Audio Field Work: Bowls MacLean and Love Stalker

It made all the sense in the world to meet up with Bowls MacLean at The Silver Ballroom, the “pinball pub” located in the shadow of the Bevo Mill. Even the exterior to the place gives off that South Side vibe, what with the thin-laned sidestreets, the mix of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the neighborhood at rush hour, the importance of both Gravois and Morganford to the local economy with all those crazy storefronts, as well as those obvious windmill blades. It’s not a perfect place, evident by the shuttered fast food joing just across the way, but the Ballroom helped make this part of town cool, opening the way for other bars, like the Heavy Anchor, to take a chance on this corner of southwest City.

Inside, the place has St. Louis roots, too. Take the band flyers found on the bar, itself, hundreds of them depicting the punk shows of the ’80s and ’90s, a music reflected by the club’s rather-voluminous jukebox. But it’s not just the jukebox that kicks out the sound. The pinball machines, themselves, are quite noisy and even one person playing one game can change the mood of the place. On Tuesday night, at the early part of happy hour, three patrons were in the classic, little spot, along with our small audio crew and co-director of “Love Stalker,” Bowls MacLean. He talked about the role of this very place in the film, figuring that between nine-12 minutes of screen time are spent at the Ballroom. Other South Side locations, like Pop’s Blue Moon, also feature heavily, as do various apartments and houses.

Though it too awhile for “The Lord of the Rings” pinball machine to stop, we got some good material in, slightly-randy, at that, as you’ll get with Bowls. It was nice of him to meet on that afternoon, in the first place, as the film was screening the St. Louis International Film Festival that very night. And, in the morning, he’d already had some Webster U. time, speaking to a class at the Webster campus after a long evening the night before.

In between Webster engagments, though, there was time for movie talk and drinks at the Ballroom. When Jamie packed up the gear and took off, preparing for a later, night-time recording session with Ital Kae of KDHX‘s “Ital Rhythms,” the glasses clinked one more time and the talk got really good. That’s always the way, though; when microphones and cameras are stashed, the real stories start to flow. In this case, though, we did get a chance to pay tribute to a locally-produced film, reflective of the community in which it shot.  This ribald comedy will always have a home on the South Side, especially inside the Silver Ballroom.

Audio Field Work: Readings at the Firecracker Press

Last weekend, a pretty neat reading took place at the Firecracker Press.  Poets Julia Gordon-Bramer and Ellen Herget each gave a 15-minute reading in the business section of the Press, as opposed to the lower, retail half of the business. This arrangement allowed the poets to go through their words as owner Eric Woods put their words through a, literal, press. By the end of their two sessions, he’d run a few dozen copies of their words onto small, personalized broadsheets.

Going into the affair, there are limits in place. Poets are to keep their works to 100-characters, or less. This allows the Firecracker staff time to set, then proof, each galley, before they’re put to work on the Saturday of a reading. Small poems also fill the small broadsheets, which are hand-set for each Firecracker Reading, with an emphasis on readability, as well as design. They’re neat pieces, and something that each attendee can take home for a small admittance.

For this past outing, there was a humble crowd in place. Maybe it was a busy weekend, or the overcast skies kept people home. Maybe we’re all waiting for the holidays, when things really bustle. Who knows? Despite the limited crew, the readers made do, reading in a more personalized fashion for the intimate crowd, telling little stories about the works before starting them. And once they did, there was the click-clack of the machinery, as Woods put his old warhorses to work.

Coming up on Saturday: Ken Brown and Brett Underwood.

Coming up after that: a podcast of the readings, compliments of Jaime Thomason.

Audio Field Work: Amanda Doyle’s St. Louis Guidebook

It’s no secret to the five readers of this site that we’ve had a depressed rotation of posts going live lately. At this point, the site’s up for one reason: to create, with WU students, some interesting audio and video content. Nothing beyond that, really. It’s just the way that things are shaping up.

But a couple of posts should’ve gone live some weeks back. Shame, shame, shame.

Here’s an audio field work update, then. Some while back, Amanda Doyle began working on a local guidebook, via the Reedy Press. Time passed and words were written. And then the guidebook appeared, just in time for the 2011 holiday season. The book’s got a goodly title, one that sums up the intent of the assignment, for sure. (Why don’t you look up the full version of the title on its homepage?)

