Back in the 1990’s I wrote several times in the Columbia Free Times about a local Columbia band, The Mary Chasers–including one particularly scathing diatribe on the occasion of a show which devolved into a fistfight between band members or someone from the audience and the band. Little did I know that a dozen-plus years later I’d run across two of those players due to their upstart website, the South Carolina Music Guide. Jason Galloway and Mike Van Houten are all grown up now and a bit more mellow except when it comes to finding and promoting great local music all around South Carolina.
I recently had the pleasure of posting a guest column on the South Carolina Music Guide, and the only condition I gave Jason and Mike was that they return the favor here. Rather than a guest blog, however, I sent them a few very open-ended leading questions; I’ve posted their extensive answers below, which I think you’ll find interesting and informative and proof that the South Carolina Music Guide has the best of intentions:
Why did you start the South Carolina music guide?
Mike: The idea for the guide came about for me early last Summer, 2012. However, here is a bit of a history lesson to help set the tone. Jason and I were playing music with one another back during the mid-2000’s in a fun all 80’s cover project called 88Rewind. Prior to that, he and I had played together in the Mary Chasers, and I had actually played music with Chuck Walker during the Virgin Ironpants years. Anyhow, my wife and I had started our family and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to get out and play live music. I knew I wanted to stay involved musically, but knew it would be tough due to family priorities. Back around 2010, I initially embarked upon the idea of an online record label, called Colatown Records. The idea was to put more revenue and control into the hands of the musician. However, after a difficult go of trying to get musicians to understand the concept, I was forced to shut it down before it really even got off the ground. Part of the problem was the notion that musicians have such a wealth of avenues to travel down since the advent of the internet that it just did not make sense. I also learned that there is still a strong amount of distrust when it comes to record labels, so it was no wonder I wasn’t able to gain much traction. So I took a bit of time off.
It so happens that during the fall of 2011, my wife and I were fortunate enough to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, TX. In addition to the talent being incredible, I came away thinking “this is the way a music community should operate”. I then thought “Why couldn’t this work in South Carolina”? So, when I returned home to Columbia I began to formulate a plan that would look at creating a web centric hub which would bring awareness and exposure to not just a specific town or city in South Carolina, but the entire state. The great thing about South Carolina is that we are geographically not a huge chunk of land, so the idea seemed feasible. Furthermore, we would be not genre specific, but would embrace all areas of music. My thinking was that just because I didn’t connect with a certain genre that didn’t mean everyone felt the same way. Lastly, I wanted to promote and help the supporting musical infrastructure that comes along with a music community. This includes trying to make folks aware of business entities that might help them in the business of playing music.
Jason Galloway and I have been good friends and band mates off and on since the mid-1990s. In addition to being a musician, Jason has a outgoing personality and is not afraid to meet a stranger, so I knew he would be a natural fit in helping me bring this idea to life. So, during the early summer of 2012 I pitched the initial concept and idea to Jason. Shortly thereafter, he was onboard and we have been running with it since around the early part of September 2012.
Jason: Well, I guess it all goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a house that was music oriented. My mother was an unbelievable singer and we were just surrounded by it. My mom told me she brought me home from the hospital stuck me in front of a stereo speaker and played Saturate Before Using by Jackson Brown on 8 track. We’d wake up early to the house shaking from her 15” woofers blasting The Winter Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, ELO or who knows what. It’s in my blood.
At 16 I started The Mary Chasers and later dropped out of college when we were on the verge of signing with TVT. But, like most bands, internal bickering and a string of odd shows, one in which you wrote about, we broke up. I picked up the pieces and, through Bob Moore at Sound Lab, met Mike. I tried to resurrect The Mary Chasers, to no avail. I think I was a little jaded and pissed off.
After a while, the original members released an EP The Simple Truth in Lies then the drummer vanished and we quit again. At our last show in Colorado, the bass player, Patrick Ashburn, and I both officially joined Mike’s 88 Rewind idea and did that for a couple of years. Eventually, the late nights and getting up at 6am with my son was too much and I was forced into retirement.
A couple of years later, Mike told me he was starting Colatown Records and wanted to know if I wanted in and I reluctantly declined. Last year he came to me with a shell of an idea about the present SC Music Guide and I jumped on it. South Carolina, as a whole, needed a one-stop shop to showcase it. My thought was to put our face on the product and not hide behind a computer. We needed to be out there on the front lines and see what’s happening, meet the people and let them know that we are allies and not out to profit from them. It’s been an uphill battle and we look at this as a marathon and not a sprint. Hell, we’ve been at this 7 months and getting the feel for it more everyday.
