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Beth Bombara. Photograph by Nate Burrell.
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On Saturday, June 15, at 8 p.m., three bands will gather at South City’s Off Broadway, two of the groups offering new EPs. While Bruiser Queen will be there as openers and with classic merch, Beth Bombara will be offering the brand-new, six-song Raise Your Flag, while The Blind Eyes will be releasing the five-song World Record. Just yesterday, we had a chance to catch up and visit with Bombara and her producer/husband Kit Hamon; then with Seth Porter of The Blind Eyes. In both cases, we asked about current and past projects. Here are the details.
Beth Bombara and Kit Hamon
You’ve just released a 45, and now a CD, in pretty short order. What that a plan, or did it just happen to work out this way?
BB: It just kinda happened that way. Tim Rakel contacted me on short notice about doing a 45 for release on Record Store Day. He really wanted to put it out then and as a split side with Town Cars. I said, “Sure, it sounds like fun.” So we wrote that song specifically for that release. It wasn’t going to be part of the EP.
Do you find a lot of fast-moving, quick-turnaround projects presenting themselves to you?
BB: Yeah, I think so.
KH: It is fast-motion, sometimes. “We’ve got an opportunity for one song on this one thing. If you can get it done on time, great. If not, we can’t do anything with you.”
BB: It was a good experience to see what we could come up with in two weeks. That was it.
Hamon: It was literally mostly done in one day. It was principally recorded, and we finalized the recording process after that. It was good to be able to do everything between the two of us, not having to call in anyone else to do the instrumentation and play.
Is there anything you’d specifically say about the feel or sound of this EP?
BB: Mr. Producer?
KH: I would say that it’s a good step forward from the last one. It feels as if it’s picked up from where the last record was heading. It feel a little more focused, with a lot more people playing things as a band, rather than necessarily creating each song, title-by-title.
BB: We did have more people involved. The people that play in the band now all contributed to the recording.
KH: It’s a little more folk/Americana-leaning and a little less indie rock-leaning. There was definitely some indie pop on the last record, much more than what we have now.
BB: My idea was to put out a collection of songs that felt really real and organic.
There seems to be a trend of EP releases of late, locally. Do you see that, too, and what do you think about the trend?
BB: Definitely, I have noticed that. I was kind of going back-and-forth on putting out an EP or a full album. But I really felt that these six songs held together well.
KH: I think that, oftentimes, putting out EPs works for some people. You don’t always want to work as long for a full-length record. We could’ve done that very easily. But we wanted to work with these six songs. You can force others in, but they maybe wouldn’t be ready, or fit in. And you hear, “Man, there are six songs on that record that’re awesome and five more than I have no interest in hearing again.” Or that don’t fit. Or that would take forever to hammer out, to have the same vibe.
BB: I’m still trying to figure out the EP trend. I wonder if people’s attention spans are shorter, or that they don’t necessarily want to hear a whole album. I have heard people say that they’re into full records. And other people say that they’re into singles. All this definitely interests me.
Just to be sure, you said that everyone’s playing more parts on this record?
KH: Yes, there are more people. Beth’s been playing in a lot of configurations with different people, so you’ve had lots of people playing on these songs. So we’re saying, “hey, you, come in and record that.”
Officially, what are the acts that the two of you are with, outside of this project?
BB: We’re both doing stuff with Old Lights. And I’m still playing with Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine. With (Cassie), we’re starting to play more shows again.
KH: Yeah, that’s it. Between those two (and this), we stay pretty busy.
All things equal, what would equate to “success” with this release?
BB: In general? Probably getting a lot of people out to the release show, in the local sense.
KT: I think a lot of it is getting people to hear the record. It’s a success if many people hear it and want to listen again and again. There are plenty of albums that I want to play once in a while. To me, translating things into “success” isn’t as hardline as the business would like it to be.
BB: I’d consider it a success to build on the full-length album and to spread the word to a wide audience, get the music out to a wide audience.
During the recording process, were there any happy accidents that occurred in the studio?
