Local Musicians On Local Music
We spend a lot of time here at City Paper telling you what we think of local music. But then we thought, why let the critics have all the fun? So for this year's Big Music Issue, we turned the tables. This time, it's the musicians' turn to tell you what they think.
Inspired by Down Beat's "Blindfold Test" and The Wire's "Invisible Jukebox," we played a handful of local musicians tracks by other local bands and artists, all without knowing what they'd be hearing beforehand. The music we played ranges from songs first written in the middle of the 20th century to African field recordings to club singles released just this year. Reactions range from--well, you'll see. And hey, if anyone's opinions piss you off, you can take your complaints straight to the bands this time. The interviews were conducted by Jess Harvell, Bret McCabe, Jason Torres, and Al Shipley.
Local MC Ogun has been dubbed "B-more's Hero" by his fans--it's also the title of his most recent mixtape--and amid all the talk of hip-hop's kings and princes, it might be the scene's only accurate title. Conscious but never smarmy, Ogun is also probably Baltimore hip-hop's biggest fan, as well as one of its most astute critics.
Long Live Death--"Join Us"
Ogun: "Blood and semen mixed"?
City Paper: That's not what he said.
Ogun: OK. "Join us"? (laughs) What'd he just say? "Blood and semen mixed"? This sounds like a good cult advertisement. No, they didn't just say "blood and semen mixed." What is this? [pauses to examine the inlay book] I think the instrumentation is good . . .
CP: You don't have to be politically correct, just go ahead.
Ogun: OK, the instrumentation is good, but they might be rallying the devil. (laughs) Join us? I'll pass. Let's just cut this short. I'll say the instrumentation is good. I'm not too sure about the intentions on here. (laughs) They actually have some real good harmony, but I'm almost sure they worship Satan. I don't wanna slander anyone. I'm just saying.
Ogun: Sounds kinda flat. It sounds live, but it's flat. It doesn't really do anything for me as far as sound--it sounds like it should sound bigger or thicker.
CP: This is Ponytail
Ogun: The singer's voice sounds like something you punch in, like a sound effect on a radio show. That scream right there sounded like that dude. What's his name, the one who ran for president and wilded out, what's his name?
CP: Howard Dean.
Ogun: Yeah, Howard Dean. (laughs) It sounds like a sound effect of that. Overall I wish the sound was bigger. All the songs kinda have the same feel to them, too. What's going on musically sounds cool, but it's not effective to me because it should be thicker. It's not bad, though.
DJ Oji--"It's All Jesus," performed by Byron Stingily
Ogun: "Christ will house you/ Christ will house you/ This is Christ's hut now/ Report to altar now/ Report to the altar now." Alright, what is this called, what is this? House music? It sounds dated
CP: This is definitely for the 40 and older crew, I think.
Ogun: It's not really doing anything for me. I like that drum I hear, though. That's either a djembe or a conga. I like that. . . . Wait, this is from 2005? People still listen to this? I know house music is still big in Europe--I can imagine listening to this there. I can imagine walking into a club in Europe and seeing a bunch of people dancing to this mad hard, but offbeat. I can see people who are in their 40s who came up in the earlier club scene but grew out of it and have families now vibing to this. You know what's a good market for this? Like, people's mothers probably like this, people who still want to dance but think that today's club music is too aggressive for them. Sounds dated to me, but older people who like house, this might work for them. This is good for a church picnic.
Misery Index--"Birth of Ignorance"
Ogun: If this was on in the gym, it would probably work for me for real. The drummer is killing it. I really can't get into metal, though.
CP: So far what do you think?
Ogun: I wonder if people even understand what the lead singer is even saying. I would love to hear how this dude talks in real life.
CP: This sounds like the soundtrack to a YouTube compilation of skateboarding accidents.
Ogun: I can't really get into this, but this song right here got a feeling to it, though, I like this. I could probably slow this down and rap to it. I think the drummer is a real good drummer. [checks CD booklet] Matt Byers--what up, Matt? There's some good stuff on here, though. I ain't mad at it. A lot of [metal] feels like it's in the same vein. I couldn't really see listening to a whole album of it.
Co-owner of the True Vine Record Shop and half of the proud musical peacock that is Leprechaun Catering, Jason Willett has worked with everybody from Jac Berrocal to Ruins to Jad Fair. His first record store, Frederick's Megaphone, hosted a still-legendary Boredoms show, and his label of the same name has put out releases from such out music minds as the Honkies, Tim Hodgkinson, Jon Rose, and 99 Hooker.
