Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

March 12, 2019 News » Cover Story

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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  • Ryan Williamson

I'm not going to lie—putting together this Local Music Issue was tough. How do you tell a major metropolitan area's story in an all-encompassing fashion? How do you do justice to all the subcultures, stylistic niches and underground scenes that make Salt Lake City great—all while adhering to a strict word count? How do you choose one artist, one local institution or one behind-the-scenes mover and shaker over another?

Once I let the pressure go, everything started to flow. A feature about a 40-year light-and-sound veteran who's manned the boards at all your favorite festivals flowed into a look behind the crucial role that merchandise plays for local bands on the rise. One producer dropped some knowledge about working with fast-rising Utah rappers, while another raved about the safe space created for local drag queens to strut their stuff. We also dug into the City Library's Hear Utah Music repository for local music—which seems like it's been around forever even though it just started last year—and we explored the dark corners of rock 'n' roll with a Utah native who was gone forever but returned last year to spice up local nightlife. Still feeling we weren't casting a wide enough net, we also absorbed the wisdom of hard-working women on both ends of the age and genre spectrum. We hope you'll enjoy their tips on how to hustle as much as we did.

Most of all, we hope this issue will remind all of City Weekly's readers about the particular kind of magic SLC's music scene exudes right now. Whatever your preferences and wherever your heart lies, there's a community out there waiting for you. If they're anything like the people I've met in my short time here, they'll probably welcome you with open arms, too. Find your people, find your sound and find your inspiration—that's all there's left to do, and we hope this Local Music Issue helps in some small way.

—Nick McGregor,
Music editor



  • Ben Allen

Nicole 'Choice' Jaatoul personifies the hardworking ethos of SLC's diverse DJ scene.


Depending on who you talk to, Salt Lake City's nightlife scene circa 2019 is either at an unrivaled apex of endless options, or bogged down by an internet-saturated, selfie-obsessed generation more concerned with clicks than connection. But one point can't be argued: There's never been more diversity and representation on the city's stages than there is today.

Women, people of color, gender-bending drag stars and every sexual orientation under the sun rub shoulders every night here. That's particularly true in the DJ and electronic music community, where a recent explosion of new venues, open-minded cliques and themed parties has transformed the menu of options from a vanilla one-sheet to a multi-faceted novel.

Telling that whole story would require such a novel—perhaps even a trilogy. But one name that's been jumping off of gig posters and stacked DJ lineups is Choice, the on-stage moniker of 33-year-old Nicole Jaatoul. From the pulsating sensuality of her set at New City Movement's 20th anniversary party last fall to a Valentine's Day fundraiser for Encircle, an LGBTQ family resource center in Provo, to her forthcoming China Doll party for LGBTQ fans at Garage on Beck later this summer, Jaatoul exudes a whirlwind energy behind the turntables and a fierce presence in the community. And she does all that while holding down a demanding day job as a massage therapist, which perfectly personifies the hustle required to make it in Salt Lake City.

Jaatoul, who grew up outside of Detroit, first moved here from California in the mid-2000s to attend massage therapy school. She then spent a few seasons in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., before landing in Salt Lake City for good in 2010 and hasn't looked back since. Inspired by the Motor City's long history of house and dance music, she says Frankie Knuckles' "The Whistle Song" first caught her ear and turned her on to upbeat grooves. But although she loves electronic music, she says her first attraction to DJing came from hip-hop, soul, reggae, funk and breakbeats. "I used to follow the Funk Pirates, a group of all-vinyl DJs, around Southern California," she reminisces. "I would stand right in front of the DJ booth and watch them mix thinking to myself, 'I want to do that!'"

In 2005, while working at a Guitar Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., she began learning the ones and the twos from a co-worker who moonlighted as a drum 'n' bass producer. Channeling all of her influences, which had expanded into the kind of trippy electronic pop found on Bjork's early solo albums Venus as a Boy, Violently Happy and Telegram, Jaatoul's new mentor taught her how to mix using old Dieselboy records.

During her stint in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Jaatoul started playing house parties and building sets in her bedroom, but when she returned to Utah, she still didn't consider herself a proper DJ. "Then I was introduced to Yokchi Chang and Al Cardenas, who started Nightfreq the previous year," she says. "They had a DJ in their crew, Mama Beats, and she booked me my first SLC gig opening for her at W Lounge."

That support extended to Abby Laine, one of Jaatoul's oldest friends. "Abby has always been my No. 1 supporter, and I wouldn't be a DJ if it wasn't for the Technics SL-1200MKs she gave me," she says, referencing a set of turntables. She expanded her repertoire by working with collectives like New City Movement, Nightfreq, Quality Control, Clan:destine, New World Presents, Kelle Call, The Red Door, Flare, Riche, Telepath, Alchemy, DJ Chaseone2, Bo York, Concise Kilgore and many others. Eventually, Jaatoul became one of the city's most in-demand spinners of vinyl.

She remembers her time at Switch, formerly known as The Fallout, as particularly inspiring. "The promoters invited me to play my favorite underground selections and gave me time slots I hadn't played before," she says. "They were very encouraging and supportive, not just to me but to all of the talent that came through there. I've received so much love and support over the years, and I'll keep supporting back."

