By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
But behind the joking mask lies one of the hardest-working, most serious bands in town. In the year and a half since expanding from two-piece -- lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Andrew Volpe and lead guitarist Tim Ferrell -- to five-piece, they've scored enough victories to fill up the roster of a dozen bands. Since adding Tim Convy (keyboard), Marshall Fanciullo (bass) and Matt Palermo (drums), Ludo has: toured constantly, won a contest to play South by Southwest, won another contest to have a video produced by Fuse, played the CMJ festival in New York and, most recently, played the Winter X Games in Aspen. They're now preparing for their triumphant homecoming at Mississippi Nights this Friday.
Not too bad for a band that was playing acoustic open-mic nights a few years ago and that closes its album with "Girls on Trampolines."
"We did the record a year and a half ago, it was the first thing we did before we ever played a show," Convy says. "Got together, learned the songs, wrote a few new ones. At that point everybody quit their jobs, quit school, quit everything else."
Horatio Alger would be proud. While you wouldn't hear it in their music, in person the members of Ludo have the business-speak down pat, tossing around jargon like "market" and "empower." When they decided to make a living with their music, they took it to the hilt.
"We put out a pretty stringent ad on the Internet," Volpe explains about their hunt for a rhythm section, "and the language in it was pretty much: 'Quit your job, drop out of school, dump your girlfriend.'"
Then Ludo toured, toured, toured, sleeping on couches and figuring out which towns were band-friendly and which weren't. Want to know one of the best cities for supporting independent musicians? Haters, hold on to your hats.
"St. Louis, actually, is a great one," Volpe says. "The amount of live entertainment that gets attended in St. Louis, for the size of its market, is astounding."
And he says it with a straight face, as well he should. Aside from a serious lack of a venue that holds about 500 folks, and the sudden hole the Rocket Bar left (come back, Rocket Bar!), there's plenty of places to hear music in the Lou. There's also plenty of ways to play for people, if that's what you want to do. It's just a question of getting off your ass. When asked, the Ludo-ites are willing to give plenty of advice for bands interested in following their path.
"The thing that never went wrong with us is just playing all the time," says Ferrell. "Especially when we first started, we'd play every night, some times twice a night."
Adds Volpe: "If you make it a goal to play every night, you're going to force yourself to get something done. I feel like a lot of people get in a rut of, 'Man, we've got to practice, get everything right.' You know what? Pop your cherry. Pop it again and again and again."
Of course, it's not all cherries out on the road. At the same time they're planning a new album and awaiting word on whether they've earned a slot at this year's SXSW, Volpe and Co. admit that life as a full-time independent band has its downside.
"Get used to eating very little and not very often," laughs Convy.
"Realize that you are no longer a consumer," Volpe agrees. "You can no longer buy things."
Hey, Mr. (and Ms.) DJ! Time is running out for you to enter the RFT's Ultra Music Contest. Get me a demo CD by Monday, February 21, and you could be on your way to a spin-off against other local DJs for a choice prize: a trip to Miami to play at Ultra during the electronic festival of the Winter Music Conference.
"St. Louis DJs have a fear of success," a local DJ recently told me. He wasn't talking about you, was he? Send entries to the Ultra Music Contest, care of yours truly, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO, 63130.
Sure, it's easy to not enter and not win. Riding the bus and eating Ramen noodles is easy, too, but none of those activities are going to get you a free trip to Miami -- not to mention national exposure. If you want to slurp noodles in the back of the bus, that's fine with me (the driver will get mad, though). But what would your mom say?