DJ Jonathan Poneman that would release some of the most groundbreaking music of our time. Over the course of his life, Pavitt has worked nearly every job in the industry. He’s been a radio DJ, a zine publisher, a rock column writer, a record store founder, a club DJ, a record label founder and now an author and music historian.
Pavitt spoke to us from his home on Orcas Island in northwest Washington State, near the Canadian border. He describes the island as part natural paradise (one fourth of which is a state park) but with modern conveniences, like that all-important Seattleite essential: good coffee.
Pavitt’s new book SUB POP USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology, 1980-1988, available now from Bazillion Points Publishing is a massive, deep collection of all of his written work — including coverage from his own zine and reproductions of his column for Seattle’s Rocket newspaper in the 1980s.
Just as an index of underground bands alone, the book is invaluable. Here, Pavitt tracks small bands from inception to death, celebrating their tiny triumphs and documenting their disasters. He had an eye on it all, and it shows. His words are often the only proper record of many short-lived but amazing bands.
Read on for the full interview:
Jaime Lees: I was really excited to get your book. And I’ve been reading it for a couple of weeks and it’s so great because it’s a book you can never finish reading, because there is so much information in there.
Bruce Pavitt: I’m really glad you think so. That’s awesome.
The book is nice because it’s something that I can pick up ten years from now and find something that I missed the first time through. I really like that in a collection.
Well, thank you. It’s pretty unique in that at the time not a lot of writers were digging in this deep. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that no writer was digging in this deep as far as indie American culture, and I do feel that the book works as kind of the broadest and deepest index of 1980s indie culture out there. I spent eight years writing this stuff and it just kind of sat in a cardboard box for 25 years and I decided to put it back together.
Oh my god, I’m glad that box didn’t get wet or something, you know?
That’s right. [laughs]
Okay, so I’m interviewing you for a St. Louis newspaper and I’ve been there [with the Riverfront Times] for almost a decade, and there are still so many local bands that I want to cover. I could tell how deep your coverage was in the book because I don’t know about most of the bands you’re writing about. So I was like “Oh, the book is not just about the bands that got famous, it’s every local band that was around back then.” Personally, that’s interesting to me because that’s what I do mostly do, too, is write about the non-famous bands.
Cool! Yeah, as you can pick up from the zine, my whole fascination was — I realized that every city had a scene. But that most of those scenes were completely ignored even by everybody at that time in the alternative music media. Which would be like New York Rocker in New York. They might do a quick little scene report from Chicago or somewhere, but for the most part certainly cities like St. Louis, even Seattle, were completely ignored. If you were in New York, you’d have absolutely no idea what was going on in St. Louis or Seattle.
So I figured that by reviewing these indie records, I’d be able to at least tap into the vibe of these different smaller cities. I had access to probably the world’s best library of independent music because I was a DJ at KAOS radio at Olympia, and KAOS was the only station in the country that prioritized independent releases. So every band who put out a single at that time — in the early ’80s most bands put out a single — knew that if they sent it to KAOS that it would probably get played. And that’s how I had access to these resources.
People in New York wouldn’t know what’s going on in St. Louis, but here we’re forced to know about what’s going on in New York because that’s what is in the news.
So because we have such a sort of unknown but very vibrant scene here, I was like, “Oh, I gotta talk to him about regionalism” because that’s something that really interests me, especially with being from here. It also seems that sometimes here there’s a bit of a drive to keep our music our own.
Which I think is kind of a shame because I think our music is so great. But, like, if I was going to say to friends of mine in a band, “Oh, I asked Bruce Pavitt what he thinks you should do with your band” they’d say, “Well, fuck what he says! We do our own thing!”
[laughs] Yeah, yeah, totally!
Did you have that kind of resistance with your city, too? Because you were the guy who was taking it international — it was sort of in your hands. You did all of these things to get the music out and then it wasn’t local anymore. Did people have a problem with you, specifically, for that?
Some people had a problem with the fact that at a certain point the scene became so hot that, um, yeah it was no longer just friends and family anymore. And the main drive for most of these regional artists is simply to play music and be appreciated, not to make a career out of it. Basically, you’re talking about a network of hobbyists who are simply playing for the fun of it, but [laughs] the Seattle scene became so hot that there was a lot of money that came in and, you know, the culture changed.
There was more competition. Some musicians wound up making a lot of money. There was jealousy. There were people coming in from out of town. So it disrupted the “Hey, let’s just play some music for friends and family” vibe. Talent scouts coming up from LA, and it really did kind of fuck with the vibe of the scene. There was a documentary that came out in the early ’90s called Hype. And that’s the essential premise of that film: that by popularizing Seattle, Jon [Poneman] and I at Sub Pop had kind of destroyed the scene.
So people always have mixed reactions about what happened. But I think on some level a lot of people from Seattle felt a lot of excitement and kind of a sense of pride for what was going on in the city. Having been ignored for decades and then all of a sudden getting the spotlight — people have mixed feelings about that.
Well, you’re from Chicago, so you can probably understand that here there’s sort of an… extra healthy dose of Midwest skepticism for outsiders?
[Laughs] Yes, yes, definitely. Very similar, yeah.
