Slice of St. Louis Sounds: profiles on the way to STLPR's Tiny Desk Concert | St. Louis Public Radio

Slice of St. Louis Sounds: profiles on the way to STLPR's Tiny Desk Concert

Mar 10, 2016

NPR's Tiny Desk Contest gives bands the chance to compete for a full concert at NPR’s headquarters, appear on Ask Me Another, and tour across the country.

To bring that competition home St. Louis Public Radio held our own Tiny Desk Contest. We collected submissions to the national contest and had you, our readers and listeners, vote on your favorite act.  Each day we're posting short profiles and band Q & A's for the top five acts. (Find out about our very own Tiny Desk concert here at St. Louis Public Radio.)

Today is Hazard to Ya Booty.

St. Louis funk band Hazard to Ya Booty began as a college party band at Truman State University in 2000. Since their formation they’ve gone through a number of iterations, slimming the number of members and refining their sound.

The band’s current incarnation is built on the dynamic between vocalist Ryan Stewart and bassist Patrick Alexander. Alexander joined the group in 2008 after Hazard’s bassist left to pursue other projects. Both musicians readily admit that Alexander’s addition to the group made the band a more professional, tighter outfit. Hazard is currently the house band for local talk show “STL Up Late,” which is performed live at the Marcelle Theater and airs on KMOV MY-TV. The group is working on their next album, which they expect to release later this year.

The following text was edited and condensed from a longer version of this audio interview and includes additional band member input.

Care to share an anecdote about a performance that shaped your music?

Ryan: We met years before he actually joined Hazard to Ya Booty, but I’ll let him tell that story.

Pat: My old band Theos, which was like a progressive rock three-piece, played with Hazard to Ya Booty version 1.0. There’s different versions of Hazard. We’re on 3 point something right now. We played a show together at a ballroom and really enjoyed each other’s music and company.  We watched Hazard just put together these really fun exciting shows that would get the audience going.

Ryan: And we’d [Hazard band members] watch Pat’s band and be amazed at the musicianship. At one point they’d switch instruments in the middle of the song. They set them down and then just picked them up again.  And we knew we needed something like that organization.

Note: This mutual appreciation led to Pat’s joining Hazard when they lost the band’s previous bassist.

What’s the hardest thing about making music in St. Louis?

Gabe: Something that can be difficult about making music in general is getting everyone in one place at the same time, whether that is for regular rehearsals or for a gig.  It can be tricky to coordinate seven busy schedules.

What’s the story behind the song you chose for your Tiny Desk video?

Pat: The video came together in less than a day. The original plan was just where we practiced in Ryan’s basement, and using Gabe’s camera, and because I’m the quality guy, I’m like “guys we’re not going to make anything good sitting in the basement with Gabe’s camera, so I don’t want to waste our time.”

Ryan: I’m the exact opposite, I’m the voice of fantasy and positivity and I’m just like, “Dude, I’m telling you we can do this! We have a studio we don’t use yet. I’ll reach out to ‘STL Up Late.’” Joshua McNew is one of the owners and producers of “STL Up Late,” so I reached out to him as we’re having this text battle, and I’m trying to convince everyone we can do this. By the time they got there the set was already ready, Josh already had an idea for what he wanted to do. And I think the last contribution was, if you remember the video at the beginning, it’s just Pat and I talking and then the music comes in and the lights come up. Everything you saw on that video that I was doing, I was basically just trying to act like I knew what I was doing as a host.

What was a key experience that shaped your music?

Pat: We decided one Friday night that we were just going to stay in and we were going to write. Ryan came to my backdoor, knocked, I opened the door and he was already dancing and singing a baseline. So that was the baseline. I said keep doing that, we didn’t even say hi, we went right into the basement and started recording.  It was really a true collaboration.

Ryan: It’s really one of those moments when you can’t quite believe that what this product came from and how it originated, whatever it was that happened at that moment, Pat had the foresight to say “Don’t stop this. Let’s go now. Capture it now.”  It was one of the most organic processes that we’ve ever had in this band.

Pat: The song also became a lot of fun once we realized that it was an old kind of straight soul, rock number from the ‘60s. We call this an Otis Pickett song or a Wilson Redding song [which is a joke, combining the names of noted musicians Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett]. We wish that we wrote every song that night, basically.

Ryan: That night, when we created that song, and we knew that we had a song that we wanted. That definitely helped Pat and I realize that this is the type of sound we want to go for. We don’t want to put ourselves in a box and say this is the only thing we’re going to do, but I knew from deep down in my heart that this soul sound we have here is something that I want to continue doing.

What’s your day job (for all band members)?

The band is made up of business professionals, educators, professional musicians and graduate students.

