Ed Schrader's Music Beat Are Experimental Rock Chameleons
Live and on record, Baltimore duo Ed Schrader's Music Beat--singer/floor Tom drummer Ed Schrader and bassist/singer Devlin Rice--come on strong, elemental, like a force of nature. On last year's album debut Jazz Mind (Load) and a smattering of splits and singles, a winning formula emerged: rudimentary melodies slathered with Gorilla Glue, slogans hammered into the consciousness through magic repetition, canyon deep, Calvin Johnson-reminiscent vocal turns from Schrader. What's amazing is how much Schrader and Rice are able to wring from their set up, how convincing and varied the results are: from the Fugazi bungee punk of "Sermon" to the insomniac gloom of "Traveling" to the Modern Lovers pop of "My Mind Is Broken."
Schrader has his fingers in a lot of pies--he's got a talk show, does some comedy, and runs a restaurant called Pasta The Gathering--but arguably, the world would be a better place if he dedicated his life to filling it with deadpan, echo-saturated non-sequiters. Via email, we broke bread with Schrader on R.E.M, working with Matmos, the nature of control, and last year's Jazz Mind.
How's the tour going, so far?
So Michael Stipe and Mike Mills show up to the gig in Athens, Georgia, and I'm really pumped thinking finally we're gonna become best buds and go to a Waffle House or something. The height of the evening was seeing my two favorite bassists of all time standing side by side in line to use the pisser, each one not knowing who the other one was. Devlin exchanged some witty banter with Mills about having to pee; I asked Mills cheekily if he'd ever been to Germany, referencing a German film playing at the bar, and he responded "Oh yeah."
We talked about Bowie's new album and I commented how the two characters in the film looked like two permutations of him: Man Who Sold The World Bowie and Modern Love Italian waiter Bowie. I was trying to play it cool; I mean, I could quote "Texarkana " line for line, that's probably one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. I think I may have played it too cool, because they bounced right before we started. I was devastated, but hey, there's always next time. I just didn't want to crab their style, and I know that Michael is really shy and kind of wanted to respect that. So: guys, if you're out there, I'd still love to go to the Waffle House and you're mainly the reason I'm a musician with a maladjusted ego.
Wow. Did that seem real when it was happening, or was it one of those things where you were sure you were dreaming it as it happened?
Well, my step-brother used to work at University of Georgia and I'd visit him, so occasionally you'd see one of the R.E.M. guys nocking around at the diner or a coffee shop; they're really humble, accessible dudes, they handled everything so gracefully. Nevertheless, it's still like seeing Winston Churchill.
What was your earliest foray into music as a performer?
Honestly, it started with me singing Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" for a talent show in 9th grade. A Smashing Pumpkins cover band called Astrosmash heard me and thought, "Hey, this guy could lend an awful lot to our band that covers the Smashing Pumpkins," and they made me lead singer. We had a dozen or so practices and then they kicked me out because I was doing dance moves.
You probably should have quit, preemptively, on general principle: "Astrosmash" has to be one of the 200 worst band names, ever.
Well, at least it wasnt "LOL" --the first band I assembled in 1995--or Jefferson's Cabinet, my feeble attempt at a being a Syracuse, New York, hardcore band. I suppose it was really the only game in town, so I kind of had to play ball. This was long before I figured out that you could take a floor Tom and a reverb peddle on tour.
What are some of your favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs?
That's a tough one; I guess it'd be that "Today" number. It was the first video I'd seen where the dudes looked like they wouldn't kick my ass or give me a wedgie if I saw them in an alley. "Cherub Rock" was the first song I ever sang with a band, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Can you tell me a bit about the making of Jazz Mind? What has the record's life been like since it came out last year? One thing that stuck out about it when I first heard it is how succinct it feels despite being both diverse and relatively brief; there's a current of cavernousness that carries through, but there's pop, there's goth theatricality, there's experimental grit, there's white-hot aggro, and so on. And it all felt sincere, it all worked.
Thanks! Well, essentially I had been writing and performing solo (floor Tom/reverb/vocal) and struck a record deal with Providence label Load Records. At the time, it was just me and a drum. Three months down the road, I was lucky enough to run into Devlin Rice who at the time was playing with Nucleur Power Pants. The songs were always catchy, but rather silly albeit pregnant with compositional possibilities; Devlin sensed that and was excited to channel that on the low end in a very restrained approach that enhanced the sparse tunes into something more crunchy yet accessible in a rock of ages kind of way. He really was the Niles to my Frasier. Additional instrumentation came from Randy Randall of No Age and Matmos, who painted a majority of the scene scapes that accompany most of the more restrained pieces ("Right").
The record came out as SXSW was kicking off, so it was a bit eclipsed in a sense - not the greatest PR move on my part. We were worried at first that it would kind of disintegrate under the heels of Pacific Rim press monsters into oblivion and go unnoticed. We are not all that sexy and lack style to a degree that's rather offensive. It seemed like we were making an album for that weird guy in your high school who carved elves. Yet somehow it has had this weird, sleeper effect on the public: like folks bought it but set it aside, like that dessert flavor coffee your mom thinks you like but then one year she accidentally gets you some nice shade-grown shit and you're like, "FUCK YEAH, MOM!"