Music Issue 2007: That sound you hear is innovation (pt 2)


Wax Fang

Wax Fang

“You can go ahead and just omit all the logical answers,” Wax Fang drummer Kevin Ratterman says as he, guitarist Scott Carney and bassist Jake Heustis crack up over a string of jokes and well-timed tomfoolery in the kitchen of their rehearsal space/studio. They’re neck deep in the recording of their second album, and slap-happy delirium is beginning to set in. “I think we’re a little loopy,” says Carney.

In the last two years, the group has gone from sweaty, primal shows at The Rudyard Kipling and Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge to sweaty, primal regional tours with My Morning Jacket, The Features and The Whigs, an appearance at South by Southwest, and a penchant for forming human pyramids large and small. “We’re serious about these pyramids,” says Heustis. The biggest: a 12-man configuration in Chattanooga in March. “Three levels is one thing,” Ratterman says. “But four levels hurts.”

Basic tracks for Wax Fang’s as-yet-untitled album were recorded in December at Ardent Studios in Memphis (famous for legendary recordings such as Led Zeppelin III, Cat Power and many others), with additional recording at The Funeral Home in West Louisville.

“Each one is different,” Carney says. “We’re all too short-attention-spanned or too easily bored to do things any one particular way.”

“The thing I love about this record is that we’ll take something obvious and exploit it, or go in the complete opposite direction,” says Ratterman, who contemplated moving to Austin before Carney came along. “I pulled up the faders on Black and Endless Night and said, ‘This is it.’” —M.H.

MC: Villebillies

When did you first start buying records, tapes, etc.?
My parents bought my first record, the Fat Boys 45. It had “Wipeout,” and I don’t remember what was on the other side. By the time I got old enough to buy my own stuff, I was heavy into Nirvana. My older sister put me onto a lot of underground stuff, listening to Fugazi, Tortoise and 5ive Style. I had friends that were listening to Wu-Tang and A Tribe Called Quest. That’s where I got into the rap thing: Tribe, Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang. I started getting into the Southern rap, though — UGK, Outkast, E-40.


When did you first start rhyming?
I first started out trying to mimic the Wu-Tang style, but I knew I was from Kentucky, and I made no bones about it. There were some country references in the early stuff, which sucks. I’m not gonna lie to you. Right about the time that the Villebillies were getting together, I was kind of sampling stuff on my own. When we first started getting together, we didn’t necessarily mean to mix up genres. I don’t think we thought about it. Later on, as we kind of got out there, people were telling us how we were mixing up styles.

Do you think the band confuses people, because you throw different styles at them?
It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, a lot of people who are open-minded musically, not necessarily purists to one genre, like the fact that it’s a mix. The people who are genre-oriented get spooked by us and don’t know how to take it. As far as, like, radio play, it’s been really hard for us. We don’t have one song that really fits into a radio category.

What was it like the first time you heard yourself recorded?

Like a needle stuck in my eye. ‘I don’t sound like that. No way!’ It was really rough. After doing it for about a year or so, I got used to the sound of my own voice, got a little better delivery. In the early days, when I rapped, I didn’t want it to sound like my speaking voice. (Now) I don’t have to betray my own voice, I can use the good parts of it and mold and shape it a little better.

What effect has the departure of fellow emcee 2-B had on the band?

On a personal level, you know, he’s a friend of ours, and I still consider him a friend. As far as a working level, there’s not that much different (about the band now). There’re so many creative and talented people.

Do you think people, in and outside of the music industry, look down on Southern rap and hip hop?
People on the business (side) of the industry don’t at all. There’s an element to Southern rap that’s very ignorant. Some of it’s just plain stupid. A lot of MCs from New York used to make fun of it. Now, you’ll hear a lot of them doing it. If your music’s good, people look past the Southern thing.

Have you guys experienced that kind of stereotyping firsthand?

Plenty. But when we get on stage, and we do our thing, they (the audience) understand what it is. We still get drunk, but as we play over and over and over again, we’re starting to understand what it takes to do it night after night after night. —M.H.


What are you doing this weekend?

Expo Five

Expo Five

Well, contrary to what a handful of jaded ex-scenesters have to say, there are still plenty of great places to see live music in the city of Louisville. Admittedly, things just aren’t the same since the Zodiac Club disappeared, Pandemonium became Book & Music Exchange and The BRYCC House became Buffalo Wild Wings.
But, like a hydra, where one local music venue falters, two more spring up, and our fair city is packed to the gills with places to catch musicians performing in their native habitats. And, like people, these venues come with their own unique, charming personalities.

At the large end of the spectrum, the Palace Theatre (625 S. Fourth St., 583-4555), the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 562-0100) and Louisville Gardens (525 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., 574-0086), all located within a few blocks of one another in the heart of downtown, are the places to go. In the mid-sized club range, Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) plays host to all sorts of local bands and cool national acts like Kings of Leon, Frank Black, Son Volt and Patton Oswalt’s “Comedians of Comedy Tour.” The 930 Building (930 Mary St.) is a more recent addition. Located in Sojourn Community Church, The 930 includes an art gallery and a fine listening room that has featured acts such as California Guitar Trio, Vandeveer and Neva Goeffrey, as well as experimental rock groups like Foxhole and Questions in Dialect.