Lately, her list of upcoming events has expanded with bi-weekly residencies at Alibi (next gig: March 23) and the aforementioned China Doll party at Garage on Beck (which starts March 28). And so has her work as a massage therapist. In the winter, she travels to and from Park City seven days a week doing outcalls for the ski crowd, a schedule that's both demanding and rewarding. "I love doing body work, and I love to DJ, but holy shit, sometimes it can be really exhausting juggling the two," she says. Asked about her future plans, she turns pensive, the strain of two careers obviously weighing on her: "I don't know if I will always do shows. I'd like to put the decks away for a couple of years and start making my own music. Sometimes I just want to go back to being a bedroom DJ, but I do have dreams of playing vinyl sets around the world. Who knows? Anything's possible. I took two years of welding when I was 16 and I might still be certified."

But it's precisely her versatility and voracious appetite for music that makes Jaatoul such a skilled DJ. Open-format sets are her specialty; at one memorable Battle of the DJs contest sponsored by City Weekly, she ran through every genre imaginable during her 30-minute slot, confusing those looking for one particular strain of electronic music but giving those of us looking for something different a thrill. You can chalk that up to how much of a fan girl Jaatoul still considers herself when it comes to electronic music; she says she spends far too many hours scouring the internet for imported records to build out her treasured collection. And that's what matters in today's Instagram-dominated world: a real human being spinning real vinyl containing real music that speaks to her heart, gets the crowd moving and keeps the community moving toward a brighter, more all-inclusive future.

"The scene in Salt Lake City has changed," Jaatoul says, "but the community has always been pretty tight. Parties were much simpler in the old days: a dark room, a fan, people dancing and sweating and nobody on their cell phone, that's for damn sure. Today's scene is different, but I admire how hard people push themselves and each other and what this city has achieved."

  • Melvin Wagstaff

Hip-hop producer Melvin Junko keeps it classic while formulating his own boom-bap sound.


How would you describe the "normal" Utah father? Around 30 years old with a kid or two? Probably working a job with the state or in sales? Maybe driving a late-model sedan? On the surface, this vision hasn't changed much in the past decade or so. But a generation ago, most Beehive State dads wouldn't be caught dead wearing form-fitting jogging pants, waiting in line for exclusive sneakers and paying for designer water. My, how times have changed.

Today's fathers can bond with their children through things like Super Smash Bros., Marvel movies and Vans or Retro J's. Oh, and through music. Meet Melvin Junko, real name Melvin Wagstaff. He's a typical Utah dad with an atypical pastime—he makes beats for underground rappers. Junko started his musical career in 2005 as an MC, but according to him, his rhymes weren't very remarkable. "I stopped rapping [and] just got more into production," he says. "I found out I enjoyed that more—I was better at it. I wasn't the best MC."

That affinity for being behind the board and not the mic has to do with a clear-cut desire: to hear a finished product that matches his vision. "I'm in control of the whole song being finished," Junko says. "If you're rapping, you got other people making beats. I just like being in control of my output.

Junko's tools of choice are the SP 404 SX, an MP 2000 XL, an old Casio keyboard he got from a thrift store for $15, record samples and ProTools. Yet such equipment can pay big dividends. Producer albums are all the rage these days in the hip-hop world. The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Marco Polo, 9th Wonder, DJ Muggs and Salaam Remi all joined forces with MCs to co-headline 2018 albums. And Melvin Junko is no different.

In 2017, he released 10,000 Hours, followed by a new project in 2018 with Tha Soloist and reMEmber (pronounced Remember Me). There's no end in sight, either, with fans seeming to enjoy the concept of a cohesive album made by a pair of similar musical minds (juxtaposed, for example, with star MCs releasing a 13-track album with 13 different producers).

Stylistically, Junko has stayed in the same lane on those past few albums, utilizing lo-fi beats, record samples and traditional hip-hop drum patterns to formulate tracks that have caught the ear of MCs all over the country. Although Junko doesn't stray from the tried-and-true boom bap formula, he continues to get props from his peers, both locally and nationally. Not only do his beats display an ear for sound and timing, they display the hard work that's required to survive in such a fiercely competitive industry.

With around 20 projects in his catalogue—some of which he doesn't even remember—Junko cites as favorites his work with Utah heavyweights D-Strong and EneeOne, who spit bars over Junko beats on a deep cut called "The Real." In addition, Junko has worked with Artifacts, Bronze Nazareth, Big Lo, Copywrite and Ruste Juxx—from New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, Ohio and New York, respectively. That speaks to his far-ranging appeal, as well as to his (and Utah hip-hop's) potential for the future.

"Junko is good people," EneeOne says. "He's very easy to work with and has a solid work ethic on the board and on the mic. He's versatile as a beatmaker and has a sharp ear for that classic boom bap."

Of course, Melvin Junko isn't Superman, and he readily admits to not being quite versatile enough to do anything. "I've tried to make trap beats, but I can't," he laughs. "If somebody asks me [for that], I tell them they should probably try somebody else."

The good thing about producing beats is that you can do it for a lifetime without worrying about declining stage presence or sagging sales. Hip-hop tastes and sensibilities might change, but classic songs and styles stand the test of time. And if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style eventually. "There's really no specific thing, like, 'This is my sound,'" Junko admits. "It's really just what I'm feeling at the time. If I do a batch of 30 beats of the same style, then I get bored with it and move on to a different variation. I might switch around my equipment, link up some different processes together ... But typically I am just on the boom bap."

  • Enrique Limón

How Salt Lake City Public Library has local music's back.