Furniture Falling Down the Stairs--"Howling at the Moon"
Jason Willett: That's definitely John Dierker right there, I'll tell you that. There's no mistaking that saxophone. That sounds like Rupert Wondolowski's voice to me.
City Paper: Yes.
JW: So, Little Gruntpack?
CP: Before that, actually.
JW: Furniture Falling Down the Stairs.
CP: Exactly. Were you around when Furniture was playing around? I can't remember when you moved to Baltimore.
JW: End of 1993. But I was still coming back and forth a lot to play, and Pleasant Livers started in 1990, and Dierker, of course, was a saxophonist in the Recordings.
CP: So you were already playing with people in Baltimore when you moved here?
JW: That's why I moved here. [I was living in] Fred Collins' house, his basement, for two months. Put on a show with Pleasant Livers, Martha Colburn was there, and that was it--within a month I moved into a warehouse on Baltimore Street, Crazy Johns to our left and El Dorado strip club to our right.
CP: Was that the Hat Factory?
JW: The Hat Factory was to our right over the El Dorado, where Peter Quinn and those guys lived. In Fred's basement, I think, I started five bands before moving into the warehouse--Jaunties, Can Openers, the Dramatics, the Dentures, and the Attitude Robots--in a two-month period and took it all to the warehouse. The Pleasant Livers was my first [Baltimore band]. Then the Recordings, which was John Berndt--and I think I found out about that because Dierker kept saying to me [goes into John Dierker imitation], "You know I think you'd really like this friend of mine, my roommate John Berndt. You guys should meet." And sure enough, I went down and we were talking real, real fast at each other.
CP: I love how everybody has their own John Dierker imitation.
JW: How does mine fare?
CP: Pretty damn good.
JW: That's what I've been told.
Santa Dads-- "What Ghostrain"
JW: I don't recognize this song, and I definitely don't think this is a band that I've heard. I'm going to take a guess. I just had a name flash into my head--More Dogs?
CP: The Santa Dads, actually.
JW: I've heard that name. So that's a band that I should know more about?
CP: This is one of those bands from the current, now generation of young Baltimore doing things, and I was just wondering how much exposure you get to some that stuff?
JW: Not much. I guess my natural way is I don't really research or go out, things just kind of come about, and I think my natural gravitation seems to point more to Needlegun and those guys. I think they're a lot closer to the way I started when I was their age, which is just kind of throwing myself out there and then exploding. So there's this sort of unspoken alliance I have when I meet these kids. I wasn't being so crafty back then, so I think as much as I appreciate this, I think the reason why I know these people [Needlegun] in Baltimore and not these people [Santa Dads] is because--I don't know. I can't even finish that sentence.
CP: I think the reason is pretty simple, actually. I think for the first time in some time there's enough non-mainstream stuff happening in Baltimore that it all doesn't have to overlap anymore.
JW: That's definitely true. Yeah, I remember how it used to be.
CP: There were times when everything came through a certain space or a certain group of people or whatever--just because that was only place to do something like it.
JW: I remember feeling pretty alone in the early '90s here. It wasn't a bad feeling. I actually loved feeling alone and I actually--even more, now, having it everywhere. That's really exciting. Like, Wham City--I know I've heard Ponytail. I only heard Dan Deacon for the first time just recently, off that new record. And that's because I opened up the shop one morning and said, "It's time to hear what Dan Deacon sounds like." And then not long after he came in and introduced himself to me. He said we already knew each other, but I don't remember. And I also wanted to see what he looked like, so I had to go to YouTube. He's a very nice guy.
An untitled, uncredited track off Bougouni Yaalali
JW: I know it's African.
CP: I'm cheating a bit here. This is from Jack Carneal's Yaala Yaala series that Drag City put out. He played drums in Ned Oldham's Anomoanon.
JW: Oh, he came in when we opened up with a stack of CD-Rs with photos--he has a lot more than these three--and he was like, "Any ideas?" And Ian [Nagoski, co-owner of the True Vine] and I looked at each other, like, Wow, if we had more time and money . . . we would definitely start a label for this.
CP: Reissues have really exposed, for lack of a better term, world music. When and how did you first start getting into music from other cultures?
