You probably wonder how I know about some of the stuff I write about in the column. Do I get info like a dirty cop in a James Ellroy novel, by walking into the Rocket Bar and braining some useless chump with my piece so I can make the rat spill guts on the local music scene?
Well, yeah, sometimes. Music scenesters are a surly bunch. Other times stuff just comes in the mail, which is how I found out that a fantastic new record label had sprung up under my nose. Andy Benn, founder of First Flight (as well as a member of one of the label's flagships, the Potomac Accord), sent me a big package of their releases, and I was blown away. Not to dis any of the Lou's stalwart record labels like F5 or Undertow, but I've never gotten a mailing from any label that had as many quality releases as Benn's envelope. So, leather sap in hand in case he wouldn't sing, I met Benn at Blueberry Hill to find out how he'd kept a low profile for so long.
"I don't want to stuff [the music] under people's noses," explains Benn. "I want people to discover it on their own."
Well, within reason, of course: The mailing to me, along with an ad in the current issue of music-snob mag Magnet is probably as close to a major media campaign as First Flight is going to get.
"I hate driving down the road and seeing a billboard, much less a billboard for an album," says Benn. He prefers to put the effort into the music. (And the packaging, which is also above the norm.)
"Most bands are probably together three to five years at the most," Benn explains. "And during that time they're lucky to put out two or three records. That's your one, two or three chances to put out a representation of your music and yourself artistically for the rest of your life. So why not try to get the best recording you can, as well as put together packaging that hopefully makes a statement about what you're trying to do musically?"
Asked to define the type of music the label puts out, Benn says, "I think of it as just rock music." But he's wrong. While the bands on the label couldn't be stuffed into any genre more specific than "indie," there's a definite vibe to the First Flight sound: Even at its craziest, the music holds onto melody. And make no mistake: If you're a three-chord-garage adherent and think instrumentals are wanky, you can just ignore this whole column. Aside from the sonorous, ponderous music of the Accord, First Flight has also released EPs or LPs by Nashville's Maserati-esque melodic instrumental band Emery Reel, Portland's noisy but beautiful Invisible and San Francisco's off-kilter acoustic pop songstress Anamude. First Flight is also getting ready to release a vinyl edition of Kansas City's namelessnumberheadman's Your Voice Repeating, a slow-flowing and lovely album.
I realize that at this point it's sounding like Benn wrestled the sap away from me and is dictating this between thumps to my kidneys, but you don't realize the amount of mail I get, or just how far above par this music is. If I were into hyperbole or precognition, I could talk up a pretty big future for First Flight.
If you're curious, get some MP3s from firstflightrecordlabel.com or, even better, come check out the Potomac Accord and labelmates Mr. 1986 (more noisy, melodic post-rock) when they open up for local legends Puerto Muerto at Lemmons this Saturday. If you see me there, you'd better have some tips for me. Don't make me come looking for you.
Sullen is no more. And now I'm the sullen one. One of the best rawk bands around (a statement supported by a 2002 win for Best Hard Rock group in the RFT Music Awards), Sullen was just beginning to make itself felt on the national scene: Signing to Chicago's Thick Records and touring with Jucifer last year were good signs for the band.
The end came suddenly, announced the day before the group played its last show on February 27 at the Creepy Crawl (shows scheduled after that were cancelled). I reached guitarist/vocalist Shanna Kiel (who, along with guitarist/vocalist Justin Slazinik, made up the core of the band), and she isn't taking the band's disintegration lightly. "The passion I had for that band exceeded everything," Kiel said in an e-mail.
I'm not a gossip columnist, so suffice to say that the band broke up over personal differences. The whys don't matter; what matters is that a band once called "the hope for the future of rock in St. Louis" (by an unnamed fan, right here in Radar Station back in 1999) is now the past. Sullen, indeed.