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Ried, von Damage, Harnish. Photograph by Thomas Crone
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For the better part of two decades and for well over 500 shows, Bunnygrunt have been an institution among St. Louis indie rock bands. Though a hiatus period in their middle years together allowed the group’s two eternal members—Karen Ried and Matt Harnish—an opportunity to work with other folks, there’s always been a thread that connects them. These days, they even share a housing arrangement, making band practice that much easier.
Along with drummer Eric von Damage, Ried (bass, vocals and songwriting) and Harnish (guitar, vocals and songwriting) have never sounded better. Though the group spent some time with rotating fourth, and even fifth, members on guitar in recent years, their sound and songwriting’s progressed to the point that any extra hands are great, but not essential. And these days, they’re taking the newest works and putting those songs through the paces at a weekly residency night in South City.
Every Monday in October, the group’s calling El Leñador home. And what a curious home it is.
A longtime staple of the old, German South St. Louis as Eisele’s Black Forest, the expansive building sat vacant for years, before becoming a Mexican restaurant. Longtime St. Louis bartender and rock’n’roll raconteur Johnny “Vegas” Moynihan happened to live nearby, and as legend has it, he moved behind the bar, started booking shows and turned into the catalyst for one of the more unique, if underequipped, venues in town. Looking as if the restaurant had been locked in a time machine, including an Old World mural dozens of feet long (one that has to be seen to be fully appreciated), the venue’s now home to a wide variety of local talent, several nights a week.
And if there’s a way to combine a funky venue with a residency, then Bunnygrunt’s the band to make the connection. Having done month-long residencies at venues like El Leñador and the late The Wedge prior to now, Bunnygrunt have been playing every Monday this month, selecting bands that mean something to them, happen to be traveling in the vicinity of town, or fit nicely on a Halloween bill.
Harnish says that 10 or 12 songs are currently in the running for the next album and “we’re seeing what feels best in the live setting.” Ried adds that the record’s not that far away, as the group hope to record “the first week of November with Jason Hutto at Smoking Baby Studio.”
As with their most-recent full-length, Matt Harnish and Other Delights, the band will be working with Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records, an Athens, GA, concern. But, as the band’s got a lot of love to share, they’re also taking part in the Tower Groove Records collective and did a three-song EP with Rob Severson’s Pancake Productions within the past year. And while the record will be in excess of their fourth release, Bunnygrunt, Vol. 4 is the working title.
That recording comes on the heels of the group returning to the Athens Popfest, which they played last week, and which featured notables names such as Olivia Tremor Control, the Dead Milkmen, Man or Astroman?, Throwing Muses and Bob Mould, among many others. As the Popfest is affiliated with HHBTM Records, there’s a sensible connection to Bunnygrunt’s consistent playing at the ‘Fest, but they’ve also built an out-of-town reputation that merits their inclusion, no questions asked.
In town, of course, Bunnygrunt gigs often still draw that select core of folks who’ve come to know the band over the years. And El Leñador provides almost the perfect home for their latest residency. Start with the performance area that’s eye-level with the audience, save for a drum riser. (Which, come to think of it, that just puts the drummer at the patron’s eye level, too.) Add in a PA system that’s been cobbled together on the fly. And the no-to-low cover charge has also been a draw and on some nights, the sidewalk out front, filled with smokers, is a place to mix-and-mingle with members of just about every band in town.
Asked to describe the vibe at the space, the band, like all good bands, ran with one another’s thoughts.
Harnish: “The low ceilings and all the wood have even made a janky sound system sound a whole lot better than it should.”
von Damage: “I’ve always appreciated this place and enjoyed it. It’s a good time. You’re gonna have laughs. Things here are always entertaining.”
Ried: “Everyone who works here is nice. Even if you don’t know them, you recognize them. And they’re always friendly.”
Harnish: “We helped start the ball rolling, we’ve helped establish it as a viable, Monday night place-to-go.”
von Damage: “It’s a place that I walked by one hundred times, without ever knowing what was in it.”
Harnish: “It’s cozy and ridiculous. And friendly and free. That should be on the T-shirt of El Leñador.”
For more conversation with the band, check the attached video, which was recorded after last week’s Monday night session and which caught the group both: by surprise; and in a very tired state, due to the late night-gathering and some of the group having been up since 5:30 the previous morning. But it seems to capture the band’s common mind, all the same.
And after a week in which they’ve driven to Georgia and back, playing with a host of fine pop bands from around the country, there’s a chance that the group will be tuckered out by the end of tonight’s set, too.
The lineup for the remainder of the month:
October 17, Red Pony Clock
October 24, Sex Robots
October 31, Little Big Bangs (as the Velvet Underground).
For each show, Bunnygrunt will appear as an opening act, taking the “stage” at roughly 10-10:30 p.m. Donations are requested for the touring bands and the venue’s 21-and-up. El Leñador is located at 3124 Cherokee; for more info, call 314-771-2222.