JW: I can't remember, because there was never a time when I started--anything I heard from another culture, and other places, I would gravitate toward. In Frederick, I would find Indian grocery stores would have $3 cassettes of Bollywood soundtracks. For African music, I would have to say that Crammed Discs opened the door for me because, listening to a lot of avant-garde new wave in the '80s, Crammed was one of my favorite labels. I was a big Tuxedomoon fan, all the Made to Measure series. And they did Ere Mela Mela by Mamoud Ahmed before Ethiopiques did theirs. So through things like that it led me to more things like that. When I was about 20 I first heard Fela Kuti.
CP: How would you come across it? Because I remember it seemed for the longest time--before those twofer CD reissues--his LPs were either so rare and expensive you couldn't get them, or they were affordable but somebody had played the fuck out of them, like they were party records.
JW: That's true. There was no big resurgence of his music at the time. The way I got them was I worked for Steve Feigenbaum at Wayside Music and Cuneiform Records in Silver Spring. I moonlighted for him for, like, two days a week from Frederick. I'd close my shop early and go down there and pack records to be mailed out. Anyway, I'd go through the warehouse, and he'd have a bunch of Fela and other world music. And prog.
New Flesh--"Friend of Mine"
JW: [shakes his head after a minute or two of listening]
CP: It's the New Flesh.
JW: I have heard the New Flesh, but not this. I've seen New Flesh live a couple of times at the Talking Head. The New Flesh are interesting to me because they're--they're like, how do I put this? In every city you've got this one kind of basic, almost warehouse-seedy punk band, and the New Flesh seems like it's it for Baltimore. They don't ever do anything fancy as far as I can tell, but they play a lot, and if you want this you can always rely on going out and getting this.
CP: I played this because the New Flesh has been a part of a number of younger bands and people like MT6 records and Human Conduct who do stuff like this [breaks out DIY cassettes in envelopes for holders and handwritten notes stuck in Ziploc bags]. And you and I are old enough to have witnessed a few generations of DIY recordings come out, and on your end you've seen it in a record store. Have the CD-Rs opened some things up here?
JW: It's not necessarily a section that makes much money, but it's a section that I really want to see here. Like certain things--we have a system here where if it sits too long move it out, mark it down to next to nothing, make new space to bring things in. With the CD-R section I kind of feel like it could be growing mold on it, and I still want it to be there.
CP: Exactly, because I don't know about you, but I will listen to anything that looks like this--there's hand-drawn something or other, duct tape holding a joint together, repurposed cassette tape. Sold.
JW: Right. There's always few surprises in there. Did you ever see the one that was covered with a lot of pubes? A lot of them. Well, actually, Benb from the Jaunties did that. One band we had was the Attitude Robots and we were packaging. The cover was nothing, but on the CD case were stickers we had had made up. And at one point, without warning, he just shoved his hand [down his pants], ripped out a bunch of them, and under one sticker he would mount one so that it was kind of coming out. I had kind of mixed reactions when I saw him do that--it was on my label--and this was actually a box that was going to Tower [Records]. And some guy came in here from New York about six months ago, Sam [Sebren], he's the singer for a band called Splotch, which had a record on Menlo Park when Menlo Park first started. Anyway, he came in here and was like, "Oh my god, I haven't seen you in so long. Man, your records, I love the stuff you produced--I've even got the Attitude Robots record where it's got the pubic hair. That was great." Like, it really made him happy. It brought some extra joy to his life.
But I'm definitely familiar with the MT6 crowd. From what I understand, MT6 nights involve a lot of National Bohemian and a certain amount of carnage. And it's noise and rock and the rock being kind of off and a lot of people expressing themselves and heckling and screaming. I'm all for it. My favorite scene I've ever been to for that had to be the Jeff the Pigeon [in Allentown, Pa.]. That's run by Matt [Korvette] of Pissed Jeans, the singer. And when he was about to put out [Leprechaun Catering's] Male Plumage, he wanted to give us a test drive by having us play at his place. It was us, Twig [Harper] solo, and an all 15-year-old punk band that was straight-edge hardcore and had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They might as well have started in 1988 because they were into Black Flag.
And it was like a hazing. While they were playing they were being toilet-papered, the crowd pulled out these long cardboard tubes and were knocking them on the head while they were playing. They were hitting them on the floor in time to the music. People were tweaking the bass player's amp. The drummer, they were putting all these Christmas lights that were lit up over his head, so his arms are getting tied up. They took an extra floor tom and put it over his head. And he didn't want this to happen--you know what I mean? So now he's all glowed up and he can't see. The music is breaking down more and more. When the singer pulled the tom and lights off the drummer somebody loosened his drumheads so when it was time for the "1-2-3-4" start of the next song, his snare sounded like he was hitting a newspaper. And this kind of lunacy went on all night. And I was so high from it, so by the time we played people were starting to get a little reverent in the audience. And I ended up yelling at them to cut that out. We want this treatment, too. And they gave it too us. It was one of my favorite nights of playing music in my life.
