Category Archives: MUSIC

HOW MY HUSBAND STARTED A ROCK N’ ROLL MUSIC SCHOOL FOR KIDS

David, one of my husband’s music students, rockin’ out at 29th Street Ballroom.

Recently, I got an email from a reader, Meg, asking me how Ross went about starting a music school. It was so sweet that I thought I’d share part of it with you:

“…you talked about your husband Ross and how he is a musician and teaches kid’s music. I’ve searched your blog, so pardon me if you’ve already written on this topic, but I would love to hear more about Ross and how he made that work.”

You are right, Meg! I haven’t written on that topic!

The whole time Austin Eavesdropper has existed, Ross’s music school has been lurking in the background. First it was a dream, then it was a series of loan applications, and now it’s an actual studio in our backyard. So! Here is the story of how he started his very own School of Rock.

The first thing you need to know, is that my husband is a passionate musician.

Maybe “passionate” isn’t even the right word. “Asperger’s” might be closer. The man literally practices music, usually drums or guitar, for at least three hours every single day. He has played in several bands, including that of Black Joe Lewis, riiiight before Black Joe got big and famous. (Hi, Joe!)

But, being a passionate/obsessive musician won’t pay the bills in a town like Austin. So in 2002 he got a job bar tending, and one day, a customer struck up a conversation with him.

CUSTOMER: Hey. You play guitar, right?

ROSS: I sure do!

CUSTOMER: My son would like some guitar lessons. Could you come over and do that?

ROSS: I sure can!

CUSTOMER: Great. Just know that his school has a special teaching approach, so you might want to keep that in mind when you come.

When Ross got there, he took out his guitar, and his customer’s six year-old son proceeded to show him how to play it. Did he know that the neck was for drumming? He did not. Or that the best way to form a chord was to play all the strings, all at once? No he didn’t, but we was so happy to have that finally clarified!

Needless to say, they didn’t do a lot of hardcore guitar instruction that day. But, the family loved him.

So Ross applied to become a teacher at the kid’s school, a little progressive private place operated out of the Perry Mansion. Soon, he started a music program in one of the spare classrooms, and kept on bar tending at night to supplement his income. This was about the time I met him.

Proto-selfie! As you can see, I took this with a regular camera.

We got married in 2007, and lived in an old pile of limestone with our friend Caleb. This was in Hyde Park, my beloved Hyde Park, and our house — down the street from the school — was right next to a creek. Our buddy Jason lives there now, and Caleb does too, and every time I visit I make it a point to stand next to one of the windows just so I can listen to the creek the way I used to.

In 2011, we got the scary news that the school was going to close. Which brings me to the second thing you need to know about Ross: he is extremely resourceful.

“You want to buy a house?” he asked me, just after we found out.

“With what?” I said. “Haha, just kidding. I want to buy a house. Seriously though: with what?”

Nevermind a down payment: He was already busy scheming. We asked one of the parents from the school to be our realtor, and together, the three of us looked for a place with a big enough backyard to build a music studio. Which was an adventure, involving driveway aesthetics, a part-man/part-wolf creature, and overall tests of marital mettle, but we finally, joyously found one. We moved in on the day Kate and William got married, and I remember because Perez Hilton and Nene Leakes were on TV narrating the festivities. (What channel was that on?).

That left one more hurdle: Convincing a bank to give us a building loan.

For months after we moved into our new house, Ross made phone call after phone call to banks, getting rejected every time. We didn’t have enough collateral, our income history wasn’t impressive enough, the recession was still going and banks were cranky.

“Maybe you should just rent a studio space somewhere else?” I’d suggest gently.

But NO – he was going to make this happen.

And you know what? He did.

Ross willed his little studio into being, and it’s now almost two years old! The construction took two months, and the structure is a feat of soundproofing: We had to make the walls extra thick so that the music (which includes, to my extreme delight, ACDC performed by 8-year-olds) wouldn’t disturb the neighborhood. Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

His school is called We Love Music (we’re still finishing the website), and these days, Roos works with 27 students a week. At first, all of his students came from our old school — the one that shut down — but now, it’s about half those students, half new ones. They range in age from 5 to 17, and take guitar, drums, bass, keyboard, and ukulele lessons. The school acts a recording studio too; Ross turns their music into polished tracks.

This is my favorite part, though. Often, Ross will form his students into kid bands, and they give themselves awesome band names like The Electric Sock Things and The Face Melters.

