After seven albums and nearly 15 years of leading the Baltimore alt-country act June Star, lead singer and songwriter Andrew Grimm finally sounds at ease about his band's place in the city's scene.
The six-piece has a small but loyal following, and can play its favorite venues regularly. Still, he will forever identify June Star as a group of "underdogs," a label he lists — with a wink — on the band's Facebook page.
"Saying we were 'under the radar' was self-deprecating, like a way to cope, but then it became a philosophy," Grimm said. "People hear us and say, 'You should play 9:30 Club!' And I say, 'It's funny, because I want to and I keep calling them but we never hear back."
That high-profile show could come one day, or it might not. Either way, Grimm, an English teacher at Sykesville's Century High School, won't lose sleep over it. He's happy playing his favorite, more low-key venues around town, including the Windup Space (where Grimm is the regular sound engineer) on Friday. Before the gig, Grimm spoke on June Star's latest album, January's "Slow Dance," the changing Baltimore scene and more.
We're coming to the end of the year. How would you describe June Star's 2012?
It was a year of stability. We had some good gigs. Things evened out in terms of our lineup. We put out a good album, and we didn't work too hard to promote it. It might have been the first year where I didn't look at what other people were doing and saying, "How do I get that gig?" ... We got more attention from some folks, not in the press world but in the music scene. Some people called us "alt-country royalty" at some point, and I said, "Really? I didn't know people were paying attention."
You stopped teaching to pursue music full-time. When was that?
That was 2010-2011. I've since resumed my teaching career [laughs]. That was a really great year. Steel player Dave Hadley and I toured a lot heavier than we had before. We met a lot of people. Networked a lot. I don't know if I got any songwriting done but when you're an independent musician, and you want to make it a career, you have to spend eight hours a day in front of a computer, trying to figure out how to convince someone to hand over $10, one at a time. Financially, it became a thing like, "I have to go back to school." I had blown through my money I had saved. But now I have income that I can spend on the recording process. I can make sure Dave Hadley still gets paid. He's full-time, and you don't want to piss off the pedal steel player.
What's your favorite venue to play in Baltimore?
My favorite venue for a showcase show is the Windup Space. It's the easiest to book. Russell [de Ocampo, owner] is a really great guy. He's always trying to help the bands. The space is good and the P.A. is good. They have good beer. People are going to go to that show to see a band play, since there's no TVs. And I'm not saying this just because I work there. [laughs]
Bertha's has been very fun. The self-loathing party-hard dudes and dudettes on a Friday or Saturday night in Fells Point tend to skip Bertha's, so I can get away with not having to deal with people asking for "Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews Band.
What's the biggest change you've noticed in Baltimore's alt-rock/country scene?
It used to seem like there was a core group of people — like four of five bands that either hung together or played shows together. Over the years, that's spread out and I don't think that's a bad thing. That's the big change I see. I see a lot of people going to the old-timey sound, the Mumford and Sons-type of thing. I'm also paying less attention over the years [laughs].
"Slow Dance" is a record that makes a listener want to grab a beer and start dancing. Where's your favorite place to do that in the city?
I don't really dance at all. I'm horribly challenged when it comes to dancing. I look like an emotionally stunted Bill Cosby when I dance, and he's more graceful than me. But I think the more fun shows are when people dance. I never thought of us a dance band, but the irony of "Slow Dance" is that the songs are very up-tempo. I wanted it to be a little more rock than the last album.
If you go
June Star performs Dec. 7 at the Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave in Station North. Brandon Butler will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Call 410-244-8855 or go to thewindupspace.com.