Though he made his name in the world of ciphers and freestyle battles and has the swaggering confidence to prove it, local MC Midas stands out in a world of brags and boasts with a quicker wit and a deeper intellect that's masked by a self-effacing stage presence. Here, he also displays a heretofore unknown command of mid-'80s cinema.
Cex featuring Height "Gigolo Knights"
Midas: Oh gosh, who is this? It reminds me of--it's kinda '80s, but it's modern. I think it's refreshing, though, I'll give them that. Somebody that raps like this--you know how they do ad-libs now? When they did ad-libs then, it was like "HUH!" (he karate chops the air) Like, "We're gonna come in the SPOT/ Hit you real HARD." Like [this] was real Run-D.M.C.-ish. You know [what this] reminds me of, though? The Beastie Boys.
I don't understand why more Baltimore artists aren't in the industry, because this [particular track] is really refreshing. I would like to know how this went off at a show. I would like to know how this record went off at a show, say at the 5 Seasons. And because of the kind of demographic that visits the 5 Seasons, I know that [when this song started playing] people would slowly but surely start scattering and getting on their phones. But I would listen to this.
Midas: Wow. This is a hip-hop sample waitin' to happen. I feel like the Weekend at Bernie's credits are gonna come up any minute. This is like straight out of Porky's or something. I've been listening to some Kiss and Queen lately, so [this song is] not really that far of a stretch for me. But the way rock singers sing, especially on this record, it's really bizarre, but people don't understand that you channel that. A lot of artists think that you have to sing a certain way. . . . Rock singers sing in the most bizarre tones, but it works.
But this is a hip-hop song. Listen to what he's saying: "Playing the game!" You know that's like a hip-hop sample waiting to happen. They 'bout to get a check off of this. Especially this part, you can hear the beat now, with some 808s and stuff behind it. They'll be like "Aw, that beat hard as shit, yo." Then when the original record come on--crickets. This is something I would work out to. Don't it remind you of some '80s Rocky movies with Dolph Lundgren. And he's like, "I'm gonna kick your ass," and Sylvester Stallone's all tired and old. And like then he comes back and beats the shit out of Dolph Lundgren, and fuckin' Brigitte Nielsen's on the sideline, lookin' stupid, all upset.
B. Rich--"Whoa Now"
Midas: Oh shit! This is the record that set it up! And you know what? I've never met him personally, but I think that he gets such a bad rap. This is the problem with why, as a city, the hip-hop scene [in Baltimore] hasn't gotten on. Because [the local scene] really trashes him a lot, and I think that's kinda unwarranted. At the time, [this song] was so new and out-the-box. I've heard a lot of records from the industry that have used this formula, that beat [after B. Rich]. A lot of people have used this formula, and I wasn't hearin' that until after this record--Will Smith's "Switch," the Beatnuts had that record with Akon that sounded like this. Oh my gosh, it's crazy.
One thing I do give B. Rich credit for--he is the only rapper [from Baltimore] to have actually had his CD come out on a major label in the store, with the video on TV. And I'm not even sayin' he's more talented than other people, but that's an accomplishment in itself, because nobody [else has] done that yet. I'm still waitin' for Bossman to come out. And I think it's a special record, because it kinda marks, along with the Tim Trees record, the "Bank Roll" record, the beginning of "I wanna get my record played on the radio." Now it's a little bit more difficult because everybody's using that tactic. But at the time, nobody was even thinking about [getting a song on the radio]. I remember when his album came out, and they had the 80 Dimes T-shirts in the stores. This came out in 2002, right? And I was graduating high school in 2002, and I remember it was so crazy, everybody was blasting it, like everywhere.
A driving force in Baltimore underground rock for more than 15 years with his bands Candy Machine and Ink, musician, visual artist, and creative fly-in-the-ointment Peter Quinn's most recent band, Lo Moda, explores repetitious rhythm and haunting melodic minimalism to create postpunk trance rock infused with the spirit of insurrectionary '60s and '70s soul. He also runs the Creative Capitalism label, which has released inventively packaged, forward-thinking music from bands like Ponytail, the Tall Grass, and History at Our Disposal.
The Orioles--"Baby Please Don't Go"
Peter Quinn: I know the time frame, but I don't know the artist.
