Ed Schrader has worked for years to establish his music, but that doesn't mean setting any kind of parameters for what his brand of humor-infused punk can be.
The namesake of the Baltimore-based duo Ed Schrader's Music Beat said penning goofy Christmas songs for the annual "Baltimas" collection put out by the arts collective Wham City recently reinvigorated his writing spirit. That coupled with a no-longer-closeted love of pop music has Schrader hinting that his next album might be "less Joy Division, more Bananarama meets Elvis Costello."
"Ed Schrader's Music Beat doesn't have to be a specific thing," he said. "We don't have to be a metal band. We don't have to be a jangle-pop band. We can be anything."
Schrader, who is originally from New Hartford, N.Y., has been playing live in various forms since 2006. He and Devlin Rice — as the duo Ed Schrader's Music Beat — released "Jazz Mind" in 2012. After stints in Europe, the duo is on a U.S. tour and playing a handful of shows opening for A Place to Bury Strangers, one of which is at Metro Gallery on Thursday.
Tours with headliners such as Strangers, Future Islands and Chain and the Gang have often come through friendships with those bands, but Schrader (who used to pen a column in b) said his band hardly gets any new followers by opening for other acts in America. Although he enjoys playing with friends, he said it's time for Ed Schrader's Music Beat to gain grass-roots support by headlining small shows on its own.
"A big artist just asked me to tour with him, who I really like and respect, but I had to say no because we've been doing that a little too much more than I wanted to," said Schrader, 36, declining to reveal the artist's name. "Opening for a big act in America is kind of like playing a Kinko's. It doesn't really help you."
This pattern doesn't hold true in Europe, where Schrader, whose last LP was 2014's "Party Jail," said his band began to develop a cult following about two years ago (and where Baltimore holds a sort of allure). Even though opening for acts in the States offers the immediate gratification of a paycheck, Schrader said, he prefers basement and garage shows where he can forge a relationship with an invested audience.
"I'd rather play for 150 kids that want to see me play than for 1,000 people that don't give a [expletive] what I'm doing," he said.
Baltimore's draw had its effect on Schrader, too. He moved to the city in 2006 after seeing Baltimorean and Wham City co-founder Dan Deacon perform to a tiny crowd in Buffalo, N.Y., like he had sold out Madison Square Garden.
"Wham City in general, it was the island of misfit toys," Schrader said. "They accepted me and that was so huge. If I didn't have that I'd probably be in a Built to Spill cover band in Buffalo, New York, right now."
The success of local acts such as Deacon and Future Islands inspires Schrader, and he sees his band as following in their footsteps — with much different music. Schrader, too, has found success, often in unexpected places — most recently, in a fanbase spawned from the song "Sermon" played on the cable network Adult Swim.
"You try everything, you know what I mean? For the greater part of the recession I've been on tour. Since 2006 is when I've been touring, and I probably picked the worst time to tour in the last 100 years besides the Great Depression," Schrader said.
Exposing himself to pockets of the local scene he is unfamiliar with — such as Baltimore's hip-hop and dance communities — as well as recent confrontations with mortality has familiarized Schrader with his limitations and encouraged him to break them. Aging, and the death of his father and stepfather within the past few years, made Schrader more comfortable embracing his likes and interests, he said, even if some circles regard his pop sensibilities as cheesy.
"Lately, I'm more apt to do what I want to do, and not be so concerned about impressing critics or impressing the noise dudes," he said.
Schrader isn't only trying to challenge himself musically; he's also working with two friends on pitching two cartoons to the Adult Swim network in which he writes and does the voices. Both involve imitating David Bowie. In one cartoon, the Starman is a morning rock-jock DJ alongside Rush Limbaugh.