In some people's minds, on both a local and national level, music is all politics. "Buzz," that supremely apt term for the sudden hoopla that can surround a band, comes not from what you do but who you know, these people say.
And there's some truth to that -- witness Ashlee Simpson. But sometimes buzz comes from good music, hard work and a little luck. Right now the buzz band in St. Louis is Berry, a spacey, melodic band that sprung from Greenville, Illinois. This is the perfect moment, for this band, to examine just how buzz comes about, and what a band can do with it.
Berry has been playing out in St. Louis, at stalwart venues such as Radio Cherokee, the Creepy Crawl and Off Broadway, for about two years, according to drummer Paul Goodenough. Yet something has happened quite suddenly for them: They are on everyone's lips.
"We've been working really hard trying to promote ourselves," Goodenough says. "For a long time nothing's happened. It just feels like it's paying off."
I had never heard about Berry until last week, when local music maven Tony Renner dropped me an e-mail about them:
"Hey, did the band Berry send you a couple of EPs? They sent 'em to KWUR [90.3 FM], where they sat around all semester until I finally listened to them. They are great beyond belief. I'd be glad to send you an MP3 CD if you didn't get the CDs from the band."
Renner had never pitched a band to me before, so I asked him to send the EPs right away. He was right; the two EPs he sent me as MP3 files were great: gorgeous, haunting stuff that didn't sound like anything I'd ever heard coming out of St. Louis before. The day I received them, I went down to Vintage Vinyl, where I asked a clerk if he'd heard about them. That's when I found out I was in the middle of a buzz storm.
"Oh, sure," the clerk said, and then dug out a copy of the same EP and handed it to me. "I don't know what it is about these guys that has everyone so excited." Already a backlash? That's a good sign that the buzz is building.
It turned out that the very week that Renner had dug out some old local EPs and sent them to me, the band's new manager, Dave Wise, had gone on a promo-giveaway binge, just in time for a headlining show February 5 at the new Red Sea Saturday-night rock show (profiled by Jess Minnen in the January 19 music feature "Higher Education").
So it took some good luck (the timing of Renner's message to me), some good music (Renner was right), some hard work (both Goodenough's mailing the CD out to KWUR and Wise's promo blitz) and a few connections (you can make a web between me, Renner, the VV clerk with the promo and Red Sea booker and VV employee Kate Eddens, if you're bored) to result in the buzz that is being channeled through this column.
It's all about the music, you might say, and Berry would agree. "We're just trying to be honest with our music," says guitarist/lead singer Joey Lemon, "and make something beautiful." Lemon admits, to Goodenough's dismay, that you might consider their live show "boring." What he means is that their songs are slow and pretty, not barn-burning, chickenhead-biting rockers. "We obviously don't put on a crazy stage show," Lemon clarifies. "We just try to put what we have into our songs."
There's so much more than just the music, you might say, reading about the twisted route the tunes take in this story. Manager Wise would agree. While he's clearly pushing Berry out of a deep love for the band, he's not just whistling Dixie. "I want to have Berry be the next Urge, the next Story of the Year, to come out of St. Louis," he says.
Will he succeed? I dunno; making predictions in print is a sticky business. I will say that the two unpolished EPs excited me more than anything I've heard in town in the last year, and that I'm eagerly awaiting hearing the LP they just completed. (You can check out some tunes at their myspace.com page.) I'll also say that there's no better time to check them out than the Red Sea this Saturday.
The rest is up to them.
Saturday night, the Loop is your respite from the Soulard madness. Aside from the Berry show and Marleyfest (see Critics' Picks on page 62), there's also the Fight Night Party hosted by Nelly and his crew. If I can get all Deb Peterson on you, I've heard whispers that everyone from Ja Rule to Jermaine Dupri to Corey Spinks himself might be popping by the Pageant after the pugilism at the Savvis Center. If you're in the mood to celebrity-spot, slip on your fineries ('cause there's a dress code, sloppy), and head on down.
"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more or less."
So said Humpty Dumpty to Alice in Through the Looking Glass. Writers do not have the same freedom as that eggman. We must choose our words precisely. I referred to the RFT's Paul Friswold last week as a "mook," a term I use to describe metalheads of any shade. But common usage dictates that a "mook" is a backwards-hat-wearing nü-metal fan of the worst sort. Paul Friswold is a scholar, a gentleman and a hesher. He has never been a mook.
Now, stop leaving dead things in my office.