City Paper: It's the Orioles. When I first listened to some of the Lo Moda stuff, I felt like I heard some soul music in there.
Quinn: Over the last couple years I've been trying to get to closer [in my music] to what . . . to what I've thought were the important things. And that included song and that included soul, the idea of soul. The thing I don't like about a lot of music is that I feel like there's no "there" there. I was talking about this with someone else, but I don't feel like I'm an accomplished musician--I feel like I like making music. [And] the people I end up listening to are younger people who haven't been tainted by the ability to genre-hop or the ability to choose a direction [for their music]. They just go in the direction they're bred for. In [visual] art, I feel like I'm much more bogged down with the ethos and the history behind things.
That being said, when I started making music, the thing that changed my art was this notion of "entertainment" and the communication that happens with art. When I started playing live, you're confronted with the idea of Is this enjoyable? Why not? Then the idea of accepting the idea of "beauty." Not having to destroy beauty, to allow beauty to surface in the work.
CP: To not be purposefully ugly or confrontational or whatever?
Quinn: Right. Which I think was in my [visual] art. I think with Lo Moda vs. my other bands, there's not--I don't feel like we're fighting each other as band mates, but we're creating a sort of harmonious groove, the intertwining of the instruments.
Pulling Teeth--"Vicious Skin"
Quinn: I don't know what this is.
CP: It's a modern local hardcore band called Pulling Teeth. Was hardcore or punk a turning point for you, the way it is for a lot of people?
Quinn: No. I'm friends with a lot of those old D.C. people, and I think I have a punk aesthetic, a [punk] belief system. But I was way more into new wave and ska and old rocksteady and stuff like that.
CP: What do you mean by a punk belief system?
Quinn: Like a DIY kind of ethic. I like a lot of things about the hardcore scene, but that [Pulling Teeth track] is very metal to me. I have this problem with metal guitar. (laughs) It really bothers some of my friends, but I see it as anachronistic. I feel like I don't understand the posturing. It feels like Halloween or something. The whole vibe, it sounds like a very specific--it sounds generic to me. I just don't have any affinity to it at all. There's very little music I listen to that relates to metal at all.
CP: Is it something sonically about it that turns you off?
Quinn: No, it's the social aspect.
CP: Do you find yourself thinking about the social aspect a lot when you're listening to music?
Quinn: I can't separate it. My wife grew up in Scotland, and so her experience is very different, and plus she's younger than me. So the stuff that she remembers as being "'90s music" is totally different from what I remember. So I understand that my social understanding of music is totally subjective. But I think about, like, what if I was asked what the greatest records of all time were? My response would be something like What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, or it might be the Clash. It might be Bob Dylan, or it could be a jazz album, or whatever. But the social implication never escapes it. It's not very much "fun" to be like that, but I can't help it.
CP: When you say the social implication, do you mean the social context [the music was made in]?
Quinn: Yes, and the effect it had. I appreciate the energy and the intent [of hardcore]. And I appreciate the youthfulness of it. But that being said, I'm not against hardcore. I like some hardcore. I'm not sure if it can resurface, though.
CP: Like it's locked into its initial time frame?
Quinn: Well, you know Christian [Sturgis] in our band was in Fascist Fascist, and I found them really great. But at the same time, it made me question whether it was a valid form today, because hardcore seemed to be a reaction against something very specific at the time. I teach part time at MICA and I ask my class what year they were born in. And I guess it's like the '80s now. So I tell them, "That's crazy, that's when I graduated from high school. Not only were you born after punk rock died, you were born after it died the second time." (laughs)
Cloaca--"Love Is a Moron"
Quinn: [instantly] Well, I know that.
CP: This is from 1992, so I guess I was playing it in part to get your impressions of what the scene in Baltimore was like back then.
Quinn: That's a strange song to play. You probably never saw that band. They were very kind of like acid-trippy, psych, fun, jokey band. So that was a weird, serious song that, not knowing the context [of the band], you might not have recognized. They were always shifting the pitches of their voices--it was more like the Butthole Surfers than anything else, I guess. We played with them at Chambers, which became the Ottobar, which became the Talking Head. So the [local scene] hasn't changed that much. (laughs)
CP: Do you think the scene is relatively similar these days?
Quinn: I tend to think that scenes go in waves, peaks and valleys. I'm not sure what's happening right now--it seems like there's not as much going on just as of recently. But it seems like we're riding a high. And the energy reminds of other highs, and lately it reminds me of when I was in college in the '80s--the idea of the sort of frustration and political ennui. And I think there's a lot of good art being made [now in Baltimore] because of that.