Jamie Thomason and I spoke to Amanda at the Hartford Coffee Company a month, or so, back. Her son played in the kids area in the back of the shop and, remarkably, he was as calm and composed as could be expected for a lad of his age, allowing us some time to chat about the project. She’s comfortable around a mic, no doubt and we had a fun, 15-minute, or so, conversation about the work. Look for it prior to Thanksgiving.

Always one to double- (and triple-)dip, I found the book’s story interesting enough to write up a Look/Listen blog item for St. Louis Magazine. You can find that one here.

Video Field Work: Downtown Dutchtown Business District

I’m shamefully admitting to this, but I’ve, many times, traveled down Meramec without a thought in my head. It was different when I lived in Mount Pleasant, and Dutchtown’s business district was just a bit north of me. Now this was the better part of a decade ago and the neighborhood’s changed a tremendous amount since then, with a host of new businesses coming to Meramec and its feeder streets since then. And, yet, on more than one occasion, I’ve driven from, say, Broadway to Grand with that autopilot setting switched “on.” I haven’t been as engaged as I should’ve been when passing through; or, better yet, stopping and exploring.

This past Friday, Andy Alton and I met Caya Auferio, who is the co-founder, with her husband, of Urban Eats. It’s a linchpin business on the corner of Meramec and Virginia, which she rightly describes at the locus of that official Downtown Dutchtown Business District. It’s obvious that she’s not only a person who runs a business (the cafe and gallery, incidentally, were elements that they always wanted to rent out, rather than run, themselves; but as tenants fell, they took it on and improved on… basically, everything that they had done). She’s also someone who knows everyone else on the block. Following her through the area is an exercise in watching her wave and say “hello” to every third person, whether they be a shop owner, or the new neighborhood couple walking their dog. As a resident of the block, she’s got eyes on the street every day, which adds to that omniscience; mind you, her second-floor apartment above Urban Eats is a true loft, in every sense of the word, and one of the most spectacular rehabs I’ve seen on the South Side, ever. Day-umn! What an awesome home.

Caya took us to a few of the merchants now calling the block their home, too. While some are probably not places I’ll return to often – hey, we all have our retail (and resale) needs and wants – others were very intriguing. Chief among them was Maude’s Market, a tiny, locavore grocery store located just off Meramec on Virginia. Growing out of a CSA, it’s now a four-days-a-week micro grocery, with a predominant stock of local products. Without Caya’s introduction, it would’ve continued to be a place that I’d vaguely heard of, but hadn’t visited. Now, I know the location, found in a long-dormant storefront, which happens to be one of the coolest little shops anywhere in town, a real, cute gem of a building.

The video of this piece will knit it all together, but the message can be summed up here: some neat things are going on in Dutchtown. Consider slowing down the next time you’re passing through. In fact, be like us and just come to outright stop, restarting yourself with a trip into Urban Eats. There you can get some sustenance and some knowledge. You’ll want both as you spend the next hour, or two, re-familiarizing yourself with the area.



Video Field Work: Go South for Animal Index

We all go through periods of disorganization, being saddled with that feeling of not quite getting things done. Lately, I’ve been caught in one of these skids, in just the worst way, and to gain even a sliver of extra time, I’ve asked the director/producer of the film “Go South for Animal Index” to let my character cut himself loose, by whatever means necessary. Yesterday, in Cuba, MO, my shortened day still stretched to about 10-hours of production and travel time, but things, for me, on that project, are now past-tense. I’ll leave it to Chris King, who writes prolifically on the film’s progress, to take the story further at the Poetry Scores blog, should he be so inclined. Suffice to say, mine was an amusing way to end a part. I’m thankful to have played along, and especially thankful to now be an alum on the project.

Now, before I go further, I should say that “Go South for Animal Index” is a long-form poem, written by Stefene Russell. It’s also a CD, with songs built around various lines of the work, all of the tracks recorded, produced and distributed by the aforementioned Poetry Scores collective. And, lastly, it’s going to be a silent film; silent in that actors don’t speak, though there is a soundtrack using the exact songs/sequence of that CD. Shooting for a full-year-and-change, the production will shut down due to continuity issues by winter, with editing taking place then. Maybe by spring, we’ll all have something to look at, hopefully something quite cool.