I’m just interested in the potential parallels. You sort of drew the blueprint for what would happen if St. Louis music blew up nationally or internationally.
Yeah, I’ve got to say it’s an interesting story. I’m kind of deviating here, but when I stand back and look at it, this book kind of unveils the unknown story of all of the small, ignored scenes and the small ignored bands that created kind of a tribal network of punk enthusiasts and hobbyists and that network kind of grew over the ’80s and it’s… it’s a pretty fascinating story.
And it sounds weird to say that because it’s kind of my story here. But when I look back and review this book, it just… it’s really kind of almost unbelievable about how you can witness the growth of these small scenes as documented in this book, and then you see this energy kind of coalesce around Seattle and the essential premise of the book was that subterranean pop — underground pop — that any band could be popular if given the opportunity. That’s the essential premise of the book.
So you see all these rich local scenes kind of developing over the ’80s and then Seattle became kind of like the perfect exclamation mark at the end of the premise. Yes, the theory is correct. You know, if a scene gets nurtured and has some support and gets a little attention, then that music can go on to become very popular. Um, I know I’m kind of jumping around here a bit.
No, that totally makes sense because you can shine a light anywhere and find the good stuff there.
You can! And with the right — I would say — nurturing and support, really, any scene can blow up. And I would say in the back of my mind I always kind of thought about Jamaica. How the island of Jamaica and the city of Kingston could create a sound that would effectively influence global music. And it was just a handful of low budget studios in Kingston that created reggae and dub and Marley and affected the world.
So I always kind of had that model in the back of my head, and I would actually look at Washington state almost as an island. Not just Seattle, but Washington state. Because a lot of these bands — Screaming Trees, Nirvana, Melvins — a lot of these bands were coming in from the outlying areas. And I just figured: If they can do it in Jamaica, if they can do it in England — another case in point — then there’s no reason why it couldn’t be done in Washington. And it really came down to sharing information, communication and awareness.
The [Sub Pop] zine was read by just a small handful of other zine writers and musicians, but by the time I moved to Seattle and started writing for the Rocket… The Rocket was printed up in editions of 50-60,000 and distributed all over the state. So Kurt Cobain down in Aberdeen would go pick up a Rocket, and in my column he could read about Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers and Black Flag. And I know my column very much influenced him and influenced different musicians around the state. They got turned on to this underground culture that was just bubbling under the surface. I hope some of that makes sense. I hope you can edit that in a way where there’s a linear story there.
That doesn’t need editing, that makes complete sense. I just think it’s cool that having done all of these things for so many years, what I think must be nice for you is that if it wasn’t your story, that you could look at your book and be interested in a historical perspective, at least, as a music historian.
Definitely. You know, it’s funny because when I first pieced this book together, it was a little difficult because, you know, imagine putting together writings that you created at the very beginning of your career — it’s kind of a mixed bag. Some of my writing, I think my writing got pretty good by the time of the Rocket — but it’s hit and miss. So, you know, to publish everything that you’ve ever written is a little daunting, you know, because the editor in me just wanted to go in and just cut it up and just put in the best pieces. But I knew that I couldn’t really do that because the power of the book is the volume of information. And that’s part of the story there.
So I do — to answer your question — I can completely appreciate this as a history book. And this is a history book that documents a culture that a lot of this information isn’t even available on the Internet. This is a forgotten history. This is a piecing together of a history that in many ways that has been long-forgotten. You know, band from Oklahoma presses 500 singles, three people buy it, band breaks up two weeks later. Well, guess what? They’re still in the index in my book.
Yeah, there’s still a document of it somewhere. So, to me, you’ve done sort of everything in the industry for the most part. When young bands ask you for advice what do you tell them? Because you’ve seen it from all sides.
I definitely have seen it from all sides. I’ve worked radio and clubs and I had a record store — I pretty much did work every facet of the business. And when the label started, I was art direction, getting the records in production and so forth. But really, the core advice to any artist is: Keep it fun, you know? This is really about a celebration of spirit and creativity.
That’s why most of these bands in this book put out records. They weren’t really thinking in terms of career. And I think the mistake a lot of artists make right now is that they analyze their career moves a little too closely. They’ll get a manager and an attorney after a couple of rehearsals. They’ll start contemplating licensing deals. And a lot of that affects the quality of the music. And I feel that a lot of indie music these days completely lacks the spirit of the music of the ’80s that was more punk-influenced. I find a lot of the music from this period more spirited because these bands, their basic goal was to put out a single and maybe do a regional tour. So they had nothing to lose and they put everything that they had into it. And they were willing to take risks and they were willing to look ridiculous because their aims were not commercial. There was no way that they would ever make money doing stuff, so a lot of these recordings, to me, are a lot more spirited. Whereas a lot of the indie culture these days is kinda cerebral, a little more calculated, lacking in spirit. So my advice is really do it for the fun of it and things will flow from there.