CP: Was that something that characterized Baltimore music when you were in college?
Quinn: Yes, but I think there was a lot less of it. There just seems to be a lot more people doing music now.
CP: Was there much of a network of local musicians then?
Quinn: [Candy Machine] probably played in D.C. more than we played in Baltimore. More because a couple guys in our band were from D.C., and so we played D.C. Space and the Black Cat and places like that. We played with Lungfish a lot. What was the question?
CP: Was there much of a "scene" then?
Quinn: We felt like we were not part of what was going on [in Baltimore], which were these shows that were like "events," like three-hour jams with puppet shows and things like that. Which sounds interesting to me now, but at the time, I couldn't stand it. I just wanted to see a band play some songs. Because I wasn't really interested in . . .
CP: The more experimental side of it?
Quinn: No, they were like funky jams. It was more about the party than about the art or the music. And I had a problem with that. It seemed to have the same kind of effect as like a Dead show or something like that. People weren't really there to hear the music--they were there to score drugs and be there for five hours. D.C. was very different, because it was like, "Your band's on now. What are you going to do?"
Candy Machine had the problem that maybe a lot of different bands have. Which is: Music people respect us. Bar owners are glad we're playing. Sound men always thank us for coming through. And then the people in the audience or the power pop band you're opening up for are confused by you. And so that became very frustrating.
Candy Machine was very frustrating because I don't feel like we ever--I think people here thought [we were successful] because we had East/West distribution or we got a lot of reviews. But it's hard to gauge your success when you're a working band. At some point you have to make money if you want to keep working it that way. And so at some point, I decided that I want to keep making music and I don't want it to work that way, because I'm not interested in having to gauge my success by my finances.
Labtekwon-- -"Dr. Strangelove"
Quinn: [long pause to listen to the first verse] This isn't Labtekwon, is it?
CP: Yeah. Do you know his stuff?
Quinn: I don't actually own any of his stuff. I actually worked with him once--I got him to make music for a commercial I was working on. I think he's awesome. I love that kind of hip-hop. I don't listen to a lot of hip-hop, because I don't have time to filter through all the garbage, and there seems to be so much garbage. But when I do hear something like Black Star or Gang Starr or Labtekwon, I feel like that's what hip-hop was meant to be, and I find it really gratifying--I love it.
CP: Is it the content of it?
Quinn: It's the content, and it's the intent, and it's the social implication. It's positive. It's not about big booties and scoring drugs and having a lot of money.
CP: Did you listen to more hip-hop in the past?
Quinn: I don't follow it [now]. But I had Sugarhill [Gang] when it first came out on vinyl. That was where my interest in hip-hop started. Being an artist, I don't actually buy a lot of music, because for a long time I was spending money on paint or equipment or something.
CP: I was also playing this because I was curious as to how you came to your vocal style. Because while it obviously wasn't derived from rap, there's a certain similarity--the sing-speak and the repetition.
Quinn: I was convinced to be a singer. (laughs) The first time we played, we played this art space, and as far as I can remember, I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes before we played. (laughs) I have a hard time hearing my voice. That's another thing--I feel like I do what I'm capable of doing and I try hard but I don't feel like I'm a professional singer. But then again most of my favorite vocalists aren't "singers." They're not like someone who would win an award on American Idol for being able to hit the notes.
[When I'm working on lyrics] I'll play the guitar, which I don't know how to play, or I'll sing the same phrase over and over again in the kitchen while I'm doing something else. And then usually around seven minutes through it, I'm just staring at a wall thinking about stuff, singing, and [my wife] turns around and says, "I'm going to go upstairs now." (laughs)
Local neo-shoegaze quartet Thrushes is one of a number of young Baltimore bands leading the charge for a return to the dreamy, atmospheric rock of the early '90s. The group's excellent debut album, Sun Come Undone, has updated the shoegaze sound of swirling guitars and sparkly feedback for 2007. Band members Casey Harvey and Rachel Tracy took part in the Jukebox.
Harvey: This is pretty cool.
Tracy: Yeah, I like it.
Harvey: Is that a flute? That's cool, a nice driving sound. The drums sound cool as hell--the drums sound great. It kinda reminds me of Radiohead.
Tracy: This is kinda like the same sounds we like to play--quiet that builds to a louder part, and then it gets quiet again.
Harvey: Yeah, but it's definitely a lot clearer than us.
