St. Vincent at Metro, 2/18/10

St. Vincent is for lovers.

Or, that’s what it seemed like Thursday night Metro, a post-Valentine’s smattering of pairs, tall and short, black and white, fat and skinny. To the guy behind me: I swear, if I overhear you again telling the obviously bored chick you’re with about how awesome your music collection transitions from Billy Holliday to the Dead Kennedys, I’ll smack you. The stench of your smugness discussing your Yo-Yo Ma jams was equally disgusting.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

All asides, Annie Clark’s nom-de-plume return to Chicago was nothing short of gorgeous. By that, I mean both the tunes AND the performer.

Her two albums – 2007’s Marry Me and last year’s Actor are two gems of strangely damaged pop music. They’re lush with jagged, uneven soundscapes, nestled with her delicate falsetto. It’s like an angel narrating your nightmares.

I suppose that’s part of St. Vincent’s appeal. She’s pretty, diminutive even, and she makes a lot of noise. Big noise.

What’s great about her music is that is contains a “this-could-go-off-the-rails-at-any-moment” energy without entirely deviating from conventional song structure. The arrangements on her records are meticulous. That insularity doesn’t always translate live.

Quite the contrary. It was striking to find how wide open each song seemed to be. They were airy and almost malleable. This was put to the test very early on.

Her band, (four scruffy dudes) started with a diaphanous version of “The Strangers”, where Clark struggled with the volume malfunction of her guitar during the song’s midpoint. It didn’t really seem to matter though, as the swell of brass instruments easily compensated for the guitar’s absence.

One of the night’s best moments was “Marrow,” a stomp full of guitar squalls and an uneasy, audible tension. Clark’s plea of “H-E-L-P, help me, help me”, followed pounding her guitar’s body during the song’s breakdown showed some of her uncharacteristic wickedness.

Unexpectedly, she eventually abandoned her guitar in favor of keyboards during a gentle version of “The Bed”, a mellow ballad. It was quiet enough to hear the conversation of those inconsiderate enough in the back of the club.

Clark’s music commands seriousness, it’s a relief to find she has a sense of humor. As her band left the stage briefly so she could perform solo, she explained her love for “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, which was the song that proceeded her on stage. She gave a quick narration of the song, then played another song she considered similar in theme, a sterling version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

The breadth of Clark’s powers were on display with the encore of “Your Lips Are Red”. A tension filled mess of guitar, bass and brass instruments, Clark attacked her guitar with the same gesticulation Gena Rowlands displayed during one of her psychotic episodes in John Cassavetes’s “A Woman Under The Influence”. Both were unnatural, unorthodox and generally terrifying.

I suppose there’s another parallel between those two. In the film, Gena Rowlands is a woman who looked crazy and tried to convince everyone she wasn’t. Here, St. Vincent is a woman who doesn’t look crazy and wants to convince everyone she might actually be.

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View more photos from the show at our gallery.

Short List, Long Day

Just a short round up today. Sort of a slow one.

1. I went to measure a poster frame today because I couldn’t remember what size poster frame to get for my new Animal Collective poster. The ruler I used? It had all of the Presidents on it… up to Clinton. Tee hee. He’s two presidents away now. Wild!

2. Just got a hold of former musician Ryan Adams’s unreleased record, The Suicide Handbook. It’s actually pretty great. Lots of ‘old’ Ryan Adams voice, which I sort of classify as sounding somewhat more…vulnerable? Either way, it’s good stuff.

3. Rachel Maddow makes me laugh. Her show tackles serious stuff, but she’s funny about it. Yay liberal media!

4. I’m sort of shellshocked that W is gone. Here’s a new classic clip where he declares the very alive Nelson Mandela dead. Those were the days. And by ‘the days’ I mean ‘last week’.

5. I implore you to check out Oklahoma-based Moon Mission Death Squad. Two brothers who put out an album every other year.. and it’s all free to download on their site. Check out Fuck What You Heard. Great stuff. Thanks to Mike Ross for the introduction to these guys.

One Twenty Oh Nine

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I was inspired today watching the inaugural festivities, and decided to cobble together a mixtape featuring songs I felt were appropriate for the occasion. Enjoy!