In her engrossing non-fiction narrative The Library Book, author Susan Orlean writes, "The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

Such lofty language means something concrete to local musicians, though. Last June, the Main Library branch of Salt Lake City's Public Library system launched Hear Utah Music (HUM), a repository for hundreds of albums by Utah artists. At hum.slcpl.org, listeners can stream and download tunes, read bios and watch videos or dig into a poster collection that's a singular slice of local history. Backed up by a physical archive of donated CDs and cassettes, this music is meant for public consumption—and it's built to last, with every entry able to remain in perpetuity if the artist so desires.

Better yet, each of those artists whose music has been entered into the HUM collection has received a cash honorarium: $200 for full-length LPs and $100 for EPs. "The library is trying to help support local artists directly," says librarian Jason Rabb, pictured, who specializes in nonfiction and audiovisual with a particular focus on local and classical music. "We pay the honorarium as a 'thank you' for sharing their music. Hopefully we're able to help them get their music out in the world a little bit, too."

The technology that HUM runs on is solid, as well. "When we started thinking about a digital collection, we weren't sure how to build a website or license all the music," Rabb says. "Luckily, we found a startup company, Rabble, which builds local music collections for libraries—a very specific thing. They were flexible, working with us to build the site how we wanted it. That was great."

Reflecting that level of professionalism, HUM debuted with a solid schedule that made it easy for bands to put the new venture on their radar. Twice a year, in February and August, HUM accepts submissions. New entries from the February submission period are announced May 1; from August, on Nov. 1. Each submission is judged on its creative merits by a five- to six-person jury of local radio station DJs, record store owners, studio engineers and critics. "Jurying is a big part of the project," Rabb says. "It's not just me choosing the artists; the jury makes the selection process transparent while also helping us reach other communities. That way, we can hopefully build a diverse collection."

Less than a calendar year in, HUM's diversity is astounding. Nearly 60 artists represent every genre, gender, age, ethnicity and creative twist under the sun. There's 100-year-old jazz legend Joe McQueen and young doom lounge purveyors Jazz Jaguars, the raucous noise of The Nods and the searing folk of Wing & Claw, the luxurious beats of Sally Yoo and the riotous poli-punk of Nasty Nasty, all sharing the same space. You can even check out a Local Music Cassette Tape Kit, which have proven so popular that, as Rabb laughs, "A lot of them have been 'disappeared.' We're working on getting replacements."

Rabb knows how special such cross-genre pollination can be for young musicians. A Price native who started playing in bands once he moved to Utah County, he then landed in Salt Lake City, where he studied music at the University of Utah and fell into a thriving thrash-metal scene centered on Bad Yodelers. A few years after co-founder Karl Alvarez left to join garage-punk legends the Descendents, Rabb served time as a Bad Yodeler himself. Since then, he's embraced more of an experimental bent, performing in avant-garde two-piece It Foot, It Ears and as a one-off collaborator with NOVA Chamber Series, Deseret Experimental Opera Co., and Christian Asplund's Avant Vespers series.

That far-flung background informs more than just HUM; the music programming that Rabb and his team have championed at Salt Lake City Public Library sends the same open-minded message. In addition to regular summer rooftop concerts at the Main Library and live local music at branches around the city, a new event, SHH! A Very Quiet Concert Series, debuted this winter. On second Sundays in December, January and February, SHH! presented low-volume music commissioned exclusively for the library, with artists utilizing the building's unique physical layout and architecture. "That was great," Rabb raves. "We had Christian Asplund wandering around the library playing his viola, along with music inside the elevators and in different parts of the library. But it was music that didn't disturb normal activities, patrons or staff."

In addition, the 12 Minutes Max series celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. Featuring short works by local artists in various disciplines, Rabb and team select three original pieces from local artists in any format that will fit on the Main Library's auditorium stage: experimental music, dance, film, writing, theater. "Several artists who are part of the HUM collection have participated in 12 Minutes Max," Rabb says. "It's performance art, but the whole event is short and sweet, taking about an hour."

Versions of both events will roll up into the library's next big plan: a full-day HUM Festival tentatively scheduled for September. "We're going to have music on the roof, music on the plaza, and music in the library," Rabb declares, pointing to last summer's two-night HUM launch party at The Urban Lounge and Diabolical Records as inspiration. "It's fun taking library programming out in the community."

Ultimately, Rabb views his job through that lens—and it's an outlook shared among his fellow front-line staff members and Salt Lake City Public Library executives alike. "The support has been amazing," Rabb says. "One big area of focus for the library is celebrating creativity in the community. All the support of local musicians and local arts programming really comes through, all the way from my personal manager up to the director of the library. The support is there, and I feel it down at my level."

  • Enrique Limón

Copper Palate Press helps local bands get ahead with quality merch and a passionate, print-first perspective.


The start-up checklist for a new band looking to play some shows is simple. Instruments and sound equipment. Some kind of wheels to get to the gig. Creative inspiration. A willingness to perform. And, of course, a tip jar to hold George Washingtons.

As ambition revs up and perspectives broaden, those $1 bills might not cut it anymore. Ditto for the door take or the venue guarantee. The next step is to find new ways to pad your pocket—and if you're smart, you'll figure out how to build your brand along the way. Enter Copper Palate Press, a downtown screen-printing and printmaking shop. Managed by Brian Taylor, pictured, who co-founded the company 10 years ago with Cameron Bentley, Copper Palate specializes in the tangible merchandise—primarily T-shirts and posters—that bands need to start to earn a living.

