When I first encounter Adam Bautz, front man for alt-rock band sexdad, he's hustling out of his band's practice space wearing a sleeveless orange tank top and baggy sweats. If he looks like a man who's spent too many hours holed up in a cramped room in front of a computer, it's because that's exactly what he has been doing mixing the band's new, still-untitled album, release date uncertain.
"I've basically been living here," Bautz tells me as we head up the stairs of Utopia Studios in Shaw. The industrial sized building used to be a tobacco warehouse, and on the fourth floor the band has their practice space.
Bautz facilitates a quick round of introductions: Andy Lewis on lead guitar, Blake Hahn on bass and Jack Kohler on drums.
Each member has previously been in or is currently in any number of bands. But, like a couple that's planned a weeks-long trip together or just split the cost of a couch, they all seem certain that this band, sexdad, is "the one."
They treat me to a rendition of "I Was a Teen Psycho," a low key rocker that reminds me of Velvet Underground.
Afterward, Kohler and Bautz exchange looks, and it's clear to everyone in the room except me that the drummer is looking for some feedback.
"This is the only time they'll take me seriously because there's an observer," Bautz jokes, referring to my presence. He goes on to tell Kohler he's "giving away the rock n' roll" a bit too much in the song.
Kohler knows exactly what this means and seems to take it to heart. Later, the drummer references a secret language it feels like he shares with his bandmates when they are really clicking, which they have been more often than not as of late.
"I wouldn't be in a band called sexdad if we didn't have camaraderie," Lewis says.
The ridiculousness of the band's name seems to weigh a little on Bautz. The jokey name, for some, might undercut the band’s and Bautz’s serious intentions. Apparently, though, his mom is one of the name's biggest defenders. So at least there's that.
"And people remember it," he says.
Among their many influences, sexdad cites Son Volt, Wilco and Big Star. The last of which Bautz refers to as "inspiration in the realm of not making any money."
A few songs later in what has turned into a private concert, they play "Congratulations." During the verses Lewis plays a noodly, Neil Young-esque lead guitar that proves to be a sleight of hand when the band hits the tight, staccato chorus that sounds from an entirely different decade than Young. But then, just as quickly, they're back to a Neil-like sound for the verse. The different sounds congeal nicely though and to my surprise, as much as this band of early 20-somethings talks about who they want to sound like they've concocted a style of their own.
As if reading my mind, Bautz says a few minutes later, "The last record was me deciding I didn't mind just copying other people's styles entirely. I would say, like, ‘OK, this one's the Beatles song. This one's the Stones song.’ And then really, I don't know these songs feel a lot like my songs actually. Which is exciting."
Before moving their operation over to Utopia, sexdad used to practice in the basement of Bautz's mom's apartment building. But, as Lewis says, "Unfortunately the neighbors directly upstairs weren't Adam's mom."
As Bautz tells it, "We were in the middle of recording a song for the record, and I think it must have been really irritating because the same single instrument was playing the same thing over and over. Then we hear this stomping noise followed by 'Shut. The. Fuck Up!'"
Later, my feeling that the band has crafted its own sound is doubly confirmed when Bautz plays me a recording of "A New Dawn in St. Louis," which based on its name sounds like it would be corny as hell but is a total ear worm.
The song starts with some ambient keys and a subdued, groovy bass. Guitar comes in for the anti-anthem refrain as Bautz sings, "It's a new dawn in St. Louis. No!" Coming on the heels of the vocal is a viola and what Bautz says is a poorly played clavichord and a fake french horn.
The tune is lo-fi but truly catchy. Imagine a song that would play over a PSA put out by St. Louis's tourism board. Now imagine if the tourism board asked Handsome Boy Modeling School and Guided by Voices to co-compose the track.
I ask Bautz if they'll play "New Dawn in St. Louis" at their show the following week at the Heavy Anchor.
He says I'll just have to wait and see.
Over the next week, I listen to the track a couple times a day. There's a tendency with earworms that what originally made the song feel special can start to grate with too many repeated listens, which does not happen with this track. "New Dawn in St. Louis" is the perfect mix of strange and catchy that’s hard to achieve.
The following week, sexdad prepares to play a show at the Heavy Anchor in front of an enthusiastic crowd of about 30 youngins. Before they take the stage, I ask Bautz if they're going to play "New Dawn."
"Did you bring your viola?" he asks.
I put my hand in my pocket and, finding neither the viola nor the know-how required to play one, shrug in response.
"Then I'm afraid not tonight."
The show rocks anyway.
sexdad's new untitled album is forthcoming. You can find their catalog on Spotify, Apple Music and most other streaming platforms.