Click here to download.

Tracklist:

Change Is Gonna Come – Otis Redding
The World Is An Open Door – Franz Nicolay
Sorrow – Bad Religion
Afrobama – Cody Chesnutt
Come Together – The Beatles
The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Black Man – Stevie Wonder
Constructive Summer – The Hold Steady
I Want To Take You Higher – Sly & The Family Stone
The Start of Something – Voxtrot

Gino-ology: Tracing the Development of Gino Scarim

He nails the guitar part in one take.

Gino Scarim looks surprised as he makes a series of clicks in a program called ProTools, editing the track he just recorded.

Behind him with guitar in hand stands Eric Grossmann, the guitar player of northwest-suburban mainstays The Brokedowns, who’s joking with his bandmates about being able to play the guitar part despite learning the song minutes before he recorded it.

Scarim listens to the playback on speakers above his head, and after some short deliberation with the bandmembers, decides it’s time to move on to the next track. What he’s doing isn’t making him a lot of money – but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

At 28, Scarim is responsible for two of the northwest suburbs’ longtime music businesses – record label Duckphone Records, which he’s run for almost a decade, and promotion company Decal Productions, which is responsible for booking local acts in local venues. In addition to this, he performs as a sound engineer at the Clearwater Theater in West Dundee, as well as at the Metro in Chicago, and he owns a recording studio, Red Door Studio in Fox River Grove.

Since Scarim’s operations are small, he admittedly doesn’t have much money to pack into promotion or touring for his bands, but there are some success stories. One of Decal’s early bookings was political punk band Against Me! in Elgin, in November 2003. The band went on to sign a major label deal and recorded their latest album with the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Scarim looks more like a defensive tackle and less like someone who works in the sound business. He’s got a shaved head and a trimmed beard, is heavyset and stands a little over six feet. Physically, he’s a bit imposing, but the fact that he’s wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man kind of dispels the notion that he’d hurt anyone. His co-worker at Clearwater Theater. Co-worker D.J. DeNoon says, “He doesn’t drink, never had a cigarette, doesn’t do drugs and he tried to stop drinking pop.”

There’s no doubt Scarim loves music – that’s very clear when he talks about starting bands with his high school buddies. His musical tastes range “all over the charts,” and he says he likes hardcore bands like Converge, Dillenger Escape Plan and the Lawrence Arms. Taste doesn’t really factor in picking what bands to record. To him, what’s rewarding is providing a launching pad for those who are in the same position he was 10 years ago.

“I try to keep it real light, friendly – joke around. Productive and professional. There are so many added pressures in the studio. My studio is rather inexpensive, but the bands still get a higher quality recording,” he says. Scarim also says it helps if the bands have home recordings. That way he can get an idea of how the band sounds and see what direction he can help take the songs in.

There is no way to deny the influence of Scarim on this community. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to assume someone in his position could be difficult or out of touch. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s no discernable trace of and that’s what endears him to the people he’s worked with and worked for.

Jamison Butcher, one of Scarim’s former interns at Clearwater Theater credits Scarim for “single-handedly” nurturing the music scene and without him “it would have died out a long time ago.” Scarim’s former bandmate and co-worker Mustafa Daka says, “He will do whatever he can to help people and has done a lot, and is so humble he won’t admit it. He’s made a lot of things possible for a lot of people, and keeps things fun for a lot of people.”

“It’s somewhat generational. We were working with younger kids doing shows – high school type kids, kids are getting into music earlier – and it happened to be a good thing at the time,” says Grossmann. “In high school for me, there were no shows around here. People in bands weren’t the norm, now it’s the inverse; there’s a ton of shows all the time.”

Scarim carefully explains that his promotion company, Decal Productions, provides him his necessary income. It’s the reason he can keep the label and recording studio going. The success of the company allowed him to move to different venues – and as a result, present more shows. Duckphone Records is something he enjoys doing, but isn’t necessarily crucial to his income.

Only one of Scarim’s businesses allows him the freedom to not have to hold any other supplemental jobs. The music scene in this corner of the northwestern suburbs went from nascent to populous in a short amount of time. Once it was hard to find shows in the area – now Scarim’s company Decal runs seven shows a week.