After moving to Salt Lake City from Philadelphia in 2003, Taylor attended the University of Utah, studying graphic design before falling in love with all the different ways to print physical stuff: letter presses, wood blocks, etchings and more. "In college, screen-printing was a fine-art thing," Taylor recalls. "But I wanted to figure out how to make money doing it."

Like any creative pursuit, the hustle proved tenuous at first. Inspired by Leia Bell's iconic hand-printed, folk art-influenced gig posters for Kilby Court, Taylor started churning out his own versions. "I was all over the place," he admits. "I could do five different posters five different ways and you wouldn't be able to identify my style the way you could Leia's. It was all done for fun—and to get the experience of exactly how much time and money it takes to make 100 prints."

The poster market became oversaturated, though, and many bands began opting for digital prints. So, in addition to ramping up his commercial printing enterprise, Taylor shifted his small-batch screen-printing focus to T-shirts. "They're effective," he says. "If somebody buys your band's T-shirt and wears it, it's mobile advertising whenever they're standing in line somewhere. That's way cheaper relative to ad space on YouTube or social media, which is out of reach for most people. And who knows whether it's working? We stay away from that because we have a grip on making stuff that's physical and real."

That "we" in Copper Palate Press has evolved over the years. Originally, Taylor and Bentley wanted to create a collective where artists could share space, equipment and costs in a gritty, stimulating, non-gallery environment. As artists like John Andrews, Dave Boogert, Sri Whipple and Clyde H. Ashby have entered and left the fold, new blood like Fiz Bradshaw (of local noise-rockers Lube) and Jordan Fairbanks (of outlandish glam-rock act Baby Gurl) have injected fresh energy into the brick back-alley garage off 200 South.

click to enlarge The Copper Palate Press crew - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • The Copper Palate Press crew

"All my real jobs and paychecks starting out were from bands," says Taylor, who now teaches graphic design and handles e-learning for Salt Lake Community College. "Working with bands snowballed into buying bigger equipment, which we had to do to accommodate bigger orders. In the early years, we'd do a few jobs for bands, buy a used press, push its limits, save up and buy another piece of equipment."

Next up, Taylor has plans to replace the roof on Copper Palate's physical building, add new workspace and commemorate the business' 10-year anniversary with a party later this summer. He attributes much of that continued success to the next generation of artists like Bradshaw, who "are really helping us stay connected to the bands."

Bradshaw has dashed off tons of eye-catching runs recently: hand-cut cassette tape inserts, posters, T-shirts and album covers for Utah favorites like Human Toy, Brain Bagz, Sad State of Society and The Violet Temper, along with prints for California's Similar Alien and Idaho's Lloyd and Savior. Bradshaw's kaleidoscopic detail and surrealistic style is unmistakable, and her connections to the Salt Lake City music scene have turned Copper Palate into a must-stop for any band looking to express its creativity and make a few extra bucks by putting out one-of-a-kind merchandise. "Fiz's art is visually compelling and related, which I'm pretty excited about," Taylor says. "You know Fiz's look when you see it. It took me a long time to come up with that for myself."

Copper Palate's proximity to popular downtown haunts like Este Pizzeria, Fice Gallery, Diabolical Records, Campos Coffee and the Bar X / Beer Bar / Johnny's on Second triumvirate certainly helps. "We print our posters and then get 'em up and get 'em out," Taylor says. "People seeing 'em in all the shops and restaurants is just as effective as a magazine ad, a radio stop or an Instagram post. Print—the actual physical thing—still matters."

Here, Taylor launches into the kind of sermon-cum-sales pitch that would resonate with any band eager to share their creative vision with the world. Looking at art on your phone? "How are you going to appreciate something that someone's labored over for hours?" he muses. Pondering the necessity of marketing and branding? "It's an investment in yourself and your hard work." Working with 16-year-olds printing shirts for their first band? "I know they don't have a lot of money to begin with, so in my eyes they're deserving of a discount right off the bat." Understanding the demands of the road for seasoned bands on their first regional or national tour? "I know those guys will be struggling and putting in the work to sell the T-shirts. And if they don't sell that night, that might mean they don't have gas to get to the next show. A box of shirts can make money—and keep a band moving."

Although he's not the same kind of music fan he was 15 years ago, Taylor admits it's hard not to find himself emotionally invested in jobs for bands. "I like working with bands," he says. "I always have. It's fun. It's always a white-on-black image with some kind of skull or something, but bands are hungry. They're putting work in to live the dream. I respect that, which is why I still do at least 10 print runs for bands a year, just myself. Pound that out over 10 years."

Asked about the recent job that stands out the most, he mentions a four-color poster drawn for local Americana band Fur Foxen's November album release party at Lake Effect. "It was a really good illustration by Brett Ferrin, and when I got it back, I was like, 'Damn!'" Taylor says. "A 13-by-19-inch poster like that with thicker paper and brighter colors will stand out so much better than an 11-by-17-inch digital print with margins. The kids don't cut 'em down to full bleeds anymore, and at a Beans & Brews kiosk with 30 printers, guess which one's going to pop off? That's my sales pitch for that: 'You want to stand out?'"

On the other hand, Taylor says an epic 1,600-quantity run of four-color posters for Bleachers' August 2018 performance at a PluralSight tech conference nearly broke him: eight days solid of hand-printing, taking time off from his day job, icing his forearms each night. "That was nuts," he says with a laugh. "Definitely the biggest paper job I've ever done."

