When local hip-hop/soul artist Nite Owl arrives bright and early to the RFT offices for a Monday-morning interview, his brilliantly colored shirt and sneakers match his alert, talkative demeanor and it's hard to see how he embodies the burning-the-midnight-oil connotations of his name. But during the course of conversation, the aptness of his moniker becomes clear: You see, the musician (a.k.a. LaMore Maclin) hasn't slept a wink, since he came directly to his interview after his "day job" as a residential counselor at the children's shelter Youth in Need.
But Nite Owl's willingness to forego sleep for his music is starting to pay off, as he's finally solidified a deal with Select Records, the legendary hip-hop label that released music by Kid 'n Play, M.O.P. and Roxanne back in the day.
"Select Records is a real powerful record label," Nite Owl says. "Coming up in the early '80s and late '90s, the artists that they had and what their label stood for...their original logo was a turntable with a record on it. It's as hip-hop as it gets, as far as DJs go. For somebody from St. Louis to be on that label is big."
Like many music-industry maneuvers, Owl's record deal is years in the making. While still a radio personality at the old Q95, he sent out press kits and demos to labels around the nation. Select was impressed enough to want to sign him, but it took three years of hashing out contracts and other legal matters for both parties to come to an agreement. (In the meantime, he moved to Georgia and worked in radio there, too, and only returned to St. Louis last summer after the end of a relationship, after four years away from the city.)
The label is set to release "Nitro" (a sinfully catchy song that fits seamlessly next to old-school hip-hop jams) as the first single sometime at the end of the first quarter of next year, although a release date for the album Owl released locally in August, Now You Can Boo Me, is still up in the air. Still, Select Records president Fred Munao has nothing but glowing things to say about Nite Owl.
"When you talk about people who have made it whether it's in business or the arts, music or whatever one of the consistent elements is always work ethic and willingness to go to the extra mile and keep pushing and being resourceful," he says from the label's New Jersey offices. "Nite Owl, he's got that. [He's] patient, persistent and professional.
"He's very clever, how he writes it lyrically and also the music that he creates, the hooks, the feel. His music feels good."
Indeed, just take a listen to Boo, an album Owl feels is "more well-rounded" than previous discs he's released. Working again with producer Kenautis Smith, Owl has crafted an album full of laidback flow and sophisticated samples, a true hybrid of hip-hop and soul that's sometimes reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco, sometimes Tony! Toni! Toné! and other times Anthony Hamilton.
But while Boo is certainly musically solid, Owl is also proud that his album is easy to relate to.
"It's real personal," he says of his lyrics. "A lot of the songs come from my personal experience, our friends' personal experiences. Everything on it is true, nothing's made up. The production on it is a lot more musical, soulful. Like, I have samples, but these samples were more soulful, instead of hard-driving hip-hop."
Fans will have plenty of time to see Nite Owl perform this week as always, backed by a live band with a Thursday night gig at Rue 13, an appearance at the special New Year's Eve edition of the Loop Underground and even his birthday party on Tuesday, January 2. And even if the abundance of parties going on this week means sparser attendance, well, Nite Owl will still give his all.
"Sometimes we would do shows and people wouldn't show up, but we would still perform and promote our material," he says. "Because I'm looking at it still like a business. Like a Red Sea show that we did, there was literally only two people there. But it was great, it was one of our best shows, it really was!
"Those two people, they had a great time, they stayed, they hung out, they kicked it, they got CDs, and they've been at all the shows since. I feel good having those two people that became genuine fans of what we did, because of the fact that we sat there and did a show for them." Annie Zaleski
Midnight, Thursday, December 28. Rue 13, 1313 Washington Avenue. 314-588-9797. 9 p.m. Sunday, December 31. Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $30. 314-727-4444. 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 2. Legacy Books and Café, 5249 Delmar Boulevard. $2. 314-862-4226.
So a couple walks into Pat's Bar and Grill (6400 Oakland Avenue; 314-647-6553) late on a Wednesday night. "Hey, glad you guys could make it all the way here," says singer/songwriter/guitarist Pierce Crask from behind the microphone. The couple laughs. "See, it's funny," he explains, "because they live right around the corner." The audience of some two dozen people also laughs, because they're kind of drunk and now in on the punch line. And it's funnier still, because there's the sense that Crask genuinely means it.
When he's not a one-man acoustic act drawing from a catalogue of hundreds of covers, Crask fronts the Falling Martins. But in contrast to his usually easy banter, he struggles to finds words to define the sound of his band's original material, even though they've been together for nearly six years. "It's kind of a singer-songwriter orientated, rootsy, Americana kind of thing," he says. Like an extension of his own performances, "genuine" seems a good descriptor of both the Falling Martins' earthy, organic lyrics and the music that carries them. Their albums conjure hints of Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, Wilco and Bob Dylan, and manage to be all of those things yet none of them at the same time.
"It's tough to put it into certain terms," says Falling Martins' bassist-songwriter Rich Wooten. "I remember some biker guy one time said, 'You guys sound like a cross between Poco and George Thorogood.' And to him [the biker], that was a compliment. It's not some sound that's going to come and go. It's music that transcends each decade."
Though the band started out playing covers themselves, they picked obscure-enough songs and put their own stamp on them (like Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty"), so it made sense for them to write and record their own music, Wooten says. The Falling Martins' soon-to-be-released third album, Nostalgia Train, also defies tidy classification. "It has a nice energy to it. It sounds more like us," Crask says of the disc, the first recorded with all the musicians live in the studio. They spend plenty of time together outside of the studio, though, typically playing around St. Louis six to ten nights a month.
Perhaps the best part of side-stepping strict musical taxonomy is that it gives the songs room to grow while letting the ebullient personalities and talent of each band member shine through. "We play songs from our previous albums and they seem to evolve," Wooten says. "So if you have our first CD [Falling Martins] and you hear us play songs from it, the songs are different now [and] they seem like they take on a life of their own. That's what's fun about this band." Consequently, it's what's fun about hearing them, too. Kristie McClanahan
9:30 p.m. Sunday, December 31. SqWires, 1415 South 18th Street. Free, but reservations requested. 314-865-3522.