Second set: Talking with the Queen of the scene
Three lessons learned from intermittently covering a music scene over — oooh! — two decades and change.
1. Your questions are never as interesting as their answers. Hate to say it, as the person writing the questions, but the Q/A format is always a loaded one. Take a peek below. These questions, meant for/sent to the band Bruiser Queen, were written on a laptop in front of the James Crutchfield Museum at the Venice Cafe. A pretty creative place. But they’re just OK, as Qs. Functional, but just OK. Why? Well, because the answers are what readers are looking for; you’re just window dressing. So don’t be too clever. Get out of the way. Let the stars shine, man.
2. Friendships form the basis for scenes and rock writers are a part of that mix, especially in a town of this size. It’s been true forever, but it’s a bit interesting to be removed from the daily (or, more specifically, weekly) game. The writers who love bands X, Y and Z hang out with said bands in corner booths at the Firebird and on front porches of the South Side. It’s all very incestuous, really. Has been, will be. It gets griped about occasionally, in a comments thread in RFT, or a side conversation at El Lenador, but it ain’t never gonna change. Scenes get built this way.
3. Age is gonna slow you. Let me elaborate and then let me get out of the way, so that Bruiser Queen can take its rightful place as the anchor of this piece...
The seeds of this column were born in 2008, when I wrote a feature for St. Louis Magazine. The February 2008 piece, “Past Perfect,” had me in a reflective mood: “We’re all in transition, aren’t we? Traditions that once nourished us, we leave behind. The habits we develop are replaced by new ones. Once, I could almost trace my footsteps from the Red Sea to Cicero’s to the Elvis Room to the Wabash, way over on the other side of Delmar. A four-venue stop today? Not likely to happen. The need to pick up the latest CD by a group on the rise has been replaced by the thrill of digging into a dusty box and finding a cassette tape I’ve not heard since 1999.” Yeah, yeah, we get it.
Sometimes, you gotta put that box back on the shelf and listen to something new. Let’s apply the above lessons to Bruiser Queen. As a flip to #2, I’ve never had a conversation with them, past some friendly nods when Jason Potter and Morgan Nusbaum have energetically spun records at The Royale. To be honest, I haven’t been out to see their band, an honest, if shameful admission. But I’ve been loving the bits of music that I’ve streamed from the group’s brand-new disc, “Swears,” which is available for purchase and sample, over at their bandcamp site. It’s solid enough rock to yank me out of 1999, if only for a welcome, 10-song dose of the exciting present.
Fresh off some time playing dates on the road, the duo — vocalist/guitarist Nusbaum and drummer Potter — release “Swears” this Friday at Vintage Vinyl, at 7 p.m. The creative pair was sent a 10-pack of questions by a newbie fan and this is how it went.
Bruiser Queen — I'm Yours
Crone: How long have you two been musical associates?
Bruiser Queen: By the end of 2009, the bands we were playing in (Morgan, the 75s; and Jason, Left Arm) were slowing down. We had played shows together, and Morgan mentioned to Jason that she had been working on a batch of her own songs where she played guitar. There was a chemistry of musical interests so really, things grew from there.
How has Bruiser Queen complemented or pulled at personal projects? For example, for Morgan: Are you working on tracks for use as a solo performer? And Jason: How does committing time to the band impact your work as a graphic artist?
BQ: Morgan is a absolute fountain when it comes to songwriting, and Bruiser Queen is just one outlet for that. And it's a very natural distinction as to what will work thematically between the projects. Likewise for Jason, the two aspects of creativity actually complement each other quite well. As well as producing artwork for the band, most of what he produces is for other bands that we play with or things that we're collectively involved with (i.e., the 2012 RFT Music Showcase).
If you would, give a bit of specific background on the putting together of "Swears." Any interesting anecdotes from the recording process, the mastering, the general genesis of writing songs to releasing them?
BQ: “Swears” was recorded in 10 hours with Chris Turnbaugh at Studio CTS. In working with Chris, the actual recording of this album has been among the most direct and rewarding projects we've done with this band or any other. We knew going in what 10 songs we wanted to do, and the arrangements and instrumentation associated with them. On the day we were recording the music parts we got through nine of those songs and just couldn't for the life of us remember the 10th, so we ended up blasting through a song we were somewhat less practiced up on called “Swears” — and it ended up becoming the title track. Later, we remembered the 10th — "Alien Song" — so that'll make an appearance on a future release.