After doling out so much good advice, Taylor adds even more for bands unsure about which direction to go for their merch: "When I was starting out, I was really nervous to approach people who do what I do," he says. "But ask questions. Admit if you don't know something instead of pretending you're hot shit. Be honest about what you can afford."

As for those epic Copper Palate Press parties of the past, with punk bands raging while Taylor pulled ink over a screen shaking like a drum? Those days, sadly, are mostly over. Taylor waxes nostalgic about Aldine "Punk Rock Farmer" Strychnine old-school hardcore shows, Davey Parrish and "Bad" Brad Wheeler's DJ sets, and SLUG Magazine Executive Editor Angela Brown's curated parties, along with all the memories he's heard about The Moroccan, the former DIY concert venue that once called Copper Palate's humble abode home. But Taylor also says he doesn't miss setting up band equipment, fixing his own equipment and walking away at 3 a.m. without any extra money in his pocket. "I couldn't take it on myself," he says, lamenting the loss of artist and wingman John Andrews, who moved to New York City several years ago. "I tried for a while after John left, but it's a pain in the ass."

Still, Taylor says he's hoping to tap into the energy of younger artists like Bradshaw, who will hopefully help out when the time comes this summer for Copper Palate's 10-year-anniversary soirée. Hopefully the business can even get back to its collective roots, Taylor admits. Clearly he finds joy in passing down his knowledge, all while letting Copper Palate's meaning to local bands morph and evolve with the times. "What's the future hold?" Taylor thinks aloud. "I'd like to do more classes, more shared space ... I want to try to build the community again instead of just focusing on growing my commercial shop. I can do that anywhere. Here, I can give back to the art scene, because it's been good to me. Fiz and I will still do the 10-20 shirt runs, where a lot of people are going to turn those kids down. We have no problem doing those jobs."

"That's why I've always stuck to print," he adds. "Print is the most important thing. You have to experience it—just like with music and bands."

  • Jeanette Bonnell

The music vet chimes in on the keys to an enduring musical career.


As part of this special package, we couldn't resist sharing with you 10 sound strategies for long-term success from singer, songwriter, teacher and performer Kate MacLeod. With 50 years of experience playing the violin and fiddle, 30 years playing Celtic music in and around Utah and a thriving solo career that's taken her all over the world, MacLeod knows of what she speaks. If you want to know what it takes to make it in this rapidly changing music game, her time-tested wisdom is worth heeding:

Diversify at your own peril (but own it if you do).
"In the commercial music world, they want you to do one thing. If you're really famous, you can depart from that and people won't give you too hard a time. But if you're not famous, it can actually derail you. For me, I'm never so worried about things like that. My whole career has been backwards and upside down anyway. In Utah, I'm known for playing the violin and fiddle; outside of the state, I'm known as a songwriter. Last year, I made my first recording of violin and fiddle, and that confused everyone in the country. It's almost like this strange dual personality. But I decided, 'Well, I don't care—I'm going to do this anyway.'"

2. Use Utah's geographic isolation to your advantage.
"Utah is very isolated from the rest of the music world. It's difficult to work out of here, and people don't believe something really great is going to come out of Utah. If you want to get somewhere, you usually have to move. But there's great talent here—always has been. I did other things for a long time; I worked at the Violin Making School for 10 years, and it was a hard decision not to pursue that professionally. Then, I got into being a full-time musician very gradually. But being here in Utah did allow me to really understand who I was as an artist. And that's because I wasn't in a music city."

3. Listen to your successful friends.
"That's one of my rules: only take business advice from people who are actually doing what they want to do successfully. A friend of mine who was on my first recording had been on Atlantic Records in the big world, and he said, 'Don't move to Nashville, Kate. If you do, they'll just want you to be like a Nashville musician. What you're doing, that's your strength.' I really believe that's true."

4. Let your craft evolve.
"My songwriting has always been in the folk music vein. When I perform, most of the time it's with an acoustic guitar. I've been compared to the Carter Family, but my inspiration comes from everything: things I read, stories people tell me, an experience my friend went through. My favorite thing is writing about other people's stories in a very poetic way. I did an entire collection of songs I wrote inspired by books and put on a live concert at Ken Sanders Rare Books. My fiddle record, Deep in the Sound of Terra, is full of songs inspired by the landscape here. Last year, I was an artist in residence with the Quakers and I spent my time composing peace-motivated inspirational music."

5. Don't listen to the so-called experts.
"So many people say CDs are dead, but I still sell just as many as I used to. As long as I put out projects that have a cohesive theme to them, it really does call for some kind of product that's not just singles. Ken Sanders published a book of my music for Deep in the Sound of Terra; hopefully my next project will be designed in a book, as well."

6. Find a balance.
"I raised three kids. As a mom, I couldn't do everything. I really had to choose how to spend my very little spare time. I'd think, 'What am I going to do with it?' I couldn't do two or three things, so I did what was most important to me: playing music. The songwriting came out of that."

7. Pay attention to your relationship with your instrument.
"Even after 50 years, the way I play the violin and the fiddle has changed. In the last couple of years, I've noticed a huge amount of freedom has opened up in my playing. In the last year alone, I've actually gotten better. I pick up my violin almost every day and play a new melody. I have more fun with it. I always have, but it's a concept that changes. You have to learn how to connect with your instrument and make that relationship with it really enriching."