KH: We’d started this album two other times and listened to it a few days later and thought, “This sounds terrible.” That was in the recording process, not the songs. But we ended up having to do some stuff not at our house.
BB: That was limiting.
KH: You can’t record an upright bass at our house. You have to be in the right room, and we went to Will Jones’ place at Cherokee and Wisconsin, called Yellow Hat Studio. We recorded some tracks with him and some at our place, then took it all to Dan Mehrmann at Jettison Studio in southern Illinois. We put everything that had been digitally recorded onto 24-track tape and it made a huge difference in sound quality. It evened everything out and made it sound very good, in a specific way. It was a long process, a lot of late nights of Beth and I talking to each other, both knowing that it wasn’t going quite right, but not sure what to do.
BB: It’s one of the advantages and disadvantages of not working with a producer, who’s telling you what to do.
KH: The day I took the record to Dan’s place, Beth finished the tracking and she’s texting me, saying, “I think this is good, I think it’s going to work.”
What are the positives that you’re seeing on the St. Louis scene?
BB: I think there are more collaborative efforts between musicians of different genres. A general sense of people trying to help each other out. Camaraderie, in general.
KH: I think there are a lot of folks that are working really hard at their craft. There are a lot of people I respect a lot and I look forward to hearing their shows. I’ve been here like seven years now, I can honestly say that that hasn’t always been the case with St. Louis music. Maybe it’s a function of not knowing as many people then, but I honestly haven’t ever been as interested as now. There’re a lot of people putting out high-quality work, really pushing their music as art, doing something good to support themselves. It’s pretty cool.
Anything to know, in terms of the actual release? It’s physical and digital?
KH: I have just been working on the vinyl today, as well. We’ll have the CD and digital release on the night-of and a month-and-a-half later, we’ll have 10-inch clear vinyl. Casey Miller, who’s an owner at the Mud House, did the artwork and it’s insane. And Karl F. Eggers, who’s in the band, did the layout, which is awesome.
BB: It’s the first release with legitimate artwork to go with it. Doing music is a creative process, but having somebody illustrate the work is just amazing.
KH: It’s the first packaging that’s not fully DIY. One record had seven different stamps for the CD packaging. This time, it’s more expensive, but it’s down professionally. The artwork is insanely cool and we’d be doing the album a disservice not going all the way with it.
BB: Don’t get us wrong. DIY packaging is great, but on a larger number, it’s really hard.
KH: We’ll eventually have the disc available on iTunes and CD Baby, too.
Seth Porter of Blind Eyes
I’ll go ahead and say that I’m asking you some of the same questions asked earlier today. Do you believe that there’s a trend towards EP releases?
I think so, and I think it has to do with the preeminence of downloading. Frankly, the CD costs the same if you’re doing 15 minutes, or an hour. With downloads and such, a large part of what bands can do is come out with something new more often. There’s not as much sunken cost with an EP. It’s a nice way to approach songs, too. It’s a little more manageable than releasing a full hour, or more. If you get people to listen to more than a few minutes, it’s a compliment, and that’s including myself.
Is there a distinct order to how the whole process came together?
I guess other than the last song, which has been around since the last record, most of the cuts were newer, with us figuring out ourselves as a band.
This is because of the move to a four-piece?
It changed our approach. And if not the approach, the execution. We refined how we went about turning an idea into a finished song.
What do you like about the expanded lineup?
I think having a fourth person frees the rest of us up, especially me. There was a lot of demand—not to make it sound negative—about filling that space. It’s a challenge, a good challenge. But if you’re not a virtuoso guitar player, having that extra person opens up what we’re able to do a little bit. Kind of strangely, you can leave more space in things.
As a three-piece, were you hearing things that couldn’t be done without another player?
Some of the songs on the records built that in. It was a matter of translating them into the live show.
They’d never get played live, or just a little bit, and they wouldn’t work. Not true of all of them, but certainly when we went and taught Andy the whole back catalog, some went off without a hitch. With the newer stuff, I think it sounds as if he belongs on all of it, as he was there from the inception of four of the five songs.
