There has never been a local band like the Baysayboos, whose marriage of the finer side of pop sensibilities and deep understanding of what really makes music tick have given St. Louis a newer, better reason to be proud. A seven-piece ensemble, the band includes guitarist/ vocalist Matt Pace, trombonist Matt Frederick, saxophonist Andy Struckhoff, violinist/vocalist Kelly Bryan, keyboardist Angel Bates, bassist Peter Monahan and drummer Dana Smith. The 'Boos are taking pop to a warm, weird place populated by dodos, cattle-raising sheep, Vincent Price and the North American Great Ape. Variously described as a high school jazz band on codeine and "sooo elegant," the band strives for -- and achieves -- maximum artfulness within pop, calling to mind the sounds of Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione and John Williams in an alternate universe.
Pace, Frederick, Struckhoff, Bates and Smith elaborate on the band's history and mission over hot pretzels and cold beer on a chilly Saturday in January, just hours before the Rams will lose their asses in the playoffs.
"We had a show before we even had a band. Some of the first Baysayboos songs were left over from a project Matt [Frederick] and I were in," says Pace. "We were working on a Vincent Price rock opera. We never finished it, though. We still want to do it. The songs are all written, but it's not all put together yet. It's Vincent Price, and he has a gang with the Mummy, the Werewolf and stuff; they're sorta like the Rat Pack. It's really asinine. But it'll be funny."
"But....she's....a werewolf!" sings Frederick. He switches to a coy falsetto and adds, "I'm a werewolf."
"There's a werewoman in it," explains Pace.
Frederick, the embodiment of charisma and mirth, goes on to delineate this element of the scintillating storyline.
"Vincent Price falls in love with her and his peers are upset -- the other monsters and Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein and the Mummy. They don't think he should be going around town with a werewoman."
Such cinematic excess is typical for the Baysayboos, so it's no wonder they were asked last year to record the score for Grumboon, a film by local director Aaron Crozier.
"It's about a caveman who invents a toaster," says Struckhoff. "He's like this misfit caveman who always tries to invent things and always fails horribly at whatever he's trying to invent. It's a silent film except for the music and some sound effects."
"It's also kind of about searching for the right thing, not realizing that it's right in front of you," adds Smith.
"It was interesting because we were on a very compressed time schedule," offers Frederick. "It was exciting but nerve-racking. That was like our trial by fire, going through the gauntlet. Because of the compressed schedule there was no chance for dicking around."
"Grumboon made it clear that our group could be, in addition to a rock band, a sort of mini-orchestra," says Pace. "We'd been leaning that way a bit, but Grumboon kind of solidified that. Also, it showed us how much we could branch out stylistically while still keeping some core Baysayboos sound. For me personally, writing that score was sort of the first time I conceived music that was, from the very first, for the group. Before that, I'd usually make up a tune and then arrange it for the 'Boos. I wrote most of the Grumboon score in a hotel room in Toronto, and I think that distance made me have to imagine the band, so when the music solidified in my head it was already Baysayboos music. For Grumboon and after, I've been more able to conceive of tunes already in the musical vocabulary of the 'Boos. You could say I've become more or less fluent in 'Baysayboos' as a second language -- without having to translate all the time."
Pace, who's working on his doctorate in music theory at Washington University, isn't the only member of the band with impressive credentials. The Baysayboos' sound was only recently rounded out by Bates, the band's first full-time keyboardist, who's pursuing her doctorate in musicology.
"I know Matt [Pace] from Wash. U. We're in the music program together," says Bates. "I'd been going to the shows for a couple years. I think it was after a softball game, we were kinda drunk and I said, 'Hey, I think you could use a full-time keyboardist.' He agreed."
Bates' studies have taken her deep into the world of dots and bars on manuscript paper, but nothing could have prepared her for playing in a band like the 'Boos.
"One thing that's pretty cool but also [challenging] is that I'm used to seeing every piece, every note, every detail written out, and here I just get chord changes, and that's it. So it's a new experience to me," she explains.
Pace boasts of the keyboardist, "She studied organ with Ernie Hays, the guy who plays organ at the Cardinals games."
This statement demonstrates the feverish obsession with sports that the majority of the Baysayboos possess.
"A lot of times, recording would get put aside for playing softball when we were working on the album," says Struckhoff.
"Or if the Rams are playing," adds Smith.
The Baysayboos' eponymous, self-released disc binds elements of funk, late '60s horn pop, Baroque-era embellishments, and early '70s game-show music into a super-groovy collection of compelling, well-crafted songs. The production work suffers from a lack of focus at times, a seeming inability to present the ensemble as a cohesive sonic unit, but it's hardly the band's fault. The disc is highly enjoyable on the merits of the songs and musicians alone, even if you have to adjust your ears a little.
With songs of such textured, well-formulated compositional sensibilities, it's apparent that the list of influences for a band such as the 'Boos will display unconventional wisdom and a deep respect for history's great masters.
"Beethoven a little. Stravinsky a lot," says Pace of his sources of inspiration. "Astor Piazzolla for melodic style and arrangements."
"For a while I was on this Melanie kick," says Frederick. "It's really heavily produced '60s pop stuff. She's kinda cheesy, but I like her. I don't know if I'd want to listen to it in the summer with the car windows rolled down. What else -- that new Rufus Wainwright. That's another one that I don't think I'd play loud in the summertime."
"I once had a dog named Rufus," says Pace. His gaze goes distant, heads lower and a respectful hush falls over the room. It seems like the right time to end the interview.