“It’s weird,” he says. “The more involved I get, the more I have to be. They all transfer into everything. I couldn’t do one without the other. They feed off each other.”
Back in 1999, the northwest suburbs started to populate itself with high-school-aged kids starting bands inspired by their favorite ska-core staples, the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Slapstick, which later spawned regionally-known acts such as Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms. For the kids in this area, however, there was one big problem – nowhere to record, or play.

That’s when Scarim took matters into his own hands. He founded Duckphone Records in 1999 to record his friends’ bands so they’d have something to sell at their shows.

It wasn’t an instant process by any means. When Duckphone formed, Scarim was working for the Classic Cinemas chain of movie theaters, where he became the youngest general manager in the theater’s history at the age of 19. Two days after he graduated high school, he accepted a job at the theater that paid him $19,500 dollars a year. It was good money, he says, but quit a year later after he was offered a position at musical instrument store Sam Ash.

“I bought equipment slowly – used stuff for a good price. I … never had a ton of extra cash,” says Scarim. “[I started in] my parents’ basement. They gave me an entire basement to do my stuff.”

In his parent’s basement, Scarim started with a basic four-track tape recorder that he ran into an Analog recorder.

Daka, or “Moose” as he’s known to most, used to be Scarim’s co-worker at Sam Ash and was a bandmate in their onetime band Slim Jim Conspiracy. He was instrumental in the early days of Duckphone, as well as when Scarim set out to start booking shows.

Daka and Scarim would take items discarded from Sam Ash – soundproofing and cables – and built a closet with those materials. Even if some of the materials were half broken, they’d try to use them. According to Scarim, they’d “Frankenstein” microphones where they took working parts of some and put them together with parts of others. They fashioned the closet into a vocal booth using found materials. When finances allowed, he would upgrade the equipment in his studio. The patchwork studio setup lasted for several years, until Scarim moved equipment into the studio he’d purchased in January 2007.

Scarim and Daka at first teamed up to find shows for their band. “Me and Gino did a lot of calling around, because a lot of VFWs and Moose Lodges wouldn’t do shows. When we heard bands playing places, we’d call and try getting our band on there,” he says. “We ended up playing a lot of Battle of the Bands so we could play.”

Moose had started booking shows at the Warp Skate Park in Elgin, which originally overwhelmed Scarim. “I was like, I can’t do what Moose does, having bands calling him all the time,” he says incredulously. “But then I started doing it independently of him.” Not long after, Scarim got in contact with Grossmann, who, like Scarim, was struggling to find shows for his band.

The pair heard through mutual friends that they both had wanted to book shows, so Grossmann took the dive and called Scarim. They held meetings at Denny’s in Carpentersville, about the direction they wanted to go in. There, Decal Promotions was formed as a partnership between the two. In 2003, the fledgling company scored big early – they negotiated a deal with Clearwater Theater, a fairly new venue that hadn’t invited may local bands to play. Decal began hosting shows on Mondays and Tuesdays. “Things snowballed from there,” says Grossmann. The success of shows at Clearwater led to slots at Penny Road Pub in nearby Barrington and Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry.

About a year ago, Grossmann left Decal to focus on his day job as an IT recruiter and on his new family. Scarim then took over full time.
But he’s not without help.

DeNoon, a co-sound engineer at Clearwater says, “Gino … told me how to set up and run sound. Before [him] I had never done sound – and he needed people who knew how to do it, so he taught me to run it when he couldn’t be there.” Because of his experience at Clearwater, DeNoon now assists bands he’s worked with on shows at larger venues such as the Metro.

Several years ago, DeNoon hit a rough patch where he was unemployed and didn’t have a place to stay. Scarim’s parents took him in. “The job I have now I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t because of Gino,” he says. “I wouldn’t be at the place I’m at now with a place to live without Gino and his family.” He pauses. “Wow,” DeNoon says. “I don’t even think he knows about this.”

Eddie Tsikretsis – the former bass player of Me, Myself and Eyepatch, one of Duckphone’s earliest bands – is far removed from his days on Duckphone’s roster. Yet he agrees that Scarim’s approach remains the same.

