You can never accuse Shane Presley of slacking. He works as a custodian for the Wentzville School District ("I've seen it all," he says, thankfully without elaborating) and, in addition to his day job, he works a few nights as a doorman at the Broadway Oyster Bar. In whatever spare time that schedule leaves, he also hosts the locally focused Rock Paper Podcast and stands tall, literally and figuratively, as a dedicated local music fan.
"Dedicated," though, may be too light a word. As of this writing, Presley has released 722 episodes of Rock Paper Podcast in five years. That's 722 conversations with local musicians, comedians and people of interest, with very few repeat customers. It's a staggering number for that short a time.
And so Presley is celebrating Rock Paper Podcast's fifth birthday with a blues-heavy show at his sometime-employer, Broadway Oyster Bar, on Saturday, June 22, with sets by Kansas City bassist and singer Amanda Fish and St. Louis artists Tony Campanella and Odds Lane.
His conversations are casual and largely unedited, and they serve as a way for both new and established acts to introduce themselves to a larger audience. Presley's podcast has become a routine stop for bands promoting their work, and it serves as a valuable tip sheet on local happenings.
"I guess it all started by being a music fan," Presley says. "I had friends from high school playing original music at Pop's and started going to a lot more shows. As I started to go to shows and meeting more people, I started a blog and was doing music review type stuff."
Writing, Presley found, wasn't as much fun as listening to music — or listening to musicians talk about music. "I always wanted the music to speak for itself," he says. "As podcasting started to grow in popularity, it seemed like a good fit."
Rock Paper Podcast began the way most podcasts do — with a couple of dudes sitting around an entry-level microphone and a laptop. Episode one consisted of Presley and Chris Bumeter (his co-host for the first year) chatting back and forth; saying the early episodes were more of "a cool, hang-out thing," Presley sees it as an introduction for what was to come, and subsequent editions were more interview-focused.
By episode five, Presley and Bumeter landed their first musical guest, and reeled in a pretty big fish: Steve Ewing, solo artist, hot dog kingpin and lead singer of legendary ska-punk outfit the Urge.
"That helped make it legit, having an endorsement from someone like him," Presley says of Ewing's visit.
From there, Presley has interviewed hundreds of local artists from all corners of the region, including a few national acts. Doing these interviews so often, Presley is conscious of avoiding a set format or pat list of questions. That informality makes listening to Rock Paper Podcast a bit more like eavesdropping on a barroom chat than a traditional Q&A.
"As far as prep, I don't do a ton," he says. "I like pressing record and seeing what happens. If someone new is coming on the show, I'll do my homework on what I'm getting myself into. I have an idea of where I want to go — I have a pretty good idea of who the artists are. But as of late, the show is doing a lot of the work for me. I'm having people on the show who are coming to me."
Presley's recording rig is simple and mobile — he can throw all of his gear in a backpack and has recorded episodes in basements, tour buses, rehearsal spaces and Taco Bells. He lets the interview subjects pick a spot that they like, which helps with the mood of the conversation.
"Most of the people feel comfortable around me, especially when we're doing the show," Presley says. "A few have said it's therapeutic. Sometimes I don't ask a ton of stuff and let them tell their story. I did one with a guy and he cried twice sharing some very personal stories. I was taken aback; it was crazy that we had just met and he was sharing his life story with me."
Presley says that Rock Paper Podcast had no grand ambitions when it began, but its success has prompted him to think about larger questions of visibility and support for local artists.
"A lot of it is just fun for me; I thoroughly enjoy doing the show," he says. "But I think over the years the mission has been to educate people, even myself.
"I have goals I want to accomplish with this; I want to keep growing or keep evolving," Presley continues. "I just keep putting in the hard work and it continues to pay off, making lifelong friends and listening to a lot of great music."