A perfect example from that era would be a band like the B-52’s. They started out as a house band playing parties. Then they went up to New York a few times — I was fortunate enough to catch them at Max’s Kansas City in ’78, maybe 30 people in the audience. And at the time, they were just so original. I’d never seen anything like it. They’d just pressed their first single. I think they might’ve done an edition of 2,000 copies, and that was that. But because they were having fun and not necessarily being careerists, they wound up being very successful. People tapped into that risk-taking and that sense of joy that they had because they were just playing for the fun of it.
Yeah, who could guess that they would’ve gone as far as they did based on what they did?
Yeah. They were just having fun.
It seems like a lot of the bands here — and this is just my stupid little observation — some of my favorite bands that don’t go far locally, even, it’s because they don’t go to other people’s shows. And it’s not that they’re being punished for not going to others shows, it’s just that they miss out on that idle bar chat that eventually turns into, “Hey do you want to get on this show with my band?” It seems like the more everyone communicates around here, the easier things flow.
Absolutely. And this is — that’s actually a really good point. And the number one question I get asked all the time is “Now in the Internet era, does regionalism still matter?” Because people can network on the Internet. And I always say, “Absolutely.” There’s no substitute for going to a show, bumping into another musician or maybe a photographer and sharing ideas and developing a bond. And it’s those bonds that are developed through interpersonal connection that really help gel a scene. Internet communities are no substitute to a great local club that’s open to new artists.
We have a few of those here, so we’re really lucky. They really help to feed the community.
Yep. In Seattle a perfect — just to reflect on this, what happened in Seattle — a key factor in the Seattle success was the fact that a local photographer Charles Peterson was obsessed with documenting these live shows and he had a very unique style– you might be familiar with his work?
He had a lot of crazy action shots. Anyhow, I came across his photos at a party. I instantly recognized that if I could package the Seattle music with these images and was really consistent about that, then people would be intrigued. There was just no doubt in my mind. And this all happened by going to a party and meeting Charles, and that’s the thing about scenes: One thing leads to another and the next thing you know you have a culture.
Yeah, most of our musicians are artists also. So it’s easy for a musician to work with a photographer or a painter and on and on.
Yeah, one thing leads to the other. Hey, I wanted to mention just in passing that in one of my early zines — I can’t remember which one — but there was a St. Louis band and they were kind of a big deal at the time. I just wanted to drop in their name — that’s a group called Raymilland, named after a B-movie actor.
Ooh, I have that record sitting ten feet away from me.
Fantastic! Let’s see… that was in the third issue of my zine. There’s a quick little one page interview. I thought they were really good. They were championed by Wax Trax Records in Chicago at that time. In 1980 Wax Trax was kind of the center of the Midwest — that was the hub. Again, there was no Internet, so if you’re a music fan and you were in the Midwest, you’d drive to Chicago and go to Wax Trax records, because that’s where all the records were and all the zines. And then with the zines you could do some research and figure stuff out.
There was a publication in Chicago called Praxis which was very high end, kind of an art magazine, that focused on fashion and art and music and was part of the punk culture. And they included a flexi disc of Raymilland in one of their issues — that’s how I found out about them. You know, just a little history there.
That’s so crazy!
Raymilland was definitely seen as very progressive. A very interesting band. They sounded a little more European [laughs] which is why I think Wax Trax was so excited about them. But I think they’re really good.
I actually saw them play a reunion show in Athens, Georgia, a few years ago.
Really? Oh my god!
Yeah, they played in St. Louis and at Popfest in Athens and it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I love the record but it was amazing live.
Cool! That’s great; I never got a chance to see them.
If you want a copy of the record I can send you one.
Great, that would be really awesome.
So how do you currently find new bands that you’re interested in?
Well, uh, yeah, through word of mouth. I’m actually hanging out at SoundCloud a bit. I like going to SoundCloud and typing stuff in. Having lived on the west coast here for a while I’ve been more tapped into the west coast festival circuit. There are a lot of underground festivals here; music tends to be a little more DJ-oriented and a lot of that music is available on SoundCloud. So I don’t spend a lot of time in urban clubs — just a little bit. So again, word of mouth and doing research through SoundCloud and, you know, Bandcamp as well.
Could I ask you really quickly before I let you go — what’s your opinion on the latest media assertions about Dave Grohl being overexposed?
Oh, interesting. I haven’t seen that but I just saw Dave Grohl a few days ago. He was in Seattle. I think Dave Grohl… Do I think he’s overexposed? No, no I don’t. I think he’s done an incredibly great job with Sonic Highways — it’s a really good series. I think it was a brilliant marketing move, too, to have like an eight hour infomercial supporting your album.
It was actually over-the-top marketing genius. But, you know, he played it well because he went into these cities and was incredibly respectful of the legacies of these cities. He kind of knocked it out of the park with that. I’m very impressed. He’s pretty much the ambassador of rock these days. And I think that he has really good things to say. And that if anybody is going to go out there and you know, network with the president of the U.S. and talk music that it should be Dave. So I’m a big supporter of Dave Grohl. Personally, I liked him maybe a little more as a drummer in Nirvana than as a singer in the Foo Fighters, but aside from that, I think he has a remarkable gift for bringing people together and that’s a good thing.
Yeah, he’s the ultimate networker.
Yeah, I think so. You don’t need the Internet, just talk to Dave Grohl.