Ed Schrader’s Music Beat is a tough act to pin down. Depending when and where you catch them, the Baltimore-born duo can sound like a gothy indie act, a thrashing punk-rock band, or a psychedelic sound project. They specialize in highly charged musical manifestos, most of which clock in at about two minutes, and their debut album, this year’s Jazz Mind, is filled with 10 of these short, electric bursts. Highlights include “When I’m in a Car,” a noisy punk jam that features No Age’s Randy Randall on vocals, and “Gem Asylum,” an avant-garde chant about meditation, divided kingdoms, and pharaohs.
Of course, this intangible quality is nothing new to the Baltimore music scene, and ESMB is well engrained. They’ve played with (and befriended) 8-bit icon Dan Deacon, toured alongside theatrical synth pop act Future Islands, and hooked up with Baltimore’s famed underground art and music collective Wham City. This Saturday, August 4, the duo head west for a show at Isla Vista’s own fringe act haven, the Biko Co-op Garage. Below, I catch up with Schrader to talk about Baltimore politics, musical inspiration, and the less-than-savory characters he’s met on the road.
I’m curious to know a bit about what’s going on in Baltimore. I get the sense that you guys exist in a pretty tight-knit community of artists. Yes, it is a very close-knit scene in the most positive sense of the word, like Hogwarts — specifically the house of Gryffindor!
You’ve both lived there for quite a while. How has the city changed since the start of Ed Schrader’s Music Beat? Development has been quite aggressive in many parts of Baltimore, literally altering the skyline in a short span of time, especially downtown and the inner harbor. I moved there in 2006, and there are some parts of the city which are unrecognizable. Developers have bought out whole blocks in some places, displacing families and disintegrating neighborhoods. On a positive note, there has been a mammoth backlash against this by the brilliant warriors of urban farming. [There’s also] a community of artists that works alongside the residents to try and make change that is beneficial for all, not just investors living in suburbs. My girlfriend, Cheryl Carmona, has an urban farm that is in a part of the city that is without much recreation for the kids, or nutritious food. It has brought folks together and stimulated a citywide conversation about how we can make positive steps towards a future that offers more than corner stores and fast food. …
How would you say Baltimore and its aesthetic have affected the band’s sound? In a political sense, much of what I have mentioned above has trickled into the songs, [like] “Sermon” and “Gem Asylum.” You can’t live in one of the most interesting and controversial places in America and not be moved or stimulated by it: It becomes part of you; it becomes your home. I’d also say there is much lyrically on the album which assesses and muses upon the art scene, [like] “Right” and “Rats.” The haircut line in “Rats” is a nod to Pavement’s song where they ask “Why you wanna go and cut your hair?”; it’s a metaphor for the bandwagon jumping [that was] happening in the Northwest at the time. I’m just asking people: “Ask yourself, what are you saying as an artist?”
Are there specific places you look for inspiration? I like to talk a lot about friends and weirdos I know, with some dramatic augmentation thrown in. I am a voyeur!
Can you tell me a bit about the making of Jazz Mind? Where and when did you record it? What did Twig Harper bring to the mix as producer? We recorded it at Twig Harper’s house on the Westside and mixed and re-amped with Chester Gwazda in Mount Vernon. Both guys brought some great things to the table. Twig’s unorthodox recording technique, employing handmade vocal and room mics, and Chester’s brilliant approaches at mixing and re-amping, along with aligning and polishing some disjointed elements into a cohesive package, and William Seth’s smart track arranging made for a little gem of an album that I am really proud of.
We did about three to four takes of every song, and then added some light additions via layering. Matmos and Randy [Randall, of No Age] recorded separately from us, and we dialed it in when we mixed the album. We figured those guys didn’t need us standing over their shoulders. They are masters of the realm!
Your music seems to get all sorts of different, hybridized descriptions. How do you describe the band to someone who’s never heard your music? The Swans meet The Birthday Party with a sprinkling of early REM!
What do you hope people take away from the album? The live show? I hope I shake those kids up and give them a sense of an alternate head space that is romantic, with thick black smoke and militia drums and wonder.
You’re in the midst of a huge national tour. How are the shows going so far? The shows are all rad for the most part. The business end is a little tricky, but we’re learning. We made $20 in Las Cruces [New Mexico]! Gotta pay them dues, I suppose. (:
Any crazy tales from the road? We met an insane asshole who was a cross between Jersey Shore and Fraggle Rock who was too cool to pay for gas when we drove her insane ass 100 miles.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat plays an all-ages show at the Biko Co-op Garage (6612 Sueno Rd., Isla Vista) on Saturday, August 4, at 8 p.m. with VEZ, Hesse, and Coach McGirt. For info, visit sbdiy.org.