Henry, drummer for The Face Melters

Twice a year, the students of We Love Music have a recital at 29th Street Ballroom, where they get to perform their music chops live. Several of them play covers — there are a lot of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Tom Petty fans at his school — but lots write their own music. You may recall, for example, the most adorable song in the world, written by Ross’s student Mabry (pictured just above), which ended up getting played on KOOP for Valentine’s Day.

So, this is what Ross does full-time! It’s hard to support yourself as a musician, but it IS possible.

Every time someone asks me what my husband does for a living, I feel so proud telling them. I know. It’s cheesy! You are so allowed to roll your eyes. But, I think the reason the school is successful is because Ross is a gifted teacher. He doesn’t have a rote set of curriculum that he makes every kid work through; rather, he finds out what THEY are interested in (song writing, guitar solos, playing along to The Ramones), and shapes their lessons around that. His students have gone on to front critically-acclaimed Austin bands, like this one, and also to play their own gigs around town before they graduate high school. That’s not the goal for all of them — some of them just want to play drum-banging games with Ross for an hour — but no matter who they are, they always walk out of our studio grinning, feeling like genuine rockstars.

And I’m happy to be married to someone who makes kids feel that way.

(Thank you, Meg, for inspiring this post.)

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GUISE AND DOLLS

This individual, who no longer has poison ivy, also did not attend SXSW. She’s happy about both.

Well kick off your Jesus sandals and pour yourself some granola, because this post is about to get hippie!*

(*Note: Only moderately hippie. Hippie enough to include mentions of yoga, terms like ‘ego’ and ‘craving,’ and possibly – though not definitely – smug references to the author’s juicing program. Which for the time being is an imaginary one. But still.)

OK, so. I didn’t go to SXSW. Let’s just get that out of the way.

I did moderate a panel for SX Interactive — one on producing web video, and it was fabulous — but I was still dealing with poison ivy, and pretty much took myself right home after it was finished. Oh contact dermatitis, you are a cruel spotlight stealer! (But not so cruel that you can completely stop me from camera whoring it up. Long sleeves = I win.)

Poison ivy wasn’t really my reason for skipping SX, though.

In truth? SX does too many weird things to my ego.

Listen. If you have any sort of creative career — not just online/music/film, but in graphic design, app development, fashion, food — chances are, SX is a prime place to network. And that’s just the thing. I’m currently in a place where I feel allergic to words like “network” and “branding.” I know, me!  A blogger. Let’s face it: I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, have asked you (wonderful) people to support my shit time and time again. I’ve redesigned my blog twice, I did two web TV series last year, and in the past, I was all over SX like flies on honey. What I’m saying is, I’ve branded myself up and down.

And that’s just the thing.

My best experiences at SX have been total accidents — not self-branding successes. Walking down the street, hearing music drift through the air, wandering in to catch a random small show and drinking with the band afterwards, hearing the story of their crazy road trip that ended with a dog adoption and bail money: That stuff is magical.

But so often, I go to SX stuff because of peer pressure, plain and simple. I want to be hip and cool!  Or at least, I want to assume the guise of hipness, and coolness. Because I’ll be honest with you. I know some hip and cool people.

Wrapped up in wanting to be hip and cool, though, I start craving more than I have. I start asking myself questions like: Did I network enough? Did I brand the blog right? Did I get a helpful business card? Did my traffic go up? Will my blog ever get as big as X blogger’s blog? In other words: ego. And it just makes me feel douchey and exhausted by the end, caring about those things. It makes me feel like this.

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but this year, I decided to put my money where my mouth was, and see if I could skip SX without having heart palpitations.

Here’s how it went!:

-I did yoga. Fifteen hours of it!  (Totally bragging.)

-Ross and I visited our insanely adorable and brand new baby niece, Claire.

-We also visited our nephews, age 3-5, who are obsessed with dinosaurs. This resulted in many requests for me to draw them T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Bracchiosaurus and several other members of the dinosaur family, all of which pretty much came out looking like this.

-We watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead with my in-laws and coincidentally, also inherited a juicer! Then I proceeded to buy a bunch of juice instead of making my own, but hey, baby steps.

-I realized that I don’t fully understand the power grid. Not just the city of Austin’s: ALL power grids.

-I got this book and this book and am dorkily reading away.

-We celebrated my dad’s 65th birthday!

-I realized that I have to teach my very first 90 minute yoga class in the next two weeks. Want to come? No seriously.