8. Don't be afraid of change.
"Coming from Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City has always felt like a bit of a small town for me. So I appreciate the recent increase in population, only because I came from that. Buildings being built don't freak me out; I go, 'Oh, new people!' It makes things more interesting. On the other hand, I've had friends since I moved here; it's a very close-knit community, which is nice. When your friends go that far back in life, they become really good friends. You can do that here pretty easily."

9. Be your authentic self.
"One reason I don't play Celtic music all the time is that it's just natural for me as an American coming out of the culture that I've lived and grown up in to play music that's American-based. Yes, it's informed and influenced by Celtic music, but to be my authentic self, I can't make a living off of music that sounds like it was going on 200 years ago. A lot of my friends do that because that's their passion. But to build a career for myself, my writing and my performing has to be in moment—in the now."

10. Learn to love music.
"The thing I like most about teaching music is helping young people learn to play music so that they will always want to play music. I want to make sure my students are in love with it. That's actually a quicker route to getting better. My friends and I became so proficient because we loved playing. We didn't have any goals of becoming good. A lot of young people today see someone doing something on stage and say, 'I want to be able to do that.' Well, that may take a few years. You have to find your happy place with the music you love. A lot of people skip over that part. I grew up learning in the classical model, and I bucked it quite young. I was highly criticized by my teachers, who were trying to prepare me for music conservatory. That was quite traumatic for me and took years to get over. But I loved the violin and all the things it could do. I wasn't only interested in classical music, but I couldn't articulate that until I became an adult."

  • Enrique Limón

International Society of Rock 'n' Roll puts the vroom back in America's favorite vintage art form.


"Rock 'n' roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it.
That's what happens to me. I can't help it." —Elvis Presley

More words have been written about rock 'n' roll than nearly any other musical genre. But any true rock head will tell you that words don't quite work to transmit the feeling of the music. Instead, it's about the unbridled feeling of rock 'n' roll. Its spontaneous ecstasy and celebration of self-expression was once considered an acute moral threat; the term "the devil's music" carried intense meaning for authority figures anxious about sexuality and sensuality spread to American youth through two-minute songs played on guitar, bass and drums.

Today, rock 'n' roll might seem downright tame, especially compared with death metal, gangster rap and other controversial art forms. The endearing spirit of danger and edginess lives on, however—and it's received a local boost thanks to the Salt Lake City-based International Society of Rock 'n' Roll.

Founded last year by Bountiful natives Corey Cresswell (pictured) and Ryan Menge, ISRNR mission is simple: to connect with rock fans in and around Salt Lake City through live concerts, DJ nights, record release parties and other events that empower the collective over the individual. "ISRNR started as an idea between Ryan and I," Cresswell says. "We're the core, but I don't want it to be about us. It's a 'we' thing—it's a society. Salt Lake has tons of potential, and knowing that we're growing so fast, we wanted to do something that shows people rock 'n' roll is alive and well and moving forward."

click to enlarge Members of the International Society of Rock 'n' Roll during a recent Beer Bar meetup. - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • Members of the International Society of Rock 'n' Roll during a recent Beer Bar meetup.

As most journeys go, Cresswell's arrival at that realization was roundabout to say the least. Growing up in Bountiful, he played in thrash-metal bands like Killbot but never felt connected to the area's straight-edge hardcore scene. He, Menge and their friends would play up in Ogden and in Salt Lake City, frequenting old haunts like The Outer on Redwood Road and Ted Shupe's music nights at The Comedy Circuit in Midvale. Next came Burt's Tiki Lounge and Club Vegas. "We were just trying to figure out what kind of scenes we fit into," Cresswell says.

Once they turned 18, however, the two childhood friends went their different ways. Menge moved to Southern California and started managing The Strangers, a band made up of old Orange County punk cats. Cresswell went to what he calls "woodshop college" to learn how to become a luthier. That skill in his back pocket, Menge told Cresswell to come to Los Angeles and be a guitar tech for The Strangers. Next, Cresswell went out on the road with Sacramento alt-rock band Middle Class Rut. He spent the next 10 years traveling, bouncing around Los Angeles, and, by 2015, supporting Menge as he started Rebel Union Entertainment, an LA-based artist management company that today works with Brian Bell (of Weezer), The Relationship, Night Beats, Stonefield and The Warbly Jets.

When asked whether he pined for Utah during that decade out west, Cresswell says, "Not at all. I was never coming back. I wasn't planning on leaving Los Angeles anytime soon. The lifestyle, the fun and the excitement kept me there—but I couldn't make any money, and I eventually tried not to stay on the road all the time." A random connection with an old friend led Cresswell back, though; last year, he took a job as an electrician and crew member at Ballet West, where he's worked since.

But how had the rock 'n' roll scene changed in the interim? "It was a big concern coming back," Cresswell says. "It's always been pretty mellow here, and my impression upon returning was that the scene was still mellow and pretty small." Traveling and touring helped him connect with rock 'n' roll diehards around the world, though, and Cresswell saw the potential for bands and adherents here in Salt Lake City to break out of their geographically isolated bubble.

The deep connection to Rebel Union Entertainment helped, too. Cresswell has organized shows at The State Room and Kilby Court for bands like Stonefield and The Warbly Jets, emphasizing the opportunity for locals to support those bands and network to make future tours possible. "Working together and making connections is what it's all about," Cresswell says.