The New Flesh--"Meat Market"
Harvey: I like this.
Tracy: (laughs) This is your style.
Harvey: I grew up listening to a lot of kinda more melodic hardcore, kinda like this.
Tracy: Where you're in the basement and they're, like, singing in your face.
Harvey: Yeah, basement shows. This is cool, this reminds me of when I first moved here when they were doing those Sunday afternoon shows at Reptilian [Records], hardcore bands. That was good stuff. Back around '95.
Blaq Starr--"Feel It in the Air"
Harvey: This definitely sounds like Baltimore, for some reason. This would be really good loud, really loud.
Though many have laid claim to the contentious title of "inventor of club music," Scottie B at least provided Baltimore's indigenous dance music with some of its key DNA as a DJ and producer from the scene's earliest days. A club mainstay for the last 20 years thanks to his successful club-music label Unruly Records (with partner Shawn Caesar), Scottie has weathered both the highs and lows of club. Recently, he's also been one of the people to take the genre to new places, whether it's spinning for rock crowds at the Ottobar or thousands of ravers at London superclub Fabric.
2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog--"Doo Doo Brown (Remix)"
Scottie B: That's "Doo Doo Brown." The remix. You can tell by the "tick tick tick" of the snare.
City Paper: Do you remember the first time you heard this?
Scottie B: Oh yeah.
CP: What was the reaction like?
Scottie B: Well, it was a takeoff on 2 Live Crew. So people just thought it was a remix of the 2 Live Crew record--people [in Baltimore] only played the beginning of the 2 Live Crew record. But yeah, it started some shit.
CP: What were the clubs like back then?
Scottie B: Every one had like 1,500 people in it. Everyone in Baltimore went out. It just seemed like when the weekend came, if you were 10 on up, you were out, everybody was out. Every place had 2,000 people in it. You had teen clubs, you had college clubs, you had older clubs. And at that time, [what the clubs were playing], it was all club [music].
People went to dance then. They go to hang out now. They don't go unless their buddies are there. People went [then] because it felt like family. People went to dance, they wanted the release. It hasn't been like that in a long time.
CP: Why do you think that changed?
Scottie B: I just think it became too cool to dance after a while. Once the hip-hop started coming back--because at that time, nobody played hip-hop--the people who went to the teen clubs [at the height of club music], by '95 they were adults. And those same people, they didn't listen to a lot of club anymore. They listened to hip-hop and they went [to clubs] to drink. There were a lot of teen clubs [when club music started], and that tradition didn't keep rolling. There aren't any now. You've got a Christmas party or a New Year's party, but that doesn't count. The tradition didn't get passed down. So the same people that used to sweat it out, they drink now.
Frank-Ski featuring Miss Tony--"Bitch Track 2-Yes!"
CP: This is a club track that's a little more traditionally house-y. Why did Baltimore latch onto club music over house?
Scottie B: Because it was still a hip-hop crowd, so some aggression still had to come through the music. The thing is, though, music progresses. The house scene that stayed in Baltimore didn't progress. It did everywhere else. I'm not naming names--I'm not getting into that. But the people that were really the heads of the house music here didn't progress house music. You had some big hits, but those became yo records, they became hip-hop records.
CP: Is that a worry for club music that the same thing could happen, the lack of progression?
Scottie B: It kinda matters. I know you're a purist, but I really don't mind when they come with the '80s remixes and that type of shit, because I lived in the '80s. That's always people's No. 1 question that they like to ask at the end: What do you think about the people who've come to club through the rock thing? I like it, because it gives you more shit to play, varies up the night a little bit. Either you're gonna do that or you're gonna play a million Lil Jon samples.
Soul Cannon--"Dilapidated Buildings"
Scottie B: (nods head intently as he listens) Oh, I like that.
CP: It's a newish band called Soul Cannon. They play a live hip-hop thing, kinda like the Roots.
Scottie B: That is hot.
CP: Club is so sample-based--do you think club could work with live instruments?
Scottie B: This is my thing and I could be dead, damn wrong, alright? I think club, being more of a remix tool, there's probably no place for it. I think people want to make it like, "Oh something's gotta come out that's gotta be a million-seller [for club to crossover]." For like two minutes. Or it's gonna do what it's been doing and last another 20 [years]. The formula to doing it well, it kind of limits it a little bit, but it doesn't limit how you do it. It still puts it in more of a remix thing. And it kinda gives everybody a chance to involve themselves, too. Everybody couldn't do [the Soul Cannon track]. No way.