-I pet my cat copious times.

-I laid in a field.

-I stayed up way too late writing this blog post, but decided to soldier on through and finish it anyway, and am so happy if you stuck around and read it through to the end. You rock.

I’ll probably hit up SX again in the future. I still dig shows. I still dig panels. I still dig serendipitous, accidental SX fun.

But if you’re a person, most likely an Austinite, who has ever asked themselves, what would it be like if I just skipped it? Would I suffer horribly from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? Would I regret it? Would I, would I?

I’m here to tell you that it’s actually quite lovely on the other side.

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I SPY, WITH MY LITTLE EYE, SOUTH BY

Ever since oh, age 28, it’s always the same for me.

Two weeks before SXSW: “You guys, I am so over South By.”

Week of SXSW: “I’ve RSVP’d here and here and here and here and here and HERE!!!”

Heh.

We locals like to be smug, but when it comes right down to it, the SX bug is tough to shake once you’ve been bit. Yes, the marketing is rid-ic-ulous. Yes, your soul dies a bit each time you agree to don a promotional Kleenex™ fanny pack in exchange for free Perez party tickets or whatever. And yes, there’s always that inevitable day when you, my whimsical music lover you, are strolling from party to party in a kicky straw hat minding your own business, when either the temperature drops or the heavens open (because it is, after all, spring in Austin) and you find yourself drenched/freezing underneath the Yahoo! Soundz! tent between acts, sobbing to yourself, “I w-w-want to be at home with mah kittyyyyy!

They’re all occupational SX hazards, and this year — a more chill SX for me personally, since I don’t have any freelance gigs lined up — I thought, ok. You know what? I think I’ll just sit this one out. I’m in the home stretch of yoga teacher training, I’ve got a silks show coming up, and I’m just going to relax! Amy will bring me back all her fun little SX stories. I’ll watch from the sidelines. There will be no wristbands. Or spreadsheets.

And then…

I was walking on the east side yesterday, visiting some friends at Giant Noise. They were having a cute little office party, so I popped in for a hot second, and when I left, I promise you I meant to walk straight back to my car and drive home.

But instead, I strolled around a bit.

Guys, what is it about the east side and SX?

I know I’m teetering on the very edge of growing out of it, but that pre-SX Music energy on the east side, when signs are being hoisted up and bands are loading in and neon-clad hipsters are skipping around still makes me giddy. Is it nostalgia? Anticipation? Appreciation of the fact that folks so brazenly day drink on this week?

It’s like we, everyone who participates in SX, all buckles down in this interesting cultural/futurist/celebrity nexus for a week, and as Austinites, we play hostess. And you know what? Even though I don’t mean to, I guess I still kind of get a rush from all that. Our little Austin! Blows my mind every time.

At some point, a truck pulled up next to me on Waller. An older guy leaned out his car window and asked, “hey girl. Where you from?”

“Here,” I answered. “I’m from here.”

Images via me on Instagram, Amy on Instagram, and my dear friend Christa on Instagram

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BRUSHING UP ON SOCIAL STUDIES [BAND INTERVIEW]

IMAGE // Via Antenna Farm Records

Hi friends! Amy here.

You may not know this about me, but I’m big into personification. For example, what would I be like if I were a city? What would I sound like if I were a band? Hopefully, I’d sound like this.

That’s Social Studies, who just so happens to be from San Francisco — my heart’s capitol.

The band members are SXSW veterans, but if you like what you heard, you don’t have to wait that long to see them. That’s because they’re in Austin tomorrow night for a show at the Mohawk, opening for Ramona Falls (who, PS, has a creepy, awesome, Beatrix Potter-on-acid music video you might like).

We asked them if they’d like to chat with AE beforehand, and they said yes! So here is my little Q&A with the smart, sweet members of Social Studies:

1. Try as I might, it’s a bit difficult to fit you into the parameters of any one particular genre — which is great. I’ve heard you describe your own music as “classical dressed up as pop.” Elaborate?

The funniest thing is to hear the kinds of comparisons we get after a show, from Dolly Parton to My Bloody Valentine, to Beach House to Television. We’ve never had a clearly defined genre that we’ve gone for, and our musical tastes are incredibly diverse, so it’s sort of a natural result. We write music in a truly collaborative fashion that allows us to blend ideas that don’t necessarily seem like they would fit initially.

2. As self-described history nerds who “take a bit of a literary and academic approach to music,” what subject matter are you reading or watching right now? I’m specifically thinking of your latest album (Developer) and how it was influenced by things you’re reading/seeing/hearing.

