Any night of the week in St. Louis, it’s easy to venture out and find a cozy corner — or roaring bar — to take in the sounds of the city’s music scenes.
But only one day a year is it possible to witness an event like Lo-Fi Cherokee.
On Saturday, Cherokee Street will come to life for Lo-Fi, a unique annual music event that involves videography and the people and businesses of St. Louis. The music starts at 9 a.m. and runs until evening.
Eighteen bands and musical artists parade from shop to shop on Cherokee to create individual music videos, giving the musicians not only a platform for their music but also showcasing the best parts of the neighborhood.
About a month after this long but exciting day, Hydraulic Pictures hosts a video release party, a premiere of all the music videos shot during Lo-Fi.
With music and fun, this is an event that illustrates the best about the St. Louis community. In preparation for the event, The SouthSider had a chance to sit down with four bands and solo artists participating in the event to talk music, activism, and all things St. Louis.
St. Louis’s music history is decorated with some unforgettable musical veterans. Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, even Scott Joplin, whose song, “The Entertainer” was written and published in St. Louis.
For Nanyamka Ewing and Shawn Moses, two of the key members of the band Mammoth Piano, the music scene here is still very much alive and kicking.
Though they’ve gone through a few personnel changes, the band was conceived two years ago. Ewing sings, writes, and plays bass, while Moses handles lead guitar. Three more members — Casey Fulguhm (keys), Max Casilly (electric drums and synth), and Nick Wetzle (drums) — fill out the rest of the team.
Neither Ewing nor Moses have participated in Lo-Fi before, but they both expressed excitement at the prospect. It won’t be Ewing’s first trek along Cherokee Street, though. She’s previously hosted Spookapalooza, a music-fueled pub crawl in celebration of Halloween.
It’s what she likes about the St. Louis music scene, she said. “[Businesses] have been very open to letting me do more than just play a show. A lot of venues have let me put on a whole mini-music festival. … I love that openness about our scene and our community,” Ewing said.
Mammoth Piano’s style is eclectic, drawing from a combination of alternative blues, rock, pop, punk, and a little bit of funk, culminating in a collection of original songs that each sound distinct.
Of their style, Moses offered, ““I try not to categorize it… We’ve got a funky song, we’ve got a poppy song, we’ve got a blues song,” he said.
Ewing said that the music is only one part of the band’s focus, another portion being “brand. For her, this often means hosting events that incorporate music, whether it be a beach party-themed bash or a Roaring 20s street party, like the one coming up on April 20. It’s these kind of events that help get people excited about their music, she said.
“St. Louis is a growing city, in terms of the music scene,” added Moses. “It’s hard to get [music] to the general masses in the city. Obviously there’s a lot of good talent here, but it’s just [hard] to get that audience.”
Still, both Ewing and Moses feel optimistic about Mammoth Piano’s momentum. “We have a lot of different skills within our group,” said Ewing, “and we’re just trying to see if we can make a living just off of being artists.”
She said they’re getting closer to that goal every day. Both agreed that, for anyone hoping to make an impact in the St. Louis music community, the best piece of advice was, “Don’t stop” and that it was important to get actively involved.
“If you believe in yourself enough,” added Ewing, “everybody else is going to believe in you.”
What is the purpose of music? It depends on who you ask.
In musical theater, a song is sung only when spoken word isn’t bold enough to fully express a character’s sentiment. For some, music is a relaxing activity, for others the impetus for a crazy night out, and still others who claim not to enjoy music at all.
But for the members of the band Sorry Scout, music is a way to get active. Politically active, that is.
They characterize the style of their music as rather malleable — spanning Americana and indie rock with some definite punk influences and a little post-rock abstract elements that reflect a combination of the four band members’ individual musical tastes.
Lyrically, their songs tell a story of resistance. “There’s a lot of addressing police accountability and brutality, as well as the ugly underbelly of a lot of social scenes where, unfortunately, sexual assault runs quite rampant,” explained Randi Whitaker, the band’s lead vocalist. “And I feel like all of these things have affected us personally in some way.”
Drummer Zack Schultz noted, “What I really like, though, is that we still have songs that are about love. I think that’s really important, too, that we’re not just like, ‘Fight the system 100%!’ … It has to come from a place of love and compassion, too.”