CP: Do you think stuff like illegal samples does limit club's commercial potential?
Scottie B: If you hit with something big, they're gonna ask for more money.
CP: This is sort of atypical for Baltimore hip-hop right now, but what do you think about--
Scottie B: Want me to tell you what the problem is? A lot of people in Baltimore don't respect Baltimore. Baltimore's always had the underdog mentality, and of course I do it, too. I think the Ravens didn't beat the Colts because the NFL didn't want 'em to. But that's just, if you live in Baltimore, that's the way you think. And I think the whole thing with Baltimore hip-hop--I'm not telling people to rap over club music, because that's not it. Because it would just be hip-house and it won't sell. I'm not telling them to be Tim Trees. But Tim Trees and them had the right idea, and the 80 Dimes record had the right idea, because it was bouncy. It wasn't the same tempo as club, but it had that same bounce. And the record labels, I know what they say because I talk to them all the time about this club shit and Baltimore in general, and they want some Baltimore shit that's straight Baltimore. They don't want Baltimore guys rapping over Down South tracks, they don't want Baltimore guys rapping over some Roots stuff, they don't want it over no New York shit. They want something that makes them say, "Oh, that's got to be some Baltimore shit." Period. Even if they don't hear them rap. People here, I don't think they put enough value into the fact that they already have a sound. They don't want to be identified with it. Some do, and they think it's rapping over the club shit. But I know that's not it.
OCDJ--"Pls Stp th Hstl"
Scottie B: I can already tell what it's going to be.
CP: How can you tell?
Scottie B: Because I've heard a hundred of 'em, but I've never heard that one. But I could tell by synths that it was getting ready to be something past club music.
CP: It's a local cat called OCDJ. He plays places like the Depot and a lot of underground, warehouse-style events.
Scottie B: Oh, he made this? This is hot.
CP: This kind of leads into what you were saying earlier about how it's the last question [reporters] ask you--
Scottie B: It's always the first one they wanna ask, and it's always the last one they ask. (laughs)
CP: There's obvious been a lot of attention over the last couple years toward club music from people outside the scene.
Scottie B: But you know, nobody owns shit. If I can say that, then it is what it is. Nobody owns nothing. If that's what the fuck people wanna hear and if you're a DJ and you can do it, that's what you're supposed to do. A producer's an extension of the DJ. Not all the time, but when you're talking about dance music, it's an extension of the DJ. If you can make this [kind of] shit, then you've got to make it. Because it's what's going to make you different from the guy next door. I still can't always hear--when it comes to tracks like this, I can't differentiate what's good and what's bad.
CP: Have you enjoyed playing to different audiences in town, like at the Ottobar?
Scottie B: In Baltimore, the white crowd already knew that shit. When they were younger they really liked it; when they got older they still remembered it. You could play the old shit and they knew it. So it wasn't really different for them. But then [club music] got associated with a different root [outside of town]. I'm not saying "Hollertronix did this, that, or the other," right? Hollertronix never claimed [club music]. But people claimed it for 'em. Put it on them, because they started hearing it through them. I don't know how much you follow the Low B [internet message] board or the Hollertronix board before that, but that is the launch pad for Baltimore club with that alternative scene. So I think it was good, I started fucking with it, and then I started going to these other places like the Ottobar to start playing. I don't think the people outside of town understood . . . because it's a black music, at the root. And I played black clubs. I did not play in white clubs. I grew up going to Northwest High School. I didn't know this [alternative scene]. I didn't know Sonar crowds. I didn't know none of it.
CP: Do you think there's a way to bring those two audiences together?
Scottie B: Nope.
CP: Why not?
Scottie B: Their interests are different. The white crowds like hip-hop and the black crowds like hip-hop. But the black crowds like a lot of South shit and they like to wild out. The white crowds might like Kayne West or something. And they do not like Kayne West at Club International or anything like that. Like the song he has on the radio, I forget the name of it . . .
CP: The new one that samples Daft Punk?
Scottie B: Oh my god, I'm not even thinking about that. Forget it. Oh my god. They wouldn't even know who the fuck Daft Punk was. You know, Webbie and Lil Boosie is hot to [the black crowd]. The white crowd would not understand. "What is it?" They'd be like, "It's not even good, it's underproduced." They don't get the hype to it.
CP: Does that bother you at all?
Scottie B: Nope. Because I can play two parties in the same night. (laughs) No, I'm glad, because it's a whole different experience. I can play one whole different set here and almost a completely different one there.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201