And while yesterday’s action took place in Cuba, a stout 89-miles from my front door, recent weeks have seen lots of shots picked up at the Atomic Cowboy (just about South Side) and what was dubbed “the prop shop” on Potomac Street (definitely South Side). In an otherwise-anonymous alley, backyard and garage, the story’s been told in fairly tight spaces on Potomac, with sets built from old junk; this is a true recycling effort. Last Sunday, in fact, a cast-and-crew of a full dozen were in the alley when a junk man drove by. He looked around, never leaving the seat of his mid-sized pickup truck and asked if there was a sale going on. Told no, he looked at the props and asked if he could take them away for scrap. Needless to say, a laugh, or two, escaped us and he was sent away, metal-less.

What else happened in the alley was pretty neat. Kids from the neighborhood rolled by and stuck around. In particular, they struck up a conversation with actress Natalie Partenheimer; one young girl was obviously sad that Natalie’d left for the day, after the kid had exited the set for a bit, herself. The boys in her crew zipped by and hung out, then left, then came back, sometimes kicking a soccer ball, other times playing hide-and-go-seek, though mostly they just stood around, watching the scenes play over-and-over in the tight confines of a garage dressed up as a intake center in a fantastical 1940s. Whatever was explained to them about the plot seemed to satisfy them, and they watched with total respect. And they were stone quiet, even though audio wasn’t being recorded.

More than one person noted that it was cool to see young people just playing. Without toys, other than the soccer ball, using just their imaginations. Notable, too, was the fact that this was a real polyglot group. The main half-dozen kids that came by were a unique-looking bunch, all the way around. They might have been a combination of Peruvian and Bosnian, or they could’ve been Honduran and Lebanese, or they may’ve been Mexican and Albanian. No matter, they were a mini-UN, rolling a half-dozen deep through their own alley and charmed that someone, anyone, would think to make a movie using such a modest space.

Andy Alton dropped by, as I was already in uniform/character. We talked to some folks, got some backstory, Andy asking most of the questions as I ate John Parker Jr.’s craft services. You can spend an afternoon in a host of different ways, and this was one. A real fine one. I look forward to our mini-doc look, which’ll have to satisfy my further curiosity ’til springtime.

Audio Field Work: Local Harvest Grocery/Cafe (Plus Some Meta…)

Yesterday, our audio stop was Local Harvest Grocery and Cafe. The conversation, as you might imagine, revolved around: our country’s much-reported “food revolution,” the availability of locally grown and sourced crops in this specific region, the decision to build the businesses in two nearby (but not adjoining) spaces, and other odds’n’sods. Co-owner Shannon “Maddie” Earnest was a gracious host. But what stole the show was the unexpected rap of two Grocery employees, Joe and Brian, who dropped some verse about the shop, cafe and underlying mission. I won’t do justice to the lyrics here, so I’ll just lightly suggest to you that you ask to hear the verses in person, or you wait for our podcast, which’ll be here on the site in not so very, very long.

A couple site notes:

One idea that’s been hitting me recently is the possibility of extending WU student work on this page. As I’m already working with two independent study students this fall, I came upon the idea of extending some options for publication to students in my Webster writing classes. I plan on popping up one, two, maybe more of these pieces next week. Because of the nature of this assignment, there’ll be some trends. For example, the first week will feature a couple pieces on audio production. Maybe this’ll turn into a more regular thing, maybe not. But I’m planning on thinking on ways to make them a more regular feature, especially on those weeks when I’m a little short on (free) words.

And this: I’m shutting off comments for the time being. The sheer amount of spam this site has worn me to the edge of my nerves; I was amazed this morning to find three, actual notes in the slushpile of spam. (And thanks for those, all relating to “For Pete Stein” below.) If a digital sensei wants to help me figure out this mysterious item called an Akismet Key, I would be grateful. Learned it once, forgot it, need a refresher.

Have a lovely, South Side weekend…

(Quirky: this should’ve been posted a few weeks ago, but just went live. We’ll… just live with that, I guess.)

Audio Field Work: Tower Groove Records

You may’ve heard about the new record collective in town. It’s based on the South Side, but ain’t limiting itself, ya dig?

There’s been a story, or two. A carnival that drew hundreds. And lots of natural, organic buzz; the best of buzz, if you’re asking me.

