by Bob Mcmahon
If you have listened to a St. Louis rock band in this millennium, chances are that Jason Hutto had some kind of impact on it. The veteran rocker guesstimates that he has recorded around 100 bands during his tenure in town, and his work in groups such as the Phonocaptors, Sexicolor, Walkie Talkie USA and Warm Jets USA has shaken the city with pure rock fury. And that's even before you get to his occasional sideman work for local legends Bunnygrunt.
Unfortunately, Hutto is drawing his epic seventeen-year run in St. Louis to a close. He recently packed up the latest iteration of his Smoking Baby Studio that had been working in the basement of the soon-to-be shuttered Apop Records, and is set to move with his girlfriend to Houston. Before he leaves, he's rounding up the members of his best-known band, he Phonocaptors, to play one last show at Plush on October 10.
Hutto is leaving a St. Louis that is vastly different from the one he arrived in all those years ago. Fresh from his hometown of Kansas City, where he had been playing in bands since high school, Hutto didn't adapt quickly to his new city.
"I tried to get out of here for the first six years," Hutto says about his early time in St. Louis. "A lot of the city seemed kind of...different fractions all over these little pockets. Nobody kind of mingled with each other too much. And it was sort of discouraging coming from a town that was the exact opposite of that."
Hutto embraced the change in the scene to which he bore witness over the intervening years as both a member of his aforementioned groups and as the man who could record your band. The Phonocaptors served as his main act; it was the first group he started in St. Louis and the one he would return to when Sexicolor and Warm Jets USA broke up.
Phonocaptors music video shot by Bill Streeter.
In some ways, the names and lineups of the groups didn't matter. Warm Jets USA was often caught playing Phonocaptors songs and, by Hutto's admission, the groups sounded similar.
"That band kind of summed up a lot of whatever I even attempted to do just because it was sort of the blueprint for the other bands," he says of the Phonocaptors. That blueprint called for crushing loud rock with rare Neil Young-esque mellow respites, and Hutto always delivered, regardless of his many collaborators. Different groups had different spins on what this meant -- Warm Jets USA owed to '80s indie bands like Dinosaur Jr. while the Phonocaptors was more influenced by the Stooges -- but each act brought the volume. A master of both guitar technique and tone, Hutto's music thrives on heavy but tuneful riffs and his sincere but attitude-laden vocals. His accomplished soloing and fun stage presence don't hurt either.
What did sometimes hurt was Hutto's self-professed "flakiness with how I was with my own music."
Continue to page two. Warm Jets USA, shot by Bill Streeter.
"I'd kind of let it go, I'd go after it, then let it go, go after it and let it go," he says. Despite this tendency, Hutto stayed plugged into the scene through his constantly moving studio.
Beginning shortly before the turn of the century, Hutto would bring his equipment to bands' practice spaces and record them for a case of beer. "And that didn't work out well as a business model, because everybody drank the case of beer and I only got like two of them." Around 2000, Hutto upgraded to his own space and began accruing more equipment and experience. He'd move several times, but retain a strong customer base.
Hutto attributes his success to his affordable rates and being easy to work with, but upon hearing this, frequent customer Jeff Robtoy says the Phonocaptor is being humble. "I've worked with a lot of different engineers. They're all great, but [Hutto is] not afraid to be that producer or make suggestions." Robtoy says. "[He is] not afraid to be like 'I feel like you flubbed this note' or 'I'm hearing this thing,' or whatever it is."
Robtoy's latest project is an all-star production under his Hurt Feelings moniker that was recorded by Hutto. Most tracks feature a guest musician, usually from a St. Louis act. A lot of the guest musicians have also recorded with Hutto, making Hurt Feelings' once-in-a-lifetime performance with most of its guests at the Phonocaptors' farewell show an appropriate sendoff to the prolific producer. In addition to spanning the list of friends Hutto has worked with, the night will cover all the music he has made while in town. The concert will technically be a Phonocaptors show and the set will lean on that group's songs, but Hutto plans to play material from all of his old bands.
After that, it's off to Houston, where Hutto will simultaneously embrace a new setting and reunite with family members who live there. "I think a change of scenery would do us some good," Hutto says of he and his girlfriend when asked why he is leaving. "The whole point of going down there is adventure."
Hutto will have the familiarity of the recording equipment that he's bringing with him, and it's not hard to foresee him setting up shop. "It happens the exact same way, where all the stuff's piled up and sits there on the floor." Hutto says. "And then I'm like, 'Alright, let me turn this machine on and then I'll plug in this thing.' And I'm listening to some stuff and 'well, maybe I'll grab this old piece and put it up.' And the next thing you know, like eight hours later everything is up and fired and running. Still broken, but running."
At the same time, Hutto admits he will "never really be able to get away from here," in regards to his adopted hometown. Although he feels it's early for reminiscing, Hutto knows this of his time in St. Louis: "I'm going to remember a whole lot of hustle and a whole lot of good times and a whole lot of Stag."
Jason Hutto Sendoff Show w/ The Phonocaptors, Hurt Feelings, Bug Chaser 9 p.m. Friday, October 10. Plush, 3224 Locust Street. $5. 314-535-2686.
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