Music At Main | Buzz Blog

Monday, March 16, 2009

Music At Main

Posted By on March 16, 2009, 9:21 AM

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The Downtown Library has really become a focal point over the past year for local music, and one need look no further than one monthly showcase to know that for fact.

--- The “Music @ Main” series has brought out a new side to our scene, giving bands an opportunity to play a more personal and interactive show for the audience, often bringing in a striped down showcase of their finest works. The showcase hits the one year mark this month, and creator Andrew Shaw will fittingly play a set to mark the occasion on March 18th under his band The Platte. I got a chance to chat with Andrew about both his music career and Music @ Main, plus his thoughts on a number of other topics.

Andrew Shaw

Gavin: Hey Andrew, first up, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Andrew: I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and moved to Salt Lake City in August 2003. I spend my days promoting The City Library, and at night I play music.

Gavin: What first got you interested in music, and what were some of your early influences?

Andrew: I've always been a real band geek -- started piano lessons in second grade, cornet in fifth grade, euphonium in high school. I picked up guitar when I was fifteen -- it seemed so much cooler than typical symphonic instruments. But by your twenties, everyone can play guitar, so knowing other instruments has given me more options. The first songs I taught myself on guitar were mostly by the Lemonheads, mainly their Shame About Ray and Come On Feel albums. I was also a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan for a really long time, but I always connected with their slower, quieter ballads than the rock anthems. But I'd be lying if I said James Taylor and Barry Manilow (popular family road trip tunes) haven't also tempered my musical palate.

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Gavin: How did you come about moving to Utah?

Andrew: I graduated from the University of Nebraska with no job prospects (a BA in English doesn't get you real far) and I was sick of bartending, so I decided to jump in the car and travel around the Western US. I was long-distance dating someone who was going to the U of U, and we thought it would be a good idea for me to move to Salt Lake. The relationship didn't last a month after I moved here, but the city (and the library) really captured me. Salt Lake City has been very good to me.

Gavin: When did you start playing around in groups?

Andrew: In Nebraska, I fell in with a folky crowd and played songs with my friend Steve in a duo that went through lots of silly names, eventually sticking with "The Salivating Pavlovs." Once in Salt Lake, I started playing solo as soon as I could get anyone to pay attention to me. At that time, I was playing as The Adonis -- a tongue-in-cheek inside-joke of a name. The Adonis eventually grew into a three-piece pop-rock band. It was a fun group to play with -- people danced at our shows and seemed to have a good time -- but after a few years, the music wasn't exciting me that much and our bass player moved to Texas, so it eventually met its end. I've also played in Calico (horns, organ, percussion). Calico made some of the most satisfying music I've ever played. I think all five of us are still kind of holding on to the project, but with our frontman in grad school in Rhode Island, we don't have a lot of opportunity to play anymore. I've also sat in with some great musicians in Salt Lake like Band Of Annuals, Chaz Prymek, and The Black Hens. I'm also playing organ for Will Sartain's Giant Band occasionally.
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Gavin: What inspired you to started The Platte?

Andrew: After The Adonis ended I started playing solo again under the name Chanticleer The Clever Cowboy, another tongue-in-cheek inside-joke of a name that pays homage to the high school mascot of Ord, Nebraska. That name was a real mouthful and suggests something more traditionally folky and lighthearted than what I play, so I changed it to The Platte this summer. The name is a reference to the Platte River that runs through Nebraska. The river was called "Nebraskier" by the Oto tribe, which means "flat water," and a French explorer translated it to the French word for flat, "platte." Also, the Platte River was followed by the westward Mormons who eventually settled in Utah, so it seemed fitting for my travels as well.

Gavin: How did you get involved with Mary Toscano to do Hankie Frankie?

Andrew: Mary's my wife, and Hankie Frankie is our little collective that combines her art and my music in one spot. When Mary moved in with me about 18 months ago, we got rid of the couch and turned our living room into a two-sided music and art studio. It's a great partnership having the visual and musical arts in one room. Mary has drawn and hand-printed all of the artwork for The Platte's recordings, and you can see her artwork at places like Kayo Gallery and Signed & Numbered or at the website.
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Gavin: You have three albums out and a forth on the way. What was it like recording the first three in two years?