Other events are steadily filling up ISRNR's calendar: Sunday Night Sinners Club events at Quarters Arcade Bar featuring DJ Nix Beat and DJ Ledingham. Monday night sets at Beer Bar. In January, ISRNR held a record release listening party for Night Beats' new album Myth of a Man; in February, the society organized a full '50s/'60s experience at Garage on Beck with Twist & Shout A-Go!-Go! featuring The Boys Ranch, The Poppees, DJ Rondevoodoo and live go-go dancers.

"I was always attracted to that vibe," Cresswell says. "Elvis was big for me when I was a kid; then The Ramones hit me and I didn't even really know why. That music isn't seen as very edgy anymore, but as a kid it was. It's aggressive, it's true and it's no bullshit." During Cresswell's years on the road, he fell in love with rock 'n' roll history in all its gritty, purely American facets. Touring the South, he found himself paying quiet tribute to juke joints and recording studios that reflected the hardships of the musicians who birthed the blues. The 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World opened Cresswell's eyes to further forgotten corners of rock 'n' roll history. "People getting the short end of the stick—that was the beginning of rock 'n' roll," he says. "Not us white privileged people who took it over. All these things have made me realize why I love the music. That hit me hard."

Luckily, Cresswell fell in with a like-minded crowd: Denny Fuller of The Boys Ranch, Charles Thorpe of Anchor Stage Management, Mike "DJ Fish" Fish, Michael Wood, Jared Soper of Randy's Records, Lord Vox, Isaiah of Doubt Walk, Joey Mays of The Nods, Wyatt and Cole Maxwell, Shane Kiel. During those Sunday and Monday night DJ sets, Cresswell encourages vinyl nerds to bring their own records and drop a needle in the groove, cultivating a sense of community that hasn't always existed here. "Everyone's responded so well toward the excitement and the idea of the society," Cresswell says. "Maybe it's something that people were looking for; maybe everybody was too separated before. Now, putting on these events under one banner, we can grow."

Future plans for ISRNR include a record label, more shows this summer and possibly even a more long-term partnership with Blackfeather Whiskey, which sponsored the Night Beats listening party in January. Cresswell says he hopes to team up with all-female motorcycle group The Litas, who host a Blacktop Ramble each June in Torrey, Utah. And he hopes to get Salt Lake City rock bands on the road and connecting with other scenes in Boise, Denver and surrounding cities. "We want ISRNR to be a trusted name for any event we throw," he says. "No matter where we go, we want people to know we're going to put on fun shows with quality bands."

About that gig at Ballet West, which might seem incongruous with Cresswell's longstanding rock 'n' roll lifestyle? He laughs and says it's actually a perfect fit. "I work on the crew side, and a lot of them describe themselves as pirates. It's a nitty-gritty world. But even some of the ballerinas are into rock 'n' roll. And to me, it's not just about the music. It's about the subculture and the attitude. If we can make more people in Salt Lake City realize that, I think we can build a community together."

  • Adam Sandberg

Adam and Kelly Sandberg put music's healing power to work on aspiring young artists.


It's Saturday evening at Adam and Kelly Sandberg's Salt Lake City home and an aspiring drag queen, Lilia Maughn, is nervously turned toward the vocal booth. Adam is helping Maughn record a track, and the atmosphere in the home recording studio is quiet yet emotional, as Maughn reluctantly starts from the top of a Sara Bareilles song.

Kelly, Adam's wife and business partner, notices the young queen's timidness. "Don't second guess yourself," Kelly says in a firm-but-gentle voice. "If you're not happy with the take, you can do it again." In that moment, it was the right amount of honest feedback that Maughn needed. He then started belting out a melancholy tune as if he wrote the lyrics himself.

This is a typical evening at Another Element Productions. The home studio has recorded and mixed dozens of local bands and drag queens. Some, like the infamous Molly Mormon, sought out the Sandbergs specifically for their services creating intro songs; others, like Disengaged and Dipped in Whiskey, chose the studio to record and produce full-length albums and cover art. "It just felt so natural," Adam says when asked about his inspiration. "What cooler thing [is there] than to help someone and also produce some awesome music?"

Since Another Element Productions started in 2006, more than 100 artists have found themselves recording with the Sandbergs (Kelly helps book the artists; Adam records them). "Anything I do, she manages," Adam says of his better half. "She's just as much part of this as I am. I might be down there pushing the buttons, but she's the backbone of it all."

Aside from the plethora of management tasks, Kelly also takes on the role of a life coach of sorts to artists, doing her best to provide the right amount of honesty. That coaching is done only to help coax out the raw emotions of artists like Maughn, who might be nervous standing before the mic. "Music is emotional," Kelly explains. "You hear a song and it takes you back to some kind of moment. So I tell the [artists], you need to go back to those emotions and feel it."

In addition to a recording studio, the Sandbergs' house serves as a refuge for artists seeking shelter and healing in music. Before the Sandbergs married and settled in Salt Lake City, Adam was close to the Phoenix nü-metal scene and former Grey Daze bandmate Chester Bennington, who went on to start Linkin Park. "We've lost a lot of friends in the industry to suicide," Kelly says. "Losing Chester was one of the more horrific events."

The studio is therapeutic, too. "It's important to get these kids in here to record, to get [music] out to heal," Kelly says. "I watched [music] heal Adam from his own garbage."