The lyrics of Developer are actually more personal than on our last record, Wind Up Wooden Heart, which took a pretty macro view of human nature. The concept behind these songs was to explore the texture and images of very personal moments as if they were works of art. I was heavily inspired by poetry, particularly Joseph Stroud’s “Of this World”, Pablo Neruda, and Rumi.

3. How do your personal relationships affect Social Studies’ sound?

Playing music is an intimate experience so it’s important to work with people you love. We’ve gone through some lineup changes and have finally settled into a solid foundation. It’s been important for us to create positive musical and interpersonal chemistry — and it’s a dream to still play music with some of our oldest friends. A lot of kids play music in high school and talk about doing it forever. It’s such a special experience to look up on stage and see that commitment come into fruition. This closeness allows us to take risks, musically and emotionally.

4. Can you talk a bit about the actual recording process itself? Is it true producer your Eli Crews would have you record a song in its entirety a few times over then pick the best option…mistakes and all?

Catching the mood and scale of our live show guided a lot of our decisions with Eli. Picking whole takes, recording in analog…those all followed naturally from the desire to try and capture a performance rather than cutting and pasting to get some ‘perfect’ result. Eli was instrumental in creating a really comfortable environment, pushing us to get good performances, and translating our sonic ideas into tangible engineering decisions.

5. I’m curious: Where did your band name come from?

The process was one of elimination. We wanted something that referenced high-school, but also had several layers of meaning and possible interpretations. Other contenders were The Wildcats and Amityville Bakesale!

6. “Amityville Bakesale!” That is awesome.

I feel like Austin and San Francisco are similar in that they’re both cities comprised of non-locals. There’s this lovely melding of cultures and walks of life which all contribute to the overall vibe of the city. Would you all ever consider relocating to the “Live Music Capital of the World” or do you have your sights set on any other parts of the globe?

We love coming back to Austin, we always have a great time there! We’ve talked about relocating, and have standing offers from Chicago and New York to make those cities our home, but San Francisco is such a unique place, it’s difficult to imagine living anywhere else! Some of us would love to move to Paris for a while, or to the woods around Chapel Hill, North Carolina…but for now, San Francisco is our home.

+++

Thank you, Social Studies!

If you, like me, enjoy smugly bragging that you were into so-and-so band before they were huge (“seriously you guys, I saw Coldplay when they were in JUNIOR HIGH”), then let’s go see this one together, because I predict big things for Social Studies. Tickets for tomorrow night’s show are available right here!

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LOVE IS A MIXTAPE: KISS FROM A ROSE EDITION

IMAGE // Via Kristin Cofer

So, Amy made this awesome love mix for everyone, and I promise we’re going to get to it in a second.

But this morning, we were g-chatting about something else.

Do you have any love songs from the 90s that just…get you?

True, I hear them often enough being debased through the overhead grocery store speakers, or playing softly at my dentist’s office.

But I also listen to them in the privacy of my own home.

That’s because they are amazing.

One of these enduring melodies is “Kissed From a Rose.”

This song immediately transports me through time and space to my 8th grade dance, when I swayed with Whit Jones to the soaring vocals of Seal, wearing a brand new mock turtleneck from the Gap and feeling cocky because my braces had just come off.

I didn’t get kissed that night — from a rose or anybody — but I would get kissed soon. My braceless teeth would make men weak at the knees!

Amy, however, remembers a different song from that time. A song that is sort of about love, but also about territory, because when Monica is putting the moves on your man you just need to tell her to STEP OFF (if you are Brandy, that is).

This song reminds me of walking into the 5-7-9 and feeling sassy.

But the ultimate love song crew, in my opinion, is someone we’ve talked about before.

I always got soooo embarrassed when this song came on in the car and I was driving with my parents, because the Boyz were talking about SEX! And it’s against all natural laws to listen to songs about sex with your parents.

But nevertheless, this song ended up on many a mixtape, sandwiched between some Mariah and some Garth Brooks. My tastes were eclectic.

Do you have any 90s love songs that still get to you? In a non-ironic way?

I mean, I laugh now at Kid N’ Play, but I’m very serious when “More Than Words” comes on.

Even more serious for Color Me Badd.

(Special thank you to Amy for creating a great love song mix for us below, which is firmly rooted in 2010′s.)

VD by Amy Haley on Grooveshark

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