So we went out and talked to Jason Hutto about Tower Groove Records. An audio update soon.

Video Field Work: Soccer @ Cherokee Park

All of us getting emotional, but with vastly different triggers. You might let go of a stray tear when attending a weepie movie, I might be overtaken when attending a soccer match. Like, you know, we’re different.

For me, though, heading to Cherokee Park over the weekend brought back a variety of fun memories, as I coached many, many, many losses (er, games) at that exact spot. But that’s history. Now, every Saturday and Sunday, at both noon and 1:30, kids from City middle schools are playing soccer, in a league that’s geared towards teams that would fall outside of the long-running CYC. Playing under the auspices of the soccer-in-the-city group known as New Dimensions, this league was formed by a parent, DJ Wilson; though he might deflect credit elsewhere. But he called the schools, found the refs, got things moving.

Now, in the shadow of The Brewery, kids are running around on a Saturday, both boys and girls kicking a ball with a bit of competition on the line. The games might be a bit rough, owing to many of the players being relatively new to the game, but there’s definitely some talent on the field, too. More than a couple of these kids will wind up fleshing out high school teams in the next year, or two, and the experience they’re gaining at Cherokee will be a big part of that.

More importantly, of course, they’re simply getting exercise, having fun with friends, learning teamwork.

On Saturday, with two girls teams squaring off at noon, this semester’s videographer, Andy Alton, captured some the scene. In a few weeks, we’ll share the results. Which, for me, might require a nearby hankie.

Profile/Interview with Tony Esterly, Shock City Studios

As noted last week, I’ll toss some South Side-related stories onto the site, written by students in my classes at Webster University. This pair of pieces on Tony Esterly of Shock City Studios includes a profile and interview (turned in second and first, respectively). Thanks to the writer for the reprint option and the subject for the same.

A Master of the Music Biz

By Nathan Golomski

Walking into Shock City Studios can be an intimidating thing for a young aspiring audio engineer. This $3-million facility can quickly blow anyone’s mind with its huge recording space, countless pieces of gear, and a 48 channel audio board, but for Shock City’s head engineer, Tony Esterly, these things are as easy to operate as a television set. Over the years, Esterly has recorded blue grass, rap, rock, country, and every music in between. Watching him work is like watching a master painter, but instead of different colored paint, he has knobs- hundreds and hundreds of knobs- each one allowing him to bend sound to his will. Though the studio control room may seem like his natural habitat, he was not always behind the board.

Esterly was always attracted to music, even as a young child. He first started playing music by learning the piano but eventually moved on to have his main instrument be guitar. His skill and love for music grew throughout high school and he decided to study jazz guitar and studio recording at Greenville College. His stay at the college was short lived. After only a year of college, his band, The LP Outsiders, began picking up more and more work. They started touring and even got signed for a recording deal. Esterly got his first taste of the real recording business, recording with his band in New York and Nashville. But even this eventually came to an end. “[We] kind of were going to make it,” Esterly reflected. “We ended up getting really close, but it didn’t happen.”

The band eventually made its way down to St. Louis.  Each member getting settled into the city their own way and the group eventually separated. Esterly quickly found his niche in the city playing guitar in various bands and for recording sessions. He eventually met Doug Firley and Christ Loesch, the owners of Shock City Studios. Esterly would play guitar and bass on recordings for Firley and Loesch and even started helping with producing albums. When Firley and Loesch decided to build their current facility three years ago, it was an easy decision for them to keep Esterly around.

Although Esterly has a well established St. Louis presence as a head engineer and guitar player for several popular bands, he admits that St. Louis still may not be his final destinationHe’sconsidered moving to cities where the recording industry is larger, such as LA, Nashville, or New York. “Really, I don’t know why I haven’t,” Esterly pondered. “I think if opportunities arose, I’d take them. You’d be stupid not to take opportunities and try to make something happen.” -30-

Five Questions for Tony Esterly

By Nathan Golomski

Chicago native Tony Esterly, 33,  might look like the stereotypical crazy rocker, wailing on guitar and tattoos all down his arms, but when you talk to him you can see that is a humble yet well accomplished musician and recording engineer. I went down to Shock City Studios, where Tony is head engineer, and sat down in front of the massive SSL 6060 audio board in Control Room A to chat with him.

