Since their debut full length, "We Live in Houses Made of Wood," came out in the summer of 2008, Baltimore folkies Small Sur have caused quite a buzz, earning reviews from blogs like Tiny Mix Tapes to the music gliteratti over at NPR.
Back from a cross-country tour and with their beautiful Daytrotter session recently posted, I talked to frontman Bob Keal about the Baltimore music scene ...
What are some of the best upcoming bands in Baltimore? Who have you been really into lately?
"Upcoming" is a tough word to pin down, but Ghost Life, an ever-changing ensemble led by Steve Santillian (formerly of More Dogs) and Wheatie Mattiasich, has to be my favorite newish band. I also really like what I've heard from Moss of Aura, and Lands & Peoples make some nice sounds. Geoff Grace from The Tall Grass also has a new band called The Dodgers that makes really fun tunes. (Full Disclosure: I play drums in this band, but I loved them long before I joined up!)
What are your favorite venues around town?
2640, The Windup Space, Hexagon, Charm City Art Space, and Sonar's club stage are a few licensed venues that come to mind.
Unfortunately, this all-to-brief answer leaves out the countless "illegal" venues found all over Baltimore that host incredible shows that many of the Midnight Sun's readers will never know about because of the live entertainment laws that exist in our city.
In my opinion, the political leaders and policy-makers should be ecstatic to not only embrace, but to emphasize and publicize, this amazing portion of our city's cultural landscape. However, as Sam has mentioned on this blog before, the Powers that Be are more interested in "looking for potential liquor/live entertainment license infringements" (his words) than showcasing the great music that's being made.
I'd probably have to say Lungfish at the 2005 Reverent Fog Festival. I had just moved to Baltimore a few months earlier and this was the first (and last) time I saw them play. I was in awe.
Favorite Baltimore album from the past few years?
Here are a handful in no particular order: Pontiak - Sun on Sun, Zomes - Zomes, Wye Oak (Monarch) - If Children, Video Hippos - Unbeast the Leash. There is also a Wheatie Mattiasich record that she made with Austin Stahl (drummer in Small Sur) in late '08 or early '09 that, unfortunately, may never be released. It is absolutely breathtaking and far too short. I'm anxiously awaiting more from her. In the meantime, you can hear a few of the songs from these sessions on her Myspace page.
Best part about the Baltimore music scene?
The best part about the Baltimore music scene that I know and love is that it manages to be surprisingly inclusive and welcoming to different types of musicians and performers while still maintaining a high level of quality in its releases and live shows. For the most part, shows aren't just thrown together, they're curated; and great albums by Baltimore musicians, regardless of genre, feed into, influence, and overlap with others.
(Photos by Shantel Mitchell)