Andrew: Well, putting it that way makes me sound so prolific, but it's really a live album and two five/six track EPs. The first album was a live set recorded at Slowtrain Music two years ago, and I've released two winter EPs the last two years ("Mammuthus primigenius," which refers to the wooly mammoth, a Nebraska native; and "The Friendly Beasts," a great traditional Christmas song). I really love traditional Christmas tunes, especially the slow, dark ones that really seem to capture the feeling winter (as opposed to the more popular, cheery ones that seem so saccharine), so recording those EPs has been really fun for me. The tough thing about Christmas albums is that they have a short shelf-life, but I hope to do another one this year -- I should probably start recording it soon! As for putting out three things in two years (plus a Calico album) -- I just love recording things, especially when I can record lots of different parts myself and make a full-sounding song with only one musician. And I also like sharing, so why not put the extra 500 bucks into pressing and releasing it?

Gavin: Tell us a little bit about the forth one coming out.

Andrew: I started working on the album in August and have just put the finishing touches on it. I hope to release it in April. The album is called "Grus," another Nebraska-related reference to the sandhill cranes that take over the Platte River during their spring migration. Through the album, I've tried to capture what it feels like years after a loved one has died. A good friend of mine drowned when I was 16, a really impressionable age, and it's interesting to think about things that have happened in my life since, to examine how I've changed, how my feelings about death have been tempered, but also how those raw emotions can still be brought up so quickly, given the right moment or memory. There's so many strange things about the passage of time. I have a horrible memory and have a hard time remembering things that happened earlier this week, much less 13 years ago, so when those memories creep up, they are usually surprising. Although I don't really expect people will come up with that analysis by listening to "Grus," I do hope that the music transfers that feeling of longing, of missing someone.
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Gavin: How did you start working for the Downtown Library?

Andrew: Right after I moved to Salt Lake City, I was looking for work and friends. I saw that The City Library needed volunteers, so I started volunteering once a week, just to have something to do. But I soon realized that public libraries put together so many things that I love: politics, intellectual freedom, writing, music, community-building. I eventually got work at The Library Store gift shop, then quickly moved up the ladder to end up with this truly amazing job.

Gavin: Where did the Music @ Main idea come from?

Andrew: Music @ Main is intended to be a celebration of the local musician -- the folks who are playing for the sheer joy of it, or out of a desire to be creative or to communicate something as opposed to the professionals who also do it to fund their lives. I thought there needed to be a place where we could learn the stories behind the songs, the experiences behind the musicians, kind of like VH1 Storytellers but on a local level. And what better place to do it than in a library? When people go to a show at a bar, they so often talk over the band or get distracted by their friends or trying to look cool or trying to pick up that girl in the corner. But when people come to events at the library, they expect to be engaged with the presenter and they have a different respect for what is going on on-stage. It's the perfect venue for a musician to play their songs to an audience that is really listening, and hopefully a good place to not only deliver to the crowd, but to interact with them, as well.
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Gavin: What did the library think of the pitch, and how did you decide which bands would play?

Andrew: The library was really receptive to the idea -- we needed some more music events, and Music @ Main is really done in the style of The City Library -- I think it fits us well. Trying to decide on bands is difficult. Since I see the Main Library both as the flagship of the whole system and as the neighborhood branch for downtown (where I live, work and play), I've generally stayed with groups that are actively performing in the downtown area. I also take into account whether the group would make for a good interview because talking about music is half the program.

Gavin: What was the first performance like, and what was the public reaction to it?

Andrew: The first Music @ Main in March 2008 featured Chaz Prymek and James Miska. They brought down a great crowd who really seemed to connect with what they each were doing. Chaz and James are both so charming, and the crowd asked some great questions. As the "host," I often get so caught up with asking questions and making sure the show runs well that afterward I always end up asking Mary, "Was that good? Was it cool?" She always tells me it's cool...

Gavin: This upcoming performance will be the one-year marker. Why did you choose to perform yourself?

Andrew: It was just a coincidence that I'm playing the one-year anniversary show. People have asked me why I haven't played one myself, and I kept saying because it feels weird to book myself. But I decided it was time, and hopefully people will enjoy what I do and keep coming back.

Gavin: Do you have any new plans for it, or sticking to the plan you have so far?