“He’s dealing with kids with no musical ability and he’s pretty awesome at that. He championed us the whole time,” Tsikretsis says. “The motivating factor is that he wants to see bands doing something, even if it isn’t his thing.” Scarim recorded an entire album for Me, Myself and Eyepatch, but the band disbanded shortly thereafter. “Gino gets good involvement from kids who have burgeoning interest and he incubates them,” Tsikretsis continues.

Back at the studio, Grossmann struggles to lay down a guitar track for another song, despite his earlier successes. Scarim calmly offers encouragement and provides direction on where Grossmann can come back in on the track. Eventually, after several more takes, the tracking is completed. He takes a seat and listens intently as Scarim cues up the track on the computer screen. After the playback is done, Scarim turns to the guitar player and smiles.

“Good job, Grossmann.”

Then it’s back to work.

So, you guys give me a lot of crap…

Talking to my buddy Mike Ross tonight, and he said something about The Hold Steady that was just about perfect. All of you that haven’t had it drilled into your head yet by me (and other detractors), read this, and then give em another spin. Perfect.

“The Hold Steady. They’ve been described as sounding like AC/DC being fronted by a drunk English Lit professor… if you like Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, or the first couple of Led Zep records and don’t mind a very verbose guy rattling off the wildest sort of hard-partying and even harder day-after-partying stories you’ve ever heard, you might want to check them out. They made me believe in rock and roll again.”

Goddamn.

Spin “Stuck Between Stations” here. (via The Hype Machine)

Also, the offer still stands. See them live. With me….Even if you don’t get converted tonight, you gotta admit that the band’s pretty tight.

Have You Seen My Dulcimer?

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In the fall of 2004, I started my freshman year of college at Northern Illinois University. I wasn’t a big fan of it – I missed my friends and I wanted to be at home – so every weekend, I went home. During this time, I talked to a bunch of friends back at home into starting a band. I thought it would be fun since I sort of ham-handedly played guitar, and it would be cool to get something together that sounded like my favorite band at the time – Broken Social Scene. So I did what any other eighteen year old at the time would have done. Formed a band.

Dos Ambuli began in late 2004 as the marriage between two types of people: those with musical talent, and those that didn’t. I was in the latter. The musicians of the group of the group were patient – our drummer and multi-instrumentalist tirelessly coached us through songs we tried to put together. I insisted we recorded every jam session. We eventually were able to put together one song called “Small Victory”, which, very succinctly was just that. We then decided to work on some other songs sketches in the following weeks. Near Thanksgiving 2004, however, our practices collapsed and the songs were shelved.

Then, in the summer of 2005, vocalists Brud Branson and Kelsey Pierson along with myself had decided to revisit the project with the use of Apple’s GarageBand software. Through one marathon session one evening, we churned out several songs in the program. Again, we shelved these to use at a later time.

In August of that year, Brud and I re-convened to record more with multi-instrumentalist Keith Pitner and Zach Golden on what would be our finest achievement: the song called “I’m a Baby Dinosaur”. Written by Brud and friend Chris Lindsey, the song one minute and forty one seconds of pop excellence, chronicling a baby dinosaur that loves watching porn. (We did a couple other songs that day, but seriously, nothing really compares.)

The song caught fire locally, mainly with high school students, leading me to be recognized at Target as the guy in the band that did “the baby dinosaur song”. Awesome.

Anyways, near the end of 2005, I sat down with the recordings and organized them to create our magnum opus, Poop In A Boot, based on a drawing made by Brandon.

So, mere days after I completed my college career, I wanted to share Dos Ambuli with the rest of you.

This is our sprawling avant-punk, twee-pop, indie rock, outsider music classic. Enjoy it. Share it with your friends.

Or just post in the comments about how shitty it was.

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Dos Ambuli – Poop In A Boot (2005) (104.3 MB)


Dos Ambuli is:

Brud Branson – Vocals
Kelsey Pierson – Vocals
Brendan Hilliard – Guitar, Background Vocals
Keith Pitner – Keyboard, Trombone, Random other instruments
Luke Mycyk – Bass
Andy Soderstrom – Drums