By Allison Babka
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On a rainy Halloween afternoon, two-thirds of the Vultures guitarist-vocalist Ryan Koenig and bassist-vocalist Ashley Hohman munch on fries and chili at the Courtesy Diner. As the Doors and Johnny Cash croon velvet from the jukebox, Koenig and Hohman frequently finish each other's sentences and chime in excitedly while discussing their favorite music.
"I've been really big into girl groups all my life," Hohman says. "When we [motions to Koenig] first started hanging out, that's when we really got into music "
"That's when Oldies 1430 was still around that station got me into a lot of different stuff," Koenig interjects.
"Yeah, and we just started getting into more rockabilly," Hohman says.
"When I was a kid, I was listening to Dylan and [Captain] Beefheart and the Beatles," Koenig continues. "When I got to high school, I listened to more punk rock: Adicts"
"Ramones, of course," Hohman adds. "I really got into the Cramps and X. Screaming Lord Sutch has been a big influence on us. He does 'Jack the Ripper' we got that song from him."
"He was pretty much the English answer to Screamin' Jay Hawkins," Koenig puts in.
The golden-oldie preferences might not betray their young ages (Hohman's seventeen, Koenig twenty-one), but it certainly goes a long way toward explaining what the Vultures are all about. A little bit punk, a little bit rockabilly and a lot fuzzy, Nuggets-inspired garage rock and "Surf's up!" licks, the trio is passionate about music and music history both preserving and playing it.
Formed by Koenig and Hohman in December 2003, the band used a drum machine before adding a real drummer the following spring and spent summer 2004 in the (literal) garage practicing for hours a day.
Although its first show wasn't until last year's Halloween, the band earned its biggest local break when St. Louis musician Bob Reuter had them play on his radio show, Bob's Scratchy Records, on KDHX (88.1 FM) in January.
"It surprised me that they were playing music you don't really associate with people that age," Reuter says. "And they so meant it. I've had a bunch of groups on my show, and they're probably my favorite. They captured the spirit of what rock & roll was about. They have a sense of fun about them. That has been missing from rock & roll for such a long time."
The Vultures capture this essence on their new, self-titled debut EP. Hohman's cat-scratch vocals which Reuter describes as "a nine-year-old throwing a temper tantrum" work in tandem with Koenig's feral, wizened bluesman singing on a high-energy mix of covers and originals, all thundering with '60s-era musical tricks and B-movie intrigue.
They'll celebrate the album's release at 7 p.m. Friday, November 11, at Vintage Vinyl (6610 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-721-4096), and by returning to Reuter's show at noon that same day. Future months find the Vultures doing their usual multiple-times-a-week gigs around town and contributing a cover of the Sonics' "Don't Believe in Christmas" to the upcoming A Very Bert Dax Christmas, Volume 4.
The Vultures' EP is also the first album released by new label Big Muddy Records (www.bigmuddyrecords.org). Johnny O and the Jerks drummer Chris Baricevic founded the label this summer with friends from high school the home base is his south-city apartment on a bare-bones budget, inspired by Detroit's garage-rock label Italy (where the White Stripes got their start).
"We realized there's not a strong label in St. Louis anymore that puts out rock & roll," Baricevic says. "It's mostly a lot of independent artists who have to do everything themselves. We wanted to start something.
"St. Louis used to be widely recognized as a music town Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong would always make stops. Miles Davis was from East St. Louis, and Ike and Tina, they would be playing at high school dances. Now it seems like the only bands people hear from St. Louis are the bands that go along with the trends. It's not very representative of what's going on."
To that end, Big Muddy's roster includes fellow anachronisms Casey Reid (a blues guitarist who's recently been playing out with 7 Shot Screamers upright bassist Chris Powers and a cellist) and Future Explorers of Outer Space (think sunny, psychedelic indie-pop). While Baricevic's business model stresses camaraderie over cash money, he wants St. Louis musicians to get their due.
"We'd love to get on a national level, where bands from all across the country know the bands in St. Louis," he says. "Right now if you talk to anyone who's into garage and rock & roll, Detroit is this thriving scene. I think ours is just as thriving, but nobody knows about it."