Both see art as an important tool in the fight for justice. “Art has always, always existed to rub against the grain,” Whitaker pointed out.
Schultz added that the role of art has always been to understand and express personal experience. “Art, just beyond just music, is people’s way of expressing their experiences and feelings about the situations they’re in, and using art to accentuate what’s most important, to accentuate the issue, to accentuate the pain, to accentuate the experience. Even look at something like ‘SNL,’ I mean, that’s art, the way that they are choosing to represent the political systems… to call out its absurdity at times.”
The band got its start when Whitaker met guitarist Nate Jones and the two started playing together in Whitaker’s basement, later adding Schultz on drums and Dave Anson on the bass.
They say the St. Louis music community has been a welcoming one and they have had the opportunity to play with other local bands who also count activism as an important part of their music.
But when asked about advice they would offer to other musicians, Whitaker’s suggestion was purely apolitical: “Always press record.”
For musician Mother Stutter, music has been a true do-it-yourself affair.
The local artist, who identifies as a non-binary woman and prefers “they/them” pronouns, has lived in St. Louis their whole life, including attending high school and college in the region.
“I love how talented this city is,” they gushed in an interview last week.
Mother’s original career aspirations were theatrical, with the goal to be a musical theater performer. But they grew frustrated at not seeing their own experiences accurately depicted in music.
“At some point, I sort of got tired of other people telling the story of feminine identity,” they said. “It sort of felt like I had a lot of people writing the words from what should be my perspective but wasn’t really what I was going through. So I started writing.”
They credit the resources of the St. Louis Public Library with their growth as a musical artist, including using the library’s free online courses to learn to play piano. And it isn’t the only self-taught skill Mother Stutter has.
“I have impulse-control issues,” they confessed. “I do it with everything. A few years ago, I started teaching myself to paint, and now that’s essentially how I make a living.”
As for music style, Mother Stutter draws influences from artists like Carole King, Nina Simone, and St. Vincent.
“I consider what I do to be indie art rock,” they said. “I sing and write my own music but I like to experiment a lot with what I’m doing. I had a formal education in music but over time, when I gave up music for acting, I sort of got less acquainted with it, so I test the boundaries of it now.”
Mother Stutter has been performing in the St. Louis music scene for a few years now and says they’re grateful for the encouragement they’ve gotten over the years.
“There are people who definitely supported me when what I was doing was very unimpressive,” they said. “When you have that sort of support, you’re more encouraged to write until it’s something that you’re proud of, or play piano until it’s something that you’re proud of.”
They said that budding musicians should look for that same supportive energy. “Don’t worry about other people’s limitations,” they added.
Soufside Jerei claims music as a turning point for himself.
Growing up on the south side of St. Louis, Jerei, short for “Jeremiah” but pronounced like “Jerry,” remembers listening to music with his mom as she dropped him off for school. He also studied the violin in elementary school and the trumpet as a middle and high schooler. It wasn’t until college that he discovered a love of writing that turned into rap.
“College kind of took me on a different course,” he says. “I felt the only thing that helped me get out of the little funky space I was in was writing and it kind of turned into poetry and lyrics.”
After changing his major four times, Jerei came back to the south side and rebranded himself as Soufside Jerei, collaborating with artists in St. Louis to put his music out into the world. He describes his style as having something of a “stoner vibe,” drawing on his own personal experience and feelings to create lyrics that feel, as he puts it, “genuine.”
This year Jerei will be the only rap-based musical act taking part in Lo-Fi Cherokee, and it will be the first time he’s participated in an event of this kind, though he has released other music videos on his own. One video, “Livin,” features local musician Mateyo and was released on 314 day.
As a musician, he sees the city as a place of opportunity.
“There’s not a lot of shit coming out of St. Louis, so it’s kind of a toss up of, not exactly who can get out of St. Louis or who can blow up the fastest, but it can happen to anybody,” he says.
e also feels very welcome in the music community here.
“People got the wrong idea of St. Louis people,” he says. “We are pretty guarded, it’s a defensive persona, but it’s all love at the end of the day.”
For more about Lo-Fi, visit http://www.lofistl.com/about-lo-fi-cherokee.