Andrew: This summer, I hope to book some louder bands that can play out in the amphitheater on Library Square. We had Tolchock Trio out there in September, and it was a great event -- doesn't lend itself to Q&A so much, but is a great showcase for Salt Lake's louder groups. So maybe three or four outdoor shows, then back to the quieter format for the colder months.
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Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Andrew: I think Salt Lake's local scene is wonderfully diverse. We've got good groups in every genre: rap, alt-country, heavy metal, pop-rock. Having a scene that can generate such diversity gives musicians a lot of creative real estate -- if you want to try a techno-thrash-rap project, you're just as likely to get a show as a pop-country group. And so many people are playing with two or three groups. The downer is that it's sometimes really hard to get people to come out to your shows. If you're already playing three shows a month, it's hard to motivate yourself to go to more local shows. And the scene is so saturated with so many acts, there's no chance to see them all.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it better?

Andrew: I think it's mostly about promotion -- you've just got to connect with the people that will like your music and get them out to your shows. I'm not the best at that -- after working on library promotion all day, I don't always feel very excited to promote my musical projects. But the most popular bands in Salt Lake have put together a mix of good music, excellent connections, and great promotion to build an audience.

Gavin: Who would you say are the best acts in our scene now?

Andrew: Oh, boy. This question is quite the set-up because it's all about individual taste, not who's really "the best." But off the top of my head I'd say my current favorites are The Glinting Gems, Tolchock Trio, James Miska, Future Of The Ghost, and Coyote Hoods. Did I mention Band Of Annuals and Ether Orchestra? Or The Black Hens and The High Beams? See... there's too many.

Gavin: Moving to the music industry, tell us what your thoughts are on it in general and the current state it's in?

Andrew: There's so many things one could say about the current music industry. I feel like it's in a position of major flux, but looking back over the last few decades, it's always in major flux. The Internet has made it so little bands can get a little exposure, but it also makes it so everyone is completely inundated with all the little bands around the world. I can't stand most of what is on the radio these days, but the indie labels seem to be flourishing and pushing out some truly amazing music. So I never have a problem finding an album or four to buy at Slowtrain every week. I'm not in a position to try to "make it" in the music industry right now, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone does it. It's madness, and music is so subjective, that so many of the projects I think are amazing don't get a fair share with the "big guys." (But who wants to hang with the big guys anyway? I think playing music in an arena sounds like the biggest bummer in the world.)
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Gavin: What do you think of the current trends in music that are getting radio play today?

Andrew: I don't listen to the radio much because a lot of the music doesn't connect with me. But I get that it connects with other folks, so more power to them.

Gavin: What's your take on file sharing and how it affects you as a musician?

Andrew: I'm at the point where I'm just happy if someone listens to my music. Sure, it would be nice to make back the money I put into creating the music, but, for me, it's more about getting listeners, not getting money. But I think I'm a better musician and a better listener because of Napster and free MP3s. Through Napster, I found Death Dab For Cutie and so many other great bands that have influenced my sound. And then I bought all their albums since, and T-shirts and concert tickets. Sometimes it works. But I also think people should put their money behind their heart -- if you love a local or indie band, buy their album. Or if you heard them through a burnt disc or a "shared" file, buy their album and give it to someone as a gift. At some point, there has to be money behind it so these people can continue to eat and focus on making more music you love.
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Gavin: What can we expect from you and M@M over the rest of the year?

Andrew: From Music @ Main, you can expect great local music and insightful connection with the musicians. From The Platte you can expect a mellow album and hopefully another winter EP. And if I'm lucky and find a block of time, I'll finish another plot or two I'm hatching. I want to record an album of songs under 2 or 3 minutes. I want to record an alternate soundtrack for an old Vincent Price movie. I want to start another band that people will dance to. And I hope Calico will play a couple of shows this year. So there's a lot of work to do.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Andrew: The librarian in me would like to plug the Dewey Lecture with author Richard Louv on Saturday, April 4, at 7pm. He wrote a great book called Last Child In The Woods about reconnecting children with nature. The Platte would like to plug a show at Urban Lounge on March 27 with Samba Gringa, La Farsa, and Oh! Wild Birds (it's O!WB's CD release party.) And also keep your eyes peeled for Record Store Day events on April 18 -- it's a great opportunity to support locally-owned record stores and get awesome deals on great music.

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