Gary Schmidt has had something of a peripatetic musical career. Growing up in south St. Louis County, he played in pop-punk and grindcore bands before shipping off to college. While enrolled at Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, he jammed off and on with a bassist and drummer that would later form the local band Lightrider. Grad school in Kentucky was focused on working toward his master's in social work, but while there, he crossed paths with the Cincinnati-based indie band Pomegranates, and that relationship would prove crucial to his future endeavors.
Schmidt is feeling settled, at least for now: He has recently moved to Dogtown and continues to play guitar in Lightrider, which he describes as "more on the emo side of things, with a little of that post-rock vibe, more open and ambient and spacey." He plays alongside his old SEMO pals Tim Schrieber and Jesse Kemling, but he notes his role is more supporting than guiding: "For the first two years of me playing music in St. Louis, I had to put my own style of music on the back burner."
That has begun to shift with the recent release of a promising three-song EP from his project Macaroon Afterparty, which pairs his sweetly sung lines with well-crafted and smartly produced indie rock. Opening track "Feel Right" has just enough reverb to make the guitar plucks ring out and enough swirling ambience to tread the line between euphoria and unease. Schmidt's delicate, layered vocals serve as the song's emotional and harmonic ballast.
To make the EP, titled Pastry Police, Schmidt relied on his friendship with the guys in Pomegranates and decamped to Ohio to work on the recordings. "The drummer Jake [Merritt] put together a studio, Sabbath Recording, and he had a band he wanted me to work with," Schmidt says. "I wrote most of everything, and they brought it to life. He brought the most out of these songs."
His trips to Ohio brought out the bright and muted colors in his songs, but it was a cheekily named paint swatch that gave his project its name. "I was looking through a color palette and found one called Macaroon Party," he recalls. As band names go, though, he found it "a little too sleek."
"The music sounded more like an after-party to me," Schmidt says.
Let's get a delicious bit of nomenclature out of the way: A macaron is a delicate, sandwich-like confection that is often pastel-colored and usually found at high teas or bridal parties; a macaroon is a coconut-based cookie, much more roughly hewn than its dainty French counterpart.
Even at this early stage in his musical career, Schmidt has had to defend the name of the project and the cookie-based confusion (which is exacerbated somewhat by using a tray of the colorful macarons as the album artwork). After releasing lead single "Feel Right," an internet commenter was quick to school Schmidt on the monumental difference that the second "o" in "macaroon" can make.
"That's part of why I named it Pastry Police," Schmidt says. "I think that kind of clears it up that there's a discrepancy there."
Schmidt notes that these three introductory songs each strike a different pose; they are connected by his voice and delivery but stake out distinct sonic territory, from moody ballads to more propulsive pop.
"Each song, I was listening to different music and feeling different things," he continues. "It was an introspective and turbulent time, and I'm glad I have a record of that. It was the external product of all these changing parts."
A therapist by trade, Schmidt says that the songs are personal without being diaristic. A few ruminate on love and loss, and the songwriting process caused him to "look inward at what mattered to me most."
"I talk in therapy a lot about how people need an outlet for their emotions, and I had to practice what I preach."
While Pastry Police is out now and available on streaming platforms, Schmidt is still in the early stages of putting a live band together. So far he has enlisted Justin Mills, the local amplifier builder behind Mills Custom Amps, to play in an eventual live band.
Mills says he was a fan of Schmidt's through his work in Lightrider as well as his songwriting. "When I heard Macaroon Afterparty's styling a dreamy groove based around a more pop sensibility, I was really excited to see how Gary would sculpt that sound," Mills says.
Schmidt has also linked up with a few other local musicians to collaborate on his own material, including Foxing's Eric Hudson, who contributed to what Schmidt describes as a "more synthetic" pop song that should be out this winter.
"I'm definitely looking for more collaborators to be a part of this process," Schmidt says. "I am looking to build and be a part of this greater musical community."