Second set: Voice of God, phone videos or slick productions
My first cover story for The Riverfront Times was a profile of the group Voice of God. The story was deemed worthy of front-page treatment for reasons that had little to do with my writing.
The band came up at the exact moment that industrial music was edging out of the furthest corners of the alternative scene and into the mainstream, thanks to the success of groups like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Replete with religious iconography and costumes, their stage show was about creating an impression, through the use of lights, smoke and attitude.
In many respects, the band attempted to build added mystique through adoption of pseudonyms and a false band history; they grew from the ashes of the group Trance Logic, but preferred to be independent of that past, creating a whole new thing with the visually rich Voice of God. Their new back story and provocative image were as important as the group’s sound. And that’s no offense to their song-writing, based in loops, drum machines, crunchy, repetitive guitar lines and the heavily processed vocals of the time.
It didn’t take too long for the band to make an impression. And media coverage was sure to follow.
Combining fishnets, leather and priest’s collars, the five members of the group showed up at the Dogtown house of RFT staff photographer Mike Defilippo, readying themselves for the potential of a possible cover piece. If the shots worked, the piece would be greenlit for the cover; not that there was any doubt that the group would have some appeal for the RFT. In a Catholic town like St. Louis, a band playing in front of a full-sized cross, with tall vocalist John 3:16 cavorting about the stage in a nun’s outfit, his bandmates in various stages of bondage-inspired dress (and undress), well ... that’s a recipe for early ‘90s shock rock.
While I accompanied Mike on many memorable photo-writing outings over the years, I wasn’t at his house for this one, which involved the band -- sampler/vocalist John 3:16, co-songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Vox Dei, guitarist Punky Dei, bassist Zoom and dancer Raven -- in front of his garage, a tie-dyed backdrop hung across the doorway.
A few months back, just as this weekly piece was set to launch, Mike sent along a video, captured by his ex-wife, Ellen Gomez, who rolled film during the band’s appearance at the house. In it, the group is seen playing Rock’em Sock’em Robots with their pint-size son Anthony, now a globe-trotting engineer with a specialty in internal combustion. His younger brother, Mickey, is in the driveway, banging a hammer on some weeds; he’s since gotten an undergrad degree from Wisconsin, where he starred as a record-setting pole vaulter.
Clearly, some time has passed. Which makes the images, dated in a very cool way, even more surprising to come across and enjoy.
Now everything’s on video
In looking up info about Voice of God, it was confirmed to me (again) that bands from the immediate, pre-Internet era left behind, at times, a very small, extremely incomplete digital trail. But nuggets are there. For example, there’s a photo of the RFT cover session on the flickr stream of user Johnny Dollar. No photographer credit, no context about the session, but there are some personal notes on Raven’s career as a hairdresser at the old Blades Salon on Delmar. The Web’s weird like that.
For current bands, the Web is more giving. Bands with even short histories can have their work documented with depth and style that would’ve been unimaginable a couple decades back.
Among those producers is Show Me Shows, which has developed a track record in just over a year of documenting local music.
Show Me Shows was founded by Jarred Gastreich, 22, a photographer and videographer who quickly recruited audio engineer Ryan Albritton, 25, to ride shotgun.
“I just got into the music scene a little less than two years ago,” Gastreich says. “I saw all this good talent and tried to figure how to get my photography involved in getting these guys noticed. We want to say, ‘Hey, take a look at this great talent in our town, without even going to a show. About two interviews into the project, I knew I needed a better way to capture sound. Ryan and I had met on Facebook and he agreed and he’s been doing them with me ever since.”
The general rule-of-thumb applied to Show Me Shows is that bands are recorded in a “one-take” style, with minimal, if any, overdubbing. The groups are often shot in non-traditional settings, which make you study the scene a bit more closely and actively. For example, a recent session with the Brothers Lazaroff had the band performing behind the glass at University City’s Go Music.
Gastreich says that “Sometimes, bands don’t know what a ‘one-take’ is. But they trust us to interpret our own style and mix that with their music.”
Adds Albritton, “It’s obviously become easier and more attainable, now that we’ve been doing videos for over a year. I think, as Jarred said, they trust us to represent them well. They know who we are and the we won’t put out anything of low-quality.”
Too much tech
In fact, the two are, in a sense, fighting against the over-abundance of ready technology today. We’ve all been there: You’re at a show, looking left and right and seeing dozens of camera phones in the air. Some of that recorded material is just for personal, but more of it’s going to be put into the digital stream, more tiny pieces of the public record.
“This doesn’t apply to local shows,” Albritton says. “But with many national shows, they end up restricting professional photography. But they obviously can’t restrict that kind of crappy photography.”
“It’s interesting that Ryan said that,” Gastrich agrees. “There was a musician that we shot last weekend. The venue he’d just played at recorded everything played. I guess the venue was doing a promotion, on its website. If you’re going out there to play, you have to be open to it. You can’t deny the fact that someone with today’s technology will tape it. For us, we always send it to the artist for review, before we post it. It is a one-take, but you can always change stuff around.”
“In my mind,” Albritton adds, “as an audio guy, a video with crappy sound is not much of a video. But I know that some people don’t care as much as I do.”
Rebirth for older material
There’s been a fairly steady dose of older material coming out lately, thanks to the efforts of Rob Wagoner, a member of multiple bands (old and new) and a behind-the-scenes worker at Euclid Records. Uploading episodes of the great cable shows Velocity and Critical Mass, he’s been adding an incredible bit of history to the Web, linking audiences that want to reminisce and who want to discover.
Visually, of course, many of the shows lack today’s standards. Camera operators walk into shots, boom microphones drop by for a cameo, some of the backdrops look a bit funny, in retrospect. But operating on low budgets, with volunteer staffs and with equipment that seems quaint today, it’s still fun to catch those live recordings of STL standouts.
Contemporary scene videos? Well, they look great. They sound great. And they provide, as suggested above, a way for fans to catch up with what’s happening from the comfort of their nearest video-playing device. At this point, Show Me Shows is coming on 50 videos, with two-dozen bands shot, many of them caught with that you-are-there, fly-on-the-wall vibe.
That’s what Ellen Gomez provided 20 years ago, shooting a slightly unusual afternoon around the house. Her now-grown kids providing a pair of foils for the usually hyper-serious Voice of God.
New vs. Old. No need to pick. No need, at all.