Hey, Rock Star, curiosity piqued yet?
Sitting behind the Ikea desk under a framed poster that reads "Duck Fubya" are Dan Freund and Kate Eddens. You might know Freund already -- he owns Redlight Studios, and he's been running sound at the Red Sea for a while now. Eddens looks familiar because you've seen her onstage, playing bass with Julia Sets or singing with Marked Man. And if things look a little blurry, it's because this office doesn't exist yet. But it will.
Kate Eddens met Dan Freund (his last name is German, pronounced "friend") when he mixed the last Julia Sets album. She wanted to start a booking agency, and he wanted to start something he couldn't quite articulate. Freund believed Eddens was the perfect fit for his unformed plan.
"It took me three different times talking to him before I realized what the hell he was talking about," says Eddens. "He would come up to me at a bar and be like, 'You. Me. We can do something in St. Louis.'"
What Freund and Eddens are trying to do can best be described as a community-service project, a sort of Habitat for Humanity for Bands. Instead of building up houses, they're building up a venue; instead of helping low-income families, they're helping no-income bands. Pared down, these are their basic goals:
1) Turn the Red Sea into a respected destination for fine music.
2) Help bands that play locally be better at being local bands.
3) Book these bands to play Saturday's Redlight Nights at the Red Sea and other venues around town, around the Midwest and around the nation -- and have audiences attend these shows. (If your band is interested in working with Freund and Eddens, you can contact them through Sugarfreak Productions, 314-606-1345. If you just want to be a fan and support the scene, you can catch James Weber Jr. opening for Marked Man at this Saturday's Redlight at the Red Sea.)
Can it be done? Can anyone reinstitute trust in a venue, bringing it to the level of respect that existed in the now-mythological old Cicero's? Is it possible to fulfill the fantasies of St. Louis acts sick of soiling their sheets each night by wet-dreaming of glory? Are these the humble beginnings of a salve that will heal the chipped shoulder of St. Louis musicians and audiences, who have long felt debilitated simply by being from St. Louis?
Feel free to shrug with your other shoulder.
Geographically, St. Louis falls between Columbia, a college town with built-in audiences bursting at its dorm-room and frat-house seams, and Chicago, which is huge, sprawling and incomparable. On a local level, St. Louis falls between its own cloistered cracks. The standard local lifetime of a band always seems to end with a breakup or a departure for bigger and better things in Chicago or New York. St. Louis is an easy place to feel like a big fish, but it's a dangerously small pond. Our best catches tend to swim upstream or beach themselves.
There are many able St. Louis bands, but all the aptitude in the world won't draw more than your friends to your show if you don't have a little something more. "We want audiences that are more than just other musicians," explains Eddens. "We want to connect audience and artist, artist and community, audience and community." Eddens and Freund seek to compromise with something Freund calls the St. Louis Integrity. People write great songs. But it's a Catch-22, because you can't respect your songs to the exclusion of everything else. Not if you want to live off of them. "I see bands all the time who perform how they practice," says Freund. "Being onstage is different. For that moment, the crowd is more important than the song."
Freund is sort of like a young, populist version of Mister Rogers on speed. He believes in his idea of a utopian music scene as convincingly as Mister Rogers believed in his puppet-inhabited Land of Make-Believe. And Freund lives music. When he says community and industry, he means music community and music industry, but he never makes the distinction, because to him those words don't really matter in any other context. He's been a tour manager, a guitar tech, a drum tech. He's worked with Whiskeytown, 7 Mary 3 and Ryan Adams. He runs sound, and he's good at it because he has something not every sound guy has. Freund has an ear.
Sound is not glamorous. It doesn't pay well. You can learn how to use the equipment, but it's infinitely harder to learn how to listen. Freund is sensitive to what makes a band sound good in ways that even the band itself doesn't realize. He knows that the range of a bass and a kick drum can cross, and that a guitar and male vocals can too. He knows how instruments blend together, and he can pick the one or two right ways to mix them out of the endless possible combinations.
Back when he was an organic farmer in Steeleville, Freund started a recording studio out of his barn because he had nothing better to do. When he moved back to St. Louis, he started Redlight Studios, where a slew of local bands have since recorded.
"I moved back here fighting," recalls Freund. "I didn't ever want to move back. Things were as bad as I ever thought they would be. But the talent! The talent in St. Louis is fantastic, better than anywhere else I've lived. So either I do nothing -- and watch St. Louis do nothing -- or I become a part of the community. It's good here. But there's no industry, and that's what Kate and I want to do."
Eddens' part in their new organization is to work directly with bands on being more professional by helping them promote themselves and teaching them what's important about playing a show. "Sometimes it's dumb shit," she says, "like being on time. Being respectful. Sometimes it's learning how to play to an audience, not playing selfishly. Bands are like, 'Oh, we want to be super fucking loud because we're rock & roll,' but no one can enjoy it because it's too loud." Eddens' agency, Sugarfreak Productions, is about working with bands, not for them, booking them first locally and then taking them on tour.
"Booking has come easily to me in the past," says Eddens. "When I came back to St. Louis from Chicago, people I knew in bands asked me if I could get them gigs in Chicago, and I could. Because I've been involved in music for so long, I've befriended a lot of different people in the industry all over the country. Most people hate talking to promoters, trying to get a show. Bands loathe doing that. I think it's fun."
In the end, this is all supposed to be fun. No one who loves music does what they do for any other reason than to fan their affection. Freund and Eddens don't know it all. But they want to offer up what they do know, because, as Eddens says, they "just want to help make the scene fun again."