When Adam was 15 years old, his mother left and he was taken in by his grandparents. "I always had this chip on my shoulder," he says. "I was just pissed off. I found out what kind of release and mental stability [music] ended up giving me." As he mended his past, he fell in love with Kelly, who managed his band Brik in the early 2000s. The two moved to Utah in 2012, continuing Another Element Productions, first in a recording studio in Kearns. After a few location moves and the increasing accessibility of recording software, Adam began pursuing his passion from home. "I saw these producers that I follow talking about home studios," he remembers "They had the same gear that I had and I thought, 'I could do that—why don't I?'"

During the day, Adam works for the Utah Food Bank, providing the perfect foil to his creative side, which he pursues at night. Meanwhile, Kelly brings the more logical aspect to Another Element Productions, striking a perfect yin-and-yang balance. "We're a good team," she says. "I get the emotions going, and then Adam knows right when to come in and record."

And when they identify those emotions in their artists, the Sandbergs encourage them to let it out. "We show [artists] their talent," Kelly says. "You tell them how great they are. It's not about the money—it's about you doing something you love and feeding that passion."

  • Enrique Limón

Forty years on, Ed Pratt still strives for audio excellence.


Making great music is reason enough to place a band or artist on a pedestal. But kudos are also due to those working behind the scenes to ensure that sound is heard. Granted, they don't get their name on the marquee and rarely receive recognition. Without their expertise, however, every big racket would sound like little more than a faint whisper.

Ed Pratt of Salt Lake City-based Pratt Sound can attest to that scenario. As the man responsible for one of the region's most prominent production companies, he's set up sound for countless concerts and events over the past 40 years. A list of those whose live audio he's engineered includes the Doobie Brothers, Diana Ross, John Denver, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Ray Charles, Def Leppard and Crosby, Stills & Nash. "We work with people on their way up," he says, "and on their way down."

Pratt and his team of sound professionals pride themselves on their ability to adapt to any circumstance, from festivals to trade shows and every stage in between. The company maintains a large, ever-expanding inventory of the latest audio components and a network of sound engineers and support personnel who are hired as independent contractors.

Pratt's career got off to a somewhat inauspicious start in the early '70s. An itinerant musician, he worked in a recording studio by day and frequented the club scene by night. When a local club owner mentioned that he'd get more bookings if he brought along his own sound system, Pratt took him up on his suggestion. He borrowed $1,000 and added another $300 from his savings to buy his own PA and learned on the job, experimenting with sound levels while setting up his own stage show.

One night, he was approached by some onlookers who complimented him on his sound and asked if they could rent his gear for a Taj Mahal concert they were promoting at the University of Utah. Pratt immediately agreed. "I realized I would get paid more from renting my gear than I would if I played the gig," he recalls. "The light went on in my head: My gear could become a source of income without me always having to be at the gig. I made $400 from the rental that night and if I had played, I probably would have only taken home $100."

Pratt relished the idea of profiting from production. "We used to make jokes about it," he says. "We play practically for free, but we get paid to haul our gear." Not that he was ready to turn his back on center stage entirely. "I was a really good entertainer and a really good folksinger," he insists. "I played pretty well. I think my reputation as a musician bolstered my aspirations. I never thought I'd be a sound company owner. I thought I'd end up as a guitar player."

Instead, Pratt ended up running sound for big-time venues and events near and far: Twilight Concert Series, Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Live Nite Events, Salt Lake Jazz Festival, Sandy Amphitheater, Utah Pride Festival, Kingsbury Hall, Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Pratt insists that his experience as a performer gives him extra insight into those wildly divergent audio elements and requirements.

"I know how things are supposed to sound," he says. "You don't have to be a musician to succeed at this, but I think it does give you a leg up. It helps you know where to place the equipment, how loud it should be, how to balance it and that kind of thing. It just came naturally to me."

In a sense, Pratt still lives the rock 'n' roll fantasy. As an artist, he opened for some big names back in the day, like Chicago, the Beach Boys and Bonnie Raitt. Has he spent the last four decades living vicariously through the artists he amplifies? "Basically, I really wanted to be part of the culture," he admits. "Not just musically, but also through production."

While Pratt says his satisfaction comes from doing a job right, he also relishes the more intimate encounters, as well. "I revel in the small moments," he says. "I'm not an autograph seeker; that would be unprofessional. I remember being on the side of the stage and Johnny Cash was sitting there playing his guitar and waiting to go on. And I was thinking, 'I'm watching Johnny Cash.' We didn't have an exchange, but it was a special moment for me. We had Kris Kristofferson here [at Kingsbury Hall] last month, and it was the same thing. I didn't go up and say, 'Oh Kris, I think you're the greatest.' That would take my credibility away. You have to be cool and just take in the moment."

Pratt Sound's success steamrolled thanks to a forward-looking business plan, though. Pratt made it a point over the years to reinvest whatever money he made back into the business to keep pace with the technology. "That kind of separates the men from the boys," he says. "All these old guys would say stuff like 'Analog, analog, we want to work with analog!' What I was hearing was that they simply didn't want to learn digital technology. Like many things, if you don't keep up, you get outmoded. When I bought my first digital console, I locked myself in my shop for four weeks and learned it. I've never looked back since."

All these years later, Pratt prides himself on maintaining a consistent list of clients who have come to expect—and respect—his ability to make things sound right. He claims that his team is capable of working three concerts in a single night. "We're not the biggest in town," he admits. "I feel like we're the boutique rock 'n' roll sound company here. [But] any time people want to gather and need a microphone, they should call me."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.


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