BLASTAR
BLASTAR
Credit Provided by Kyle Work

BLASTAR aims to bring the ‘70s progressive rock sound made popular by bands like Yes, King Crimson and Rush into the 21st Century. 

Most of the group’s band members have played in various bands throughout St. Louis over the past decade.  Keyboardist and vocalist Kyle Work’s interest was influenced by growing up around his grandmother, a church organist for over 30 years.  Work and Brett Pierce, guitarist and vocalist, began making music in 2009, which initially developed into the cover band Lava Rock.  After abandoning that project, they turned their attention to creating their own music as BLASTAR two years ago.

Care to share an anecdote about a performance that shaped your music?

BRETT: Around the time we were starting this band, Kyle and I were lucky enough to see the legendary Italian progressive rock band, Goblin, live at a smaller local venue. Their music was recorded in the ‘70s, so the guys in the band are getting pretty old, but they put on a killer show and sounded fantastic. The most surprising part was the love and joy that the audience showed them, and it made me realize that perhaps we could create our own non-conventional, artistic music and there are people in town that will actually enjoy it. We're still trying to find those people, but I know they're out there somewhere!

KYLE: The King Crimson and Magma concerts we saw in Chicago also definitely kept my drive and the band Camel is a constant influence.

What’s the hardest thing about making music in St. Louis?

BRETT: Well, we tend to write music that doesn't really follow what people are used to hearing in this era, and perhaps in this region of the world. Sometimes we'll be asked, "Why is this song 20 minutes long?" or "When are the lyrics going to start?" It is a small matter, though. There also aren't many other bands around us that play the same type of music. If anyone reading this has a local progressive rock band that will share bills with us, let us know!

How has the St. Louis music scene influenced your music?

KYLE: Several of my friends are in The Gorge and So Many Dynamos, and I play in another band, Thor Axe, with members from each group. There's a standard of excellence that these bands, and many other groups, uphold, and I feel it’s our responsibility to try to measure up to them. We all hate the idea of playing lame music.

What’s the story behind the song you chose for your Tiny Desk video?

JOSH: “Cosmic Valkyrie” was selected because it's a good demonstration of our sound, one of the first tunes we collaborated on as a group, and, believe it or not, it's one of our shorter compositions.

KYLE: “Cosmic Valkyrie” is a good representation of our sound. It displays all BLASTAR has to offer, with harmonized vocals, chops and feel changes. Also I think we all wanted to do something drastically different than the regular Tiny Desk videos, which seemed to be mostly folk/indie acts.

What was a key experience that shaped your music?

BRETT: I think a key experience for all of us would be when we each discovered the phenomenal band Yes. Their music well exceeds the boundaries of conventional songwriting, and paved the way and influenced all art-rock to follow. Yes led us to other amazing ‘70s progressive bands such as Kansas, King Crimson, Camel, Rush and Gentle Giant. All of these bands have vast and crucial influence over our music.

KYLE: While playing in our cover band, Lava Rock, we covered some very ambitious music like Yes' Roundabout, Manfred Mann's Earth Band's “Blinded by The Light,” and Kansas's “Carry on Wayward Son.” However, we always wanted to spend that time writing our own ambitious material. After Lava Rock broke up, we still had the capacity and desire to create epic pieces like the ones we covered.  Thus, BLASTAR was created out of necessity to facilitate our progressive desires.

What’s your day job (for all band members)?

Josh Beal is a kitchen manager at Layla in St. Louis. Shaine Khanamuenwai is a bartender at Prasino in St. Charles. Brett manages Mid Rivers Music Instruments in St. Peters. Kyle teaches piano and voice five days a week, he's a music director at Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Weldon Spring and plays with the Midwest's ultimate party band, Push the Limit.

Raye Cole
Raye Cole
Credit Provided by Raye Cole

    

For St. Louis vocalist, Raye Cole, singing is “in my DNA.” Her great-grandmother would solicit songs from young Raye promising cookies as a reward. The singer’s life has changed a good deal since then.

This year Cole contributed music to “Cronies,” a Spike Lee-produced, Michael J. Larnell -helmed movie that was in both the Sundance Film Festival  and St. Louis International Film Festival. She recently attended the Grammy Awards after participating in a contest sponsored by the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The singer’s only been performing around the city for two years and just recently began sharing songs on SoundCloud and ReverbNation. Her direct and soulful delivery belies an emerging local talent.

Care to share an anecdote about a performance that shaped your music?