How’d you get into music recording?
I was always attracted to music as a kid, it was first with piano and then guitar and then a band I played in, we recorded a lot in Nashville, sometimes in New York and other places. And I always liked the producing and engineering side of it and decided I wanted to learn how to do that, pursue that as a career.

Did you go to college for recording and music?
I did for a year in 1997. I went to Greenville College to study studio recording and jazz guitar. The band I was in got signed, we got a publishing deal and a manager picked us up from Nashville. We toured around for a couple years, did the NACA circuit (National Association for Campus Activities). Kind of were going to make it. We ended up getting really close but it didn’t happen. The band was called LP Outsiders. It was basically the Black Eyed Peas, but ten years ago.

Do you have any career goals?
Yes! Grammy record. I want to produce a number one single. That goal is kind of general and broad sweeping, but it encompasses a lot of stuff. I could say I want to do it in this genre or that genre, but I really think in any genre that it happens, it’s going to be alright.

How did you end up in St. Louis and engineering at Shock City Studios?
The band I was playing in, they had all moved here together after college and I stayed in St. Louis for a while and started working here: playing sessions, playing in bands, doing everything I could to stick with music in St. Louis. I met Doug and Chris (the studio owners) through some mutual friends and I did a couple of sessions on guitar and bass and just kept doing work for them when they would produce albums. I met them about six years ago and then started working and playing for them about four years ago.

What is your favorite music to record?
It changes every year. Sometimes I like country music. Right now I like dance and electronica. Sometimes it’s just regular rock’n’roll. It’s constantly changing. That’s the good thing about music.

Bonus Tracks 

Do you plan to stay in St. Louis?
I think if opportunities arose, I would take them. You’d be stupid not to take opportunities and try to make something happen. I’ve thought about moving to Nashville, New York, or LA. Really, I don’t know why I haven’t. I know guys who work in each of those studios and it’s not much different than here except there’s more people, more studios, more BS involved too. It’s the same thing just on a bigger scale.

Do you have hobbies outside of recording and playing music?
I like running. Bike riding is good. I like to hang out and drink beers. The weird thing about loving music and making it your job is that it kind of turns itself around on you. Sometimes it starts as a hobby, then turns into a career and the love you have for it changes over time. It kind of plays tricks on you too sometimes, where you got to stay ahead of what you really want to do, what you really love, and remember that you need to take a break from the stuff you love too. Because if you don’t do that, you’re going to drive yourself nuts.

A great sandwich place, Blues City Deli, is just around the corner from here. What’s your favorite sandwich from there?
Number 2. That’s a  Sicilian Po Boy. But I can’t eat that all the time. I usually just have to get the turkey. I used to weigh 300 and something pounds. I used to work in a music shop, fix guitars, and give lesson. I just didn’t care. I’d just go there everyday and eat pizza all day. -30-



Audio Field Work: The Heavy Anchor

It wasn’t so long that ago that I’d already turned a jaded eye towards The Heavy Anchor. No reason for doing so, just being a jerk. But we’ve all done it: you hear about a place, then you hear about it some more, then there’s that next wave of attention. And some of this is nothing more than anecdotes, people saying that they’d been there; it’s not like they were battering anyone with a never-ending parade of ads and marketing. Gosh, isn’t buzz supposed to be a good thing?

But upon finally going there, I couldn’t help but like the place. It’s scrappy. It’s comfortable. It’s run by young folks who care. And did I mention the great beer selection? Really, there’s not a set reason to dislike the joint. So, when I decided to bust out a story about bars on Gravois, it was easy to not only feature them, but to laud their many charms.

Last week, Jamie Thomason, this fall’s audio interpreter for this site, dropped by with me and we chatted with owners Jodi Whitworth and Johsua Timbrook. About their current state, about their plans, about their neighborhood. The piece, hopefully, will hint at two people who wanted to open a bar, but wound signing on for all sorts of extra duty. They’ve mastered the art of collecting licenses from the City and state. They’ve become goodwill ambassadors for the Gravois corridor. And they’ve learned to mix drinks, no doubt about it. To date, everything’s gone relatively smoothly, but with tons of effort behind every move forward.

We wish them well and I, myself, look forward to hearing the podcast dedicated to their efforts.