Do you think these five songs fully hold together as one?
I think as time moves along, you get into different territories. You live there for a while, then you go onto the next territory. These live well together, I think.
What are the biggest positives about St. Louis music right now?
Like, specific projects, or more generally...?
It can mean releases. Or things like promotion. Anything, really.
Bands of our generation (and maybe that’s too broad of a term) have put out a lot of their best stuff recently. They’ve maybe realized how much they’ve played locally and are maybe making their shows more substantial. When you’re first starting out, you want to say “yes” to everything. But you get to a point where you’re shooting yourself in the foot. As much as you’d like to play every night, you wear out your audience. Beth might disagree, but we started playing out in St. Louis when she did, and I feel weird to say it, but there’s a whole new group of bands [that are] younger—if not younger, then, at least, newer. I think they’re doing a lot of exciting stuff. I have so many friends that play that it’s hard to budget time for things from people you don’t know, when you’re trying to support friends’ bands, as well. I think the geography of Cherokee helps. It’s a center. When you see people on the Internet, it’s great, but it’s not a substitute for sitting next to someone at the bar or talking to them at a show. The one thing I’ve always liked is that it’s a small-enough town to where you get onto bills that you wouldn’t ordinarily. Beth and our bands are tied; it’s not an obvious fit, musically. But it works because it’s St. Louis.
Video has played a role in local groups’ efforts lately. Not necessarily ‘80s-style concept videos, but...
We’ve never done the classic Bon Jovi flyover shot, but I’m sure we could, if we could afford it. We’re always happy to do that stuff. Bill Streeter’s Lo-Fi project’s been great for us, and it was a change for us musically, as we played the last one more acoustically than our normal set. It’s a way to approach your set in a different way. I do think that more, regular content is a good thing. For any band. If you’re more prolific than we are, you still can’t put out a release every six months. With a video, you can do that without all the rigamarole of a new record.
Is visual presentation more important now than even five years ago?
As far as a stage show goes, it depends on what kind of band you are. But because people interact with your band on the Internet a lot more, there is a demand on you, for pictures, everything. If you’re a schmuck in your graphic designs, it’s immediately apparent. You want to make things look professional, if that’s your thing, or you can do the old-school collage with markers if that’s your thing. The visual elements are more represented. But with Facebook, Twitter, your website, you have to think about it. As far as the live show goes, we’re a walk-up-on-stage-in-our-street-clothes type of band.
How about collaborations? Is there a fit out there for Blind Eyes, or have some things felt forced?
We’re doing a lot of fun things in the realm of covers, which is not really what we do as a rule. We did Fleetwood Mac for An Undercover Weekend a few years ago and had Beth [Bombara], Cassie [Morgan], Paige [Brubeck, of Sleepy Kitty] and Sunyatta [McDermott, of Caveofswords]. It was really cool and we got to know people that we didn’t have experience working with before. As far as whole bands, it’s hard enough for four grown-ass men to get together in the same room. As you get older, you value efficiency more. It’s not a matter of wanting to. But you’re not in high school: “Let’s get together Saturday and play for 14 hours.” That just doesn’t work as well in your 30s.
It’s an open-ended question, but what defines “success” for this release?
As far as the night, I just hope lots of people are there. It’s one of those special occasions, for a band to a put out a recording. It’s always a challenge to keep an audience interested, especially when you’ve been around for six years, right? It’s like a wedding or anniversary, an occasion in the life of a band. Our last record was well-received by KDHX and the town, generally, and if I could have the same expectations... well, this would actually be the first recording that I’ve had expectations for. It’s a good night for people to get together and have fun and we’ll see what happens after that.
Is this a purely CD release?
We’ll go with Bandcamp, eventually. We want the first night to be the only place you can get it. Eventually, it’ll be on all the sites, until we make Spotify, all the places that might give us some money. Eventually, we’ll do iTunes, CD Baby, all that stuff. Bandcamp, we haven’t done before, but it seems an artist-friendly site.