The smaller, more intimate music venues in Louisville are ever-changing and practically innumerable. There’s the historically significant Rudyard Kipling (422 W. Oak St., 636-1311). The Rud’s been around forever, playing host to early My Morning Jacket performances and Fire the Saddle’s last show, as well as Joe Manning, Lucky Pineapple and many, many more.

Additionally, there’s Uncle Pleasant’s (2126 S. Preston St., 634-4147), Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge (1004 E. Oak St., 637-9315), Pour Haus (1481 S. Shelby St., 637-9611) and The Monkey Wrench (1025 Barret Ave., 582-2433), which are fairly straightforward bars/DJ joints and rock clubs that follow the good-brews-good-friends-good-tunes-good-times formula: foolproof and fun. There’s also Air Devil’s Inn (2802 Taylorsville Road, 454-4443), home to Harley riders and honky-tonk shows with lots of old airplane memorabilia everywhere.

Continuing, and expanding, on the great tradition of jazz clubs like Syl’s Lounge and Joe’s Palm Room is The Jazz Factory (815 W. Market St., 992-3242). Started by Ken Shapero and Dianne Aprile, The Jazz Factory has been nonsmoking from day one. Its reputation for stirring live performances is solidified by the practitioners, young and old, classic and progressive, who come to town: Names like Mose Allison, Larry Coryell, Doug Wamble, Bennett Higgins, Wallace Roney and Jamey Aebersold — and events like the Late Night Salon series, which just celebrated its first year — make the Factory special.

Phoenix Hill Tavern (644 Baxter Ave., 589-4957) is another place with an interesting past. Just drop by and check out all the cool stuff on the walls. It also, like the whole O’Malley’s Corner compound (133 W. Liberty St., 589-3866), has the unique distinction of being a live music venue/dance club, sometimes at the same time in two different rooms.

For a more sophisticated and intimate evening, Jenicca’s Café & Wine Bar (636 E. Market St., 587-8720) displays local art and plays host to the Uncorked singer-songwriter showcase, among other events. Keswick Democratic Club (1127 Logan St., 637-9639) and Third Street Dive (440 S. Third St., 636-2511) specialize in punk and hardcore shows. Third Street Dive is also notable for its name, which  lampoons Fourth Street Live!, where you can see acts like Collective Soul, The Violent Femmes and oodles of country stars under the atrium.

Outside of this core group, a number of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and other sorts of places double as music venues when the notion strikes them. Additionally, some Wick’s Pizza locations and even Qdoba and Starbucks have shows on occasion. That is not to mention ear X-Tacy (1589 Bardstown Road, 452-1799), which brings in all sorts of acts, touring and local, for in-store performances that are always free. Pete Yorn and Rhett Miller have played there. So have the Foo Fighters.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. The surface has been scratched, and now it is your job, faithful reader, to go out and see live music in one capacity or another. And that’s a good thing.

Contact the writer at
[email protected]

President: Label X

Before you ran Label X, you were a member of the group Domani, which was signed to MCA. What did that experience teach you about the music business?
The whole major-label deal thing was an invaluable experience, in that I got to see firsthand how the industry works from the artist side of the deal — and it ain’t pretty. It’s not that our label treated us badly per se, it’s just the traditional major-label model in general, and how it’s so weighted in favor of the label. It’s more like indentured servitude than a creative partnership. I think that experience planted some seeds that germinated beneath the surface for a while, and came to fruition when I began to think about Label X.

How did you become involved in Label X?
After Domani, I played in a couple other bands, including an early incarnation of Edenstreet, which eventually signed with RCA, and Union Tree, which was a band with John Bajandas (from Domani), and his wife Natalie on vocals. But the whole time I was drifting more and more toward producing, and after Union Tree I went full time as a producer.

I was a producer for hire for several years just working on whatever hired me. But then Napster yanked the rug out from under the major-label model and infrastructure. At this point, it seemed to make sense to invest in an artist and develop them in return for a back-end interest in their career, rather than just, you know, pay me my production fee and I’m out. I signed a production deal with Digby, and this was really the beginning of Label X as we know it.

That was five years ago. After Digby I signed the Muckrakers, and like-minded individuals began to rally around the mission. Before I knew it, I had an office and a small staff, and we were off to the races.

What is the label’s philosophy?
I think this gets back to my background as an artist: I wanted there to be a company that could partner with an artist to reach a common goal; I wanted to create an environment where the interests of the artist and the interests of the company were aligned as much as possible, to create a healthy working relationship instead of this dynamic where all the power is on one side of the table.

Our motto is sort of, “We sweat together, we score together,” which is admittedly a bit romantic, and maybe the traditional business model would say a business can’t work that way. But why not? A successful artist generates plenty of money to go around. Maybe we make less profit in the short run, but I think this approach may actually be more profitable in the long run (time will tell). We are striving to build long-term relationships with our artists, where everyone wins over and over again. If our artists are satisfied, they won’t need to go anywhere else, and they won’t be suing us to get out of their contracts.