About a year and a half ago I was invited to sing background for Al Holliday and the East Side Rhythm Band. I was recommended for the position by Molly Simms of the Bible Belt Sinners. They are all local musicians. We performed at the Firebird for An Under Cover Weekend. The practices and performance were a real eye opener. One, I had never sung background before. Two, I had never been around that many professional musicians. There was a horn section, a guitar section, two percussionists, background vocalists and, of course, a piano player. I was intimidated. I was afraid of messing up. However, I am not a quitter, and I knew that this would only make me a stronger performer. I practiced, I practiced, and I practiced! The night of this performance we shut it down. We sounded amazing. The crowd loved us. I felt so honored to be a part of this production. I knew at that moment that I wanted my own band one day. I’m still working on that.

What’s the hardest thing about making music in St. Louis?

Creating music isn’t the hard part. Getting people to listen is. It takes a lot of persistence and leg work to get people to pay attention to who you are. I guess for me the hardest part would be that I currently do not play any instruments, and I do not have a band. Sometimes it is difficult getting people to play for me if I have a live show. Sometimes schedules don’t match, or I cannot afford the fee that they are asking. But every now and again I come across musicians that understand the “Indie” struggle.

How has the St. Louis music scene influenced your music?

The St. Louis music scene has had a great influence on my musical style. I didn’t realize how many people were into the blues and soul music in this area. Starting off I sang more R and B style songs. Once I started to incorporate other genres my listening audience expanded. I was also inspired to go back to school to study music. A lot of musicians in St. Louis know their stuff when it comes to music. I have not had much formal training so that is something that I wanted for myself and to help enhance my craft.

What is the story behind the song you chose for your Tiny Desk Video?

The song that I chose for the Tiny Desk Series is God $ Gun (God Some Money and Gun). I wrote the lyrics to this song when I was 17 years old. When I was 17, I was kicked out of the house. I had a really rough year. This song is the product of the way I felt that year. I felt like all I had was myself, and I had to survive. A few years later I met a gentlemen named Boroppe Rashad. He wrote the music for the song, and the rest is history.

What is your day job?

Currently, I am a student. I also volunteer with different organizations around St. Louis.

The Vanilla Beans
The Vanilla Beans
Credit Provided by Andy Garces

The Vanilla Beans ramshackle pop is made by the trio of Andrew (Andy) Garces, Ani Kramer and Todd Anderson. 

The project began as a solo endeavor for Garces, who’s been playing in various bands and groups around St. Louis for the last 10 years. He began singing at a young age, influenced by his mom, a music teacher and vocal coach. Recently he teamed up with Kramer, who didn’t sing publicly until she was 22, and Anderson to expand the group’s live sound. Now they write music together that features multiple singers. Vanilla Beans has released a handful of music over the past decade that can found at their bandcamp site.

Care to share an anecdote about a performance that shaped your music?

Andy: I think it was a real watershed moment for me when I started playing electronic music alone in front of people. I had played in bands for a while and always had a guitar or other people with me. Without those two support structures, it felt so awkward and naked. It helped put things in perspective. A lot of self-reflection and even self-condemnation came about because of it.

After that I think every show has become a special type of hangout with my closest friends. As I get older I feel even more grateful that I have been privileged enough to perform with and for so many different people.

What’s the hardest thing about making music in St. Louis?

Andy: I think the hardest thing about doing anything creative for a long time is maintaining a sense of passion and sensitivity. Not allowing myself to become mean and jaded to fellow creators is always something I try to work toward. I think it's important to remind yourself that things don't last forever. St. Louis I think sometimes feels hard to crack for new artists. It takes a while to maybe figure out, but the best way to meet people and connect to other music lovers is to support lots of other local artists. We are all in this together. I have found that people are incredibly happy to see new faces at shows. I know I always am. 

How has the St. Louis music scene influenced your music?

Andy: The people I've met and played with in town have made me the person/artist that I am. Writing and performing music is a not a selfless thing, so I think I'm very glad to be writing and performing where I am. The thing about the St. Louis area that most influences me will always be the people. 

Ani: The STL music scene is my main connection to music, so it has influenced me a great deal! One of the main reasons I enjoy making and playing music in St. Louis is the connection it gives me to the community. 

What’s the story behind the song you chose for your Tiny Desk video? 

Andy: This song was one of the first songs that Ani and I sang together. Since she joined the band I had always appreciated her singing voice and wanted to hear it in our music. It took a lot of time but eventually we made the song happen, and I've never stopped being happy about the way it turned out. The song itself is about disagreements. It's about trying to reconcile things that can maybe never be reconciled and about living with that reality in mind (at least that's what it means to me).

What’s your day job (for all band members)?

Andy: Ani currently works as a waitress at Salt + Smoke. Todd is a student at Webster [University] studying guitar, and I work at a music store in Collinsville, Illinois (Swing City Music) as a salesman and audio engineer/technician.