What can you add about the release event at Vintage Vinyl? What are best-case scenarios for how that night will go?
BQ: Hopefully, everyone will get nice and drunk on the free Schlafly beer and buy a bunch of CDs! We've been playing in front of a wide array of new audiences lately, so it'd be great to see a room full of friendly as well as unfamiliar faces.
Why's the two person, male/female act become such a notable thing in recent years? Was there, prior to this, a notion that bass had to be a part of the rock aesthetic? Perhaps bassists are just that annoying?
BQ: We've really enjoyed the duo dynamic. It's really allowed us to demonstrate most directly the aspects of songwriting that we're trying to get across. Not that we're opposed to adding a bassist (or any other instrument) in the future, but it's really been nice in terms of booking, traveling, practicing, decision-making, etc., only having to consult one other person.
Of the groups sporting the two-person dynamic in the past half-decade-and-change (Viva Voce, The Like Young, White Stripes, Mates of State, our own Sleepy Kitty), who are among your favorites? And what about their sound brings, to your mind, the fullness needed to pull off their songs?
BQ: To us, being a duo isn't really a statement in itself; it's an exercise in energy and the destruction of clutter. Which isn't to say we don't get a particular kick out of duos. With bands like JEFF the Brotherhood (our favorite!), The Pack A.D., Mr. Gnome, Sleepy Kitty, Mates of State, Bantam Rooster, etc., we definitely share a kinship watching how they bring out the full spectrum of sound. For instance, we use a set-up that splits the guitar signal off to a bass amp that helps things not be so thin in a live setting. Though a challenge, it's a welcome one.
On your FB profile, you list several St. Louis bands as influences. Who are your current faves to hear and to share a stage with? And who has departed to that great band graveyard in the sky, to your disappointment?
BQ: There's so much going in St. Louis it's hard not to be excited about what's going on right around us. We love Sleepy Kitty; so creative, talented, fun, and just downright sweet people. We love Peach, another great band that's just hitting their stride. Aside from those, we LOVE Doom Town, The Humanoids, Sleepy & the Bedtimes, Holy Doldrums, Little Big Bangs, Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship, Tight Pants Syndrome, Middle Class Fashion, Trauma Harness. And, of course, we miss our old bands the 75s and Left Arm!
When you DJ, what acts tend to find their way moving to the front of the stack? How you begin to describe the overall vibe of your DJ sets? And would you two ever consider moving into that mode via radio or webcasting?
BQ: We usually tend toward garage, rock and power pop with an emphasis on female-fronted bands. We love new bands like Screaming Females, Shannon and the Clams, Best Coast, Something Fierce, Ty Segall, Jay Reatard/Lost Sounds, Girl In A Coma, Unnatural Helpers, Hex Dispensers, The Gossip, White Flag/Sleater-Kinney. But you can't just rain down the new stuff, so we play some classics from the Seeds, Rolling Stones, ? and the Mysterians, The Animals, Joan Jett, the Dave Clark 5, Monkees, Suzi Quatro, 999, Johnny Thunders, etc. We've talked about getting into radio/webcasting, but, honestly, we've been so busy lately with our own music.
What video projects have presented themselves to you? And since so many people now possess cameras and some semblance of video skill, how to you determine when you'll say "yes" and when you'll pass?
BQ: It all depends on the people, really. We've worked with Bill Streeter in the past. And he's such a great guy and super talented, so we'd love to work with him again. Recently, we were involved with a really fun project called "Chevy Music Showcase" who shot episodes of local bands interviewing each other. We were lucky and got paired with Beth Bombara (who’s totally sweet). Here's our first episode. They actually run on KMOV, so we get people coming up to us all the time going "Hey! I saw you guys on TV this morning when I was drinking my coffee and eating my cereal!"
We've never talked about music. And, as stated up top, since we don't have a common language in relation to your music, even music in general, tell me what random people have said about your sound? What are the things about it that seem to pull people in? 'Cause I like your stuff!
BQ: Oh man, drunk bar people always come up to us and say we sound like the White Stripes. Which, aside from the most basic elements of pure rock ‘n ‘roll, we don't sound anything like. It's probably just the closest reference point people have when they see two people playing guitars and drums. We also have people just come flying out of the woodwork after our last song that are just blown away with Morgan's voice. People that say, "Man, I just came in here for a beer and heard you singing and WOW!" And it's really flattering — and nice that we have a way of catching someone's ear.