As a producer, what is it that you strive to accomplish on every project?

I strive to get into the 90s (percentile of satisfaction), knowing I will never hit 100 percent, no matter how much time or money I have to spend. If I can make it into the 90s, I can let it go.

I strive to create the best possible presentation of the artist at that particular point in their career. I strive to translate and represent and enhance the artist’s vision faithfully, and to leave as little of my own footprint as possible.

I strive to make a record that is inspiring, like all the records that inspire me. I strive to make a record that will be relevant 10, 20, 100 years from now. I strive to make a record that justifies its place in the world and in the catalog of our distributor, a record that leaves some positive mark on the world rather than just adding to the noise and glut of product out there.

But mostly I strive for excellence on every level: in the material, the performances, the arrangements, the tones of the instruments, the mix, the mastering, the artwork. If I get into the 90s on each of those levels, I have done my job well, and I get a hearty sense of satisfaction.

Does Label X feel the effects of the Internet on the way it chooses to market and release albums? What do the decline in CD sales and the rise in technology mean for Label X, and labels in general?

These are big questions. The biggest of the big, really. Does LX feel the effects of the Internet on the way it markets and releases albums? Absolutely, in a good way. The changes in consumer paradigms brought on by the Internet have leveled the playing field and made it possible for a Label X to exist. Ten years ago, the major label stranglehold was so strong that it was virtually impossible to penetrate. These days, it’s a little more like what it should be, like it was in the old days. You still need four things: a solid artist, knowledge, connections and some money to promote. But if you have those things, you can elbow your way in, and you’ll be all right.

The Internet has become a primary marketing and retail vehicle. We still do all the traditional stuff obviously; e.g., touring, radio, press, etc. But the truth is that a favorable mention on a cool blog is arguably more influential than a review in Rolling Stone. I’m oversimplifying, but mass media, major labels, big corporations — they are all lumped together and seen as a big, evil machine by the kids. Anything that comes from the top down has zero cred. Napster is really what set that cataclysmic shift into motion. The machine really did itself in by not respecting the intelligence of the consumer. At the end of the day, we don’t care if it’s a physical album or a download; we still make money on the transaction.

Next two questions — thoughts about decline in CD sales and effect technology is having — what does this mean for LX and labels in general? The days of the CD are numbered. It’s not dead yet, but at this point, I don’t think anyone could say it’s not dying. I don’t want to say too much about what this means for LX or labels in general, but suffice to say, labels must adapt or die. Hey, just like the dinosaurs! —M.H.

Owner: Terry Harper Presents

Appropriately enough, Terry Harper runs Terry Harper Presents, a Louisville-based concert promotions company. From black metal bands like Goatwhore to hardcore acts like Poison the Well to hip-hop performers like Insane Clown Posse and everything in between, Harper brings a decidedly non-mainstream stripe of touring musicians to town, filling a somewhat underserved niche. On the horizon: a stop on the “Sounds from the Underground” tour at Waverly Hills featuring special guest Lamb of God on Aug 11. The 22-year-old DeSales High grad describes himself as a huge nerd who plays drums and loves sports, traveling and watching “The Simpsons” and WWE.

How did you get started in the concert promotions biz?
The first band I was in (SEN) played out every weekend. Sometimes two or three times a night. Literally. I booked us so many times that other local bands just asked me to start helping them with getting their own gigs. One thing led to another, then touring bands started e-mailing me. Agents, managers and labels are like sharks — once they see a new promoter in town, it’s like blood being drawn, and they all attack at once. The rest is history. It just kind of took off and eventually expanded and rose to another level. I was fortunate enough to make two friends — Billy Hardison (of Production Simple) and Bill Barriger who took me under their wings and let me work for them at Spotlight Productions and took my bookings to a whole new level. I found something that I enjoyed and was good at, so I have stuck with it for about seven years now.

Why enter this business? Is it harder than you thought it would be?
I wanted to start booking shows because I enjoy being around music 24/7, and also being behind the scenes of how everything comes together. I like to bring artists to town that everyone wants to see, and, of course, some of my own favorites! Yes, it’s harder than you think. People always say they would kill to have my job, but believe me, the patience you need, stress you receive and some of the cutthroat scenarios you end up in takes a special kind of person. It also takes away from your personal life. I’m constantly working. I never stop. I have lost and missed out on tons of stuff with my friends and family. I feel like my life is like “Groundhog Day.” I keep waking up and driving to the next venue for load in.

Are there any special challenges in getting bands to play Louisville? Anybody ever say, “We won’t play Louisville”?

I’ve never really had anyone plain-out said they wouldn’t play Louisville. But for the most part, the reason why some of the bigger acts might stay away from the market is because they realize people will drive to Indianapolis, Nashville or Cincinnati. Louisville is kind of just in the middle, and the bands can get bigger offers in the “A” markets.

What kind of acts do you try to bring?
I try to stick with anything rock-related: (I’d) rather it be metal, hardcore and alternative. I try to bring in the acts that are hot, (whom) people want to see, and of course, the artists people say would never come here.

Contact the writer at [email protected]