When caught by phone on a Wednesday afternoon, Mike Herr is still getting adjusted to his new living conditions in Texas. He and his girlfriend moved to the state's capital just a few days prior; Herr is pursuing his MFA in fiction writing at the University of Texas, Austin.
"The move was long and semi-stressful, but we made it safely and are getting settled in," Herr says.
Herr made his name in St. Louis' noise and underground music scenes as a rare triple-threat: He has played drums for spazz-pop weirdos Demonlover and heavy rock band Kisser; he has written artfully and thoughtfully about music for outlets like KDHX.org and the now-defunct Eleven; and along with Luc Michalski and Pat Boland, he conceived of and booked the earliest incarnations of Pu Fest, the weekend-long DIY showcase that started as a playful rejoinder to LouFest and is now in its fourth year.
Save for an undergraduate year in Chicago, Herr has lived his whole life in St. Louis. So before decamping to Austin, he did something he had never done before: He released a four-song EP, Continual Debrief, under his own name. On it, Herr commits to tape what has long been a staple of his solo shows as he performs largely unadorned at his drum kit. Aside from some light synth underpinning, Debrief is a study in percussion.
It may help to think of the EP more as "solo drums" rather than "drum solos" — Herr builds, modulates and abandons beats as he goes, often pairing simple structures with increasingly complex and erratic additions. Opening track "Glyphs Along the Roadside" never abandons its anchoring four-on-the-floor bass drum beat — it ebbs, flows and gets kicked into double-time, though — and Herr layers clattering cymbals and bongo-esque toms at scattered intervals.
As the track ends, the low, fluttering pulses of a synthesizer take over, triggered by Herr's drums and manipulated as he plays. That sub-bass sound carries neatly over into the break-beat beginnings of "All-Nite Car Wreck Dance," and Herr crafts a groove that subtly loosens and tightens, as if the drummer is gradually falling in and out of phase with himself.
Herr describes his compositional process as, ultimately, dependent on "feel" — both that elusive, groove-music byword for internalizing a beat as well as the emotional, feelings-centered counterpart.
"This is totally a cliche but all of it feels very organic because I don't write or read music," says Herr. "If I have a show in two weeks, I'll try to go off an emotion — 'I want it to have an anxious feeling.' I'll fuck around on the drums until I get a beat or fluctuating pattern that feels good for that show."
From there, Herr used a combination of kismet and documentation to select his rhythms for this release. The shows, he says, never go quite as planned, but using field recordings of his performances, he can hear, select and edit the best bits and corral them into slightly more manageable pieces (half of these songs push the ten-minute mark; the other half are more than five minutes long).
Continual Debrief was recorded in February in what Herr describes as a "bare-bones process," but he sat on releasing it for a few months. When he booked a midsummer show at the William Kerr Foundation — what would informally be his farewell-to-St. Louis show — the timing felt right.
"It was definitely important for me to get something out before I left town," Herr says. "I just think the St. Louis music scene is extremely special. St. Louis is definitely strange and hard to get your finger on the weird rhythms of it. "
While Herr notes some key differences between his new city and his home town ("In Austin we're paying twice the rent for half the space," he says with a laugh), he says that the move didn't come with the expected pangs of separation. And as a musician and denizen of underground art scenes, Herr hopes that the promise of Austin's creative community will hold his interest.
"I actually felt totally ready and not nostalgic at all," he says of the transition. "I think because I've been gearing up for getting out of St. Louis for so long, I felt very, very ready to do it. That said, I am extremely excited for the challenge of infiltrating a new music and art scene, when I have the time. I like the challenge and the freedom to go to a show and literally not know anyone; I miss that."