Biggest St. Louis Music News Stories of 2011: Part One

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Biggest St. Louis Music News Stories of 2011: Part One
Bloodshot Records

The Bottle Rockets' Acoustic Album Finally Sees the Light of Day

Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening With the Bottle Rockets was a long time in coming -- four years in fact. Recorded over two nights in 2007 at the now defunct Lucas School House, the live album was one of this year's most notable local releases, partly because it showcases the band in a wholly new light and partly because an acoustic album was so unexpected for the veteran rockers.

"We went in with the idea to record the shows, but we had no plan," Henneman says over coffee on South Grand. "We never do acoustic shows, but we had no agenda. We just wanted to make an effort for the possibility. After it was finished we didn't hear it for a long time. It was recorded in some format that we couldn't even play. It just took a while before we could figure out how to listen to the damn thing."

Finally, the band went to Mike Martin, a musician and engineer in town, who was able to help with the audio conversion. After finally getting to hear the playback, the band sent it to its go-to producer, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel in New York, who was in the process of moving his studio. 2007 became 2008, then 2009, but after hearing Ambel's mixes the band was excited about what had survived from the two nights in Soulard.

"There was a lot of great material, probably enough for three albums," Henneman says, "but there was also some heartbreaking stuff. Digital distortion, electrical malfunctions. We'd have great versions but the bass wasn't turned on. Little things like that. We took what we had, which wasn't that much, and arranged it, and figured out that we could actually make a pretty good set list. We sent it to Bloodshot - and that, naturally added another year.

"But we were in good shape as a band," Henneman continues. "We had already made Zoysia, which was the first recording with the new band. Keith [Voegele] joined in '05 I think. He'd been in for a couple of years. John had been around since '03. It was a good time to do an acoustic album. It was all new to all of us. We had never recorded a fully acoustic, unplugged, put microphones on stuff kind of album."

Not So Loud spotlights the Bottle Rockets, not exactly in their element, but demonstrating what good musicians they are, how deep their catalogue is and, most importantly, how much of a connection they can make to an audience.

"We did several shows in that full acoustic format," Henneman says. "They went over great. They were some of the best shows we've ever had, just sitting on chairs, with microphones on our instruments. You can bludgeon yourself, and maybe we've been guilty of that. Suddenly people were acting different around us. 'Wow, you guys are good! I didn't know you could do that!' The funny thing about it is that we're the least proficient on the acoustic instruments. But people could hear everything, catch different moods just based on the music and the lyrics. It changed a lot of people's views on the songs."

What we gained: A new way of thinking about and listening to a St. Louis band that should never be taken for granted and never counted out.

--Roy Kasten

Earthworms Breaks Up

After three albums, countless shows and a tireless promotional campaign, local rap group Earthworms quietly broke up in September. The breakup was low profile - a post from rapper Mathias to the Earthworms page followed by a similar message from rapper Kama a couple weeks later. Citing "different directions" and being in "different places in our lives," Mathias says the split is amicable, a point backed up by Kama saying in a Facebook message that he "love(s) every single one of his band mates to death."

"I think we all feel like it ran its course," Mathias says. "The inspiration just wasn't there at the end, I don't think, to keep going."

Despite the breakup, all the members of Earthworms will stay musically active. Mathias, who released a solo album last year, is readying a new project called Mathias and the Pirates that will feature Ms. Vizion from the GreaTones and a host of other musicians. "What we're doing is we're getting instrumentals with live instruments being added and/or replacing existing parts in mind because we also have Grover Stewart on drums and Mo Eggeston going to be playing the keys for the most part and DJ LB is going to be the primary DJ with Mahf joining in when time allows," Mathias says. The mixture of beats and live instruments will extend to concerts too, depending on who is available to play each night.

DJ Mahf, of course, never stops working, whether he's pumping out another entry into his endless stream of mixtapes (including this year's Homemade Junk 3), playing every Friday at Miso in Clayton or working with Steddy P and other artist's on Steddy's Indyground label. Kama also has a weekly Friday gig called "My Riot" that takes place at Boogaloo in Maplewood where he plays songs from his ipod, emcees and freestyles (often with guests). He has also been periodically flying out to LA to work with clothing line Suburban Riot and noted producer/remixer Gaia 13 and to promote his album with Jonathan Toth from Hoth, this year's Kamatoth Cocktales. Rapper Black Patrick is busy raising a family, but still makes time to create beats.

Although they're disbanding, the members of Earthworms will still stay connected in their promotion of their USO tour documentary Capricorn Dreams. The group is shopping it to film festivals and recently received the final edit of the movie which now only needs a finished sound mix. Earthworms plans to host a screening next spring. A farewell show is also a possibility (Mathias is on record as wanting to do one). However the end of Earthworms plays out, both Mathias and Kama made it a point in their correspondence to thank St. Louis for its support of the group.

--Bob McMahon

Mike Cracchiolo Takes Over Booking at Cicero's

Cicero's, the small black box venue in the back of the restaurant of the same name on Delmar Boulevard, holds a unique place in St. Louis music history. The venue opened in 1977 a few blocks east of its current location, to which it moved in 1996. In the late '80s and early '90s it hosted shows from a deluge of burgeoning bands including many that now have legendary status: The Flaming Lips, Beck, Uncle Tupelo and Yo La Tengo among others. In recent years the venue has focused on local shows, but a change in management earlier this year has the potential to bring the venue's focus back to what it was in those early days, when in addition to booking local artists it also fostered talented yet relatively unproven touring bands working hard to build an audience.

Mike Cracchiolo is at the center of this shift. A co-founder of and talent buyer at the Firebird, he took over the role of talent buyer at Cicero's in mid-2011. Over the past few years, the Firebird has emerged as one of the premier venues in the city. Cracchiolo brings not only his experiences in helping to make the Firebird what it is, but also the ability to foster a healthy relationship between the two venues that can benefit both. St. Louis music fans are likely to notice the change gradually. In the months and years to come you'll likely find yourself going to more shows at Cicero's, and keeping a keen eye on their concert calendar in the effort to catch the next big thing.

We recently spoke to Cracchiolo about the past, present and future of Cicero's. Look for that interview to appear in this space in the very near future.

What we gained: A venue that embraces its historical role in St. Louis music history and is striving to regain its status as a proving ground for tomorrow's best acts.

--Chris Bay

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