I guess, in a nutshell, we are just here to expose how awesome this states’ music is. We also want it to be a place that venues, management types, bookers, t-shirt printers can meet in one spot. We’re in the process of a total revamp so it’s going to be an awesome summer. We do have some surprises up our sleeves all to benefit our scene.
What are your goals for it?
Mike: We have only been at this since September of last year (not even a year) so we are still learning and trying to grow the project. We don’t want to see this idea grow too fast, only to have it fall apart. So our main thrust is to organically build up site content and awareness within the South Carolina musical community. Jason likes to call this concept “connecting the dots”, which essentially means getting out and about and meeting folks, inclusive of all areas within the state. In this day and age the usage of email and social media can be a fabulous tool, however, it can never beat getting out there, shaking the hands of your fellow musicians, and sharing your mission.
Jason: Like Mike said, I want to connect the dots between all aspects of our scene. It’s like everybody was thinking outside the box and left a perfectly good box open for Mike and I to crawl back into. Get out there and interview folks face to face and let the listening public get to know these awesome people and artists. It’s harder, and it’s expensive, but I think it’ll make a difference.
Name one thing that you have learned about music in South Carolina since starting the SC music guide
Mike: The biggest thing we are learning about music in SC is that it is not as cliquish or shut off as one might think. There has been a recent notion that the music community, especially in Columbia, is a very tight knit group and unaccepting of other musicians. We are finding the opposite to be true. In some areas, such as Charleston, this idea is actually frowned upon and musicians who come into the community with these thoughts are quickly shut out themselves. You know the old saying; it takes a village to raise a child? Well, this concept is alive and thriving in areas of this state, only music is the child in question.
Jason: There are pockets of awesome music everywhere in this state. It seems like it’s going to take forever to cover it all. It seems like a majority of time we’re spending is the Charleston and low country scene. They seem to reach out to us more and are working their tails off the get things moving in a positive direction. I’ve made some friends down there and a few in Columbia and I’m trying to intermingle the two. The Black Iron Gathering, one of my favorite Columbia bands, is playing The Charleston Music Hall on June 7th for the 2nd installment of Grass in the Hall and they’re also playing Awendaw. If we can move acts together with like sounds you can get this thing moving. Get them to do the Southeast corridor and reciprocate with other states, boom, you have it moving in the right direction.
You both have played music before in this area. What has changed since then and what is still the same?
Mike: I think things are more accessible nowadays. It used to be that if you wanted to connect with a band or musician, you had to physically meet up and make a connection. Today, there are so many online tools available that can make accessibility simple. However, it can also make the musician lazy if they aren’t careful. It’s okay to send off a quick introductory email, but then follow up and make your physical presence known in order to complete the connection process.
The recording process has gotten easier and cheaper along the way. Do it yourself musicians can certainly get a leg up and produce a product in their bedroom, which they can then send out to potential fans in an electronic format. When Jason and I were coming along we had to save our money from shows and from our day jobs in order to have enough funds to record. Back in the day, you could spend between $300 to $500 for 2 days of recording and mixing. To come away with a pretty good product you had to make sure that your entire band had the material down cold so you didn’t waste time in the studio. Nowadays, there are sites like” Kick Starter”. Fans can chip in money to help fund an album, with various incentives and giveaways as thank you items for helping to fund the recording project. I can’t imagine having the ability to raise the amounts of money I see out there today just to create an album.
The main this that’s the same…you still need to produce a good product at the end of the day. You can do all the social media and email campaigns until you are blue in the face, but if the material is not there, then that can still hold you back.
Jason: Like Mike said, social media, which I suck at, has exploded the exposure you can have. Good and bad. We are actually going to do a piece on this very thing this summer in conjunction with a Charleston writer, me, Tyler Boone and Tyler Mecham. I remember advertising shows with sidewalk chalk and a 100 flyers. Also, being able to record yourself and releasing it can be a good and, sometimes, a very bad thing. A studio is the best place, unless you’re Wilco, to do a record. Get a producer, have a real recording and get it properly mastered. There’s nothing more frustrating than playing a “normal” recording and putting on a local artist, who cut corners, and you have to crank the volume to 11 to hear it.