Bands On The Side
What Your Local Favorites Are Doing When Not Making The Music You Already Know
Sometimes artists just need a vacation. The catch with being a known performer, whether it's limited to a few clubs in Baltimore or worldwide, is that you're known for something. Musicians are stuck with it, like they're in success' debt; that that something is to be reproduced until renown is done with them or, if they're really famous, dead.
Certainly, plenty of successful musicians have switched it up over their careers, but the pressure of expectations remains--it's supposed to be the right kind of change and progression. Just fucking off isn't so much an option, at least in public.
Enter the side project, at once a petri dish for new ideas and an artistic safety valve, a way to stay creative and sane. There are plenty of side projects that have gone on to be bigger than their parent bands/projects--Broken Social Scene (from Do Make Say Think) and the Postal Service (from Death Cab for Cutie), to name a couple--but odds are you haven't heard of most of them, which is kinda the point: escaping your expectations.
Three years ago Dan Deacon started his side project Butt Stomach with the Videohippos' Kevin O'Meara. "It was an escape and a return back square one," Deacon writes via e-mail. "No one went to the shows. There were no familiar songs; people were seeing and hearing something they didn't know existed."
And, this being Baltimore, even the weird music becomes normal. So, we have more than a few others beyond Butt Stomach, from the already continuous feedback loop of club music--many a like beat and like sample are shared among DJs--to the band-member musical chairs of MT6 Records to folkies and noisemakers. Obviously, we can't be anywhere near comprehensive with a list--the numbers of side projects runs exponentially to the number of "full-time" bands, and they're fleeting to boot--but here's a few places where some of your Baltimore favorites are hiding.
A fine example of where a side project becomes a supergroup, the Chavy Boys of London consists of Unruly Records co-owners Scottie B and Shawn Caesar, along with King Tutt, Scottie B's quickly up-and-coming right-hand man (and City Paper's Best Club Producer for 2007). However inevitable the group feels, the project has only been around for about six months and released one EP, this past winter's Money Lotion, Vol. 5, six tracks of club music hybrid.
It's "more housey, more Euro stuff--in between a few different genres I guess," Scottie B says in a telephone interview. From his own strictly club DJ material, working on Chavy Boys isn't "so much a relief but a refresh. It all goes back to [club music's roots] hip-hop and house. If you keep refreshing, it never gets stale."
Each one of the three producers brings something unique to the project. "I really only think of stuff in a DJ way, about the dance floor," Scottie B says. "Tutt, he's just more tricky. He's bouncy. And Shawn's way out there in his taste."
Dan Deacon and Kevin O'Meara started their "ridiculous band" Butt Stomach in 2005 as a freer/more improvised alternative to the A/V drums and guitar duo Videohippos and Deacon's manic solo work, which is still only as free as a pre-tracked performance can be. Oddly enough, the end result sounds either like the garage jam version of Deacon's solo music or the stadium version.
"I think Butt Stomach started pretty soon after Blood Baby," O'Meara says. "Santa Dads started around that time, too. All of these bands had names first and worried about songs later. We all lived within earshot of each other, so it was natural for us to form groups for noisemaking."
The pair had been talking about "how awesome/creepy the idea of an [18-and-under] venue would be," Deacon adds via e-mail. "We decided [to] start a band called Butt Stomach to play at this 18-minus venue and the type of music we would play would be called `future shock.' The next day we practiced, and it ruled."
Every drummer, somewhere in his or her mind, has the impulse to let go totally, bang his or her way into cardiac arrest, and do it keeping his or her own time. Yeah, in Double Dagger, Denny Bowen does his share of banging, but not quite like the unchained hysterics of Smart Growth, his solo side project of machine-gun beats--programmed and live--congested, stuttering electronics, and cut and spliced Phil Collins samples, like an absurd molten implosion of the Police, Hella, and Girl Talk. And, of anything on this page, Smart Growth is the one guaranteed to stay a comfortable, ridiculous side project--lest Phil Collins and his lawyers find out.
With several bands that feel amorphous in membership--Human Host, Heroin U.K., Cavemen!!--MT6 Records looks like a side-project nesting ground, with label boss Alex Strama and Newagehillbilly, his one-man acid-dosed skronkfest, as its queen, or at least a common node.
"Newagehillbilly has a lot of influence on the bands I'm in because it's just me and my own style," he says. "I started puking and playing in my boxers at Newagehillbilly shows and it's made its way into other bands like Heroin U.K., Cavemen!!, A) Torture Mechanism, LiveShitBingePurge, the Wire Orchestra, Natty Boh, Balance, Animal Twat, Warpony, the Blown Fuses, etc."
Given a list like that, Strama fittingly takes a strong position as to whether or not a side project is even a valid idea. "Every band I'm in I put 100 percent effort into," he says. "Some of the bands I'm in might only get together once every few months, but it doesn't make it less important or relevant in my mind. All the bands on the label are just bands. Some bands might practice more or play more shows, but in the end they are still an individual band. I'm really lucky that I have so many good friends who want and need to play music on a regular basis."
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