Compelled to rock

Sam Schauer is a hard-working man. Between his pirate radio station, multiple bands and city-wide sound board duties, it leads one to wonder if Portland’s indie scene could get by without him. I somehow convinced him to sit still long enough to talk about the pirates, laptops and the difficult art of drumming and singing at the same time.

So Sam, do I look totally geeky wearing these headphones and microphone?

S: Yes.

OK, good, just checking. Can you tell me about the bands you’re in and what instruments you play in them, and I guess why you’re in so many bands?

S: Okay, I’m in three bands at the moment. The first among them is Modernstate, also known as Modernstate/Humans. You can just call it Humans, doesn’t really matter, it’s totally cool. In that band I play every possible instrument that I can, including drums, guitar, lap steel, glockenspiel, Casios, keyboards, Wurlitzer, piano and sing. And there’s other stuff probably too that I can’t remember.

The basic idea behind that band is never to use any pre-recorded samples because I think laptops are weak, and I think people who use laptops live as a crutch are really just poor musicians. Actually, that’s extra super harsh because a lot of people pull it off really well. But at the same time, I think it is a crutch and it can be done without it.

I’m not very good at being in bands with other people and that’s why I’m in a one-man band and I guess that’s what lap tops are good for. But, yeah, I mean everything I do, I do it live and you see it happen. I’m also in a band called …Worms.

And that’s with the pause, so the band’s name isn’t Worms, it’s "…Worms." In that band I’m playing drums with my old friend Matt the bassist from Dutch Flat. It’s fairly chaotic and weird and fun and loud and I get to do a lot of free jazz freakout drumming which is really fun for me, and I get to rock really hard. I’m also in a band called Something Fierce in which I’m playing lap steel and guitar and tambourine and doing back up four-part vocal harmonies with the main song writer and some other people.

There’s definitely going to be some Belle and Sebastian comparisons but we have way more soul than Belle and Sebastian ever had and we rock out. It’s good verse chorus verse pop songwriting and it’s real pretty.

And I’m in so many bands because, I don’t know why. I’m just compelled to rock.

So besides playing music, you also mix live sound for Holocene, Meow Meow and Nocturnal. You’ve being doing that for a while. Can you tell me about some the favorite musicians you’ve mixed for?

S: I don’t know, I’d say probably my favorite was Deerhoof at the Blackbird a few years ago. That was great. Least favorite is Michael Gira from the Swans cause he’s fucked in the head and I don’t blame him because people treat him like he’s a god. People idolize the man and freak out about him and tell him things like "I would have killed myself if it weren’t for you. Thank you very much, can I have your children? Maybe we can go fuck now." and if I were him I would be completely fucked in the head. And he is fucked in the head, which is why he’s an asshole and why I couldn’t deal with him as a sound engineer.

What about local bands, is there a favorite local band you have as far as mixing?

S: There are so many good local bands.

I really like mixing the Fourth. They’re a lot of fun, too. Talkdemonic is also really good and I know him really well.

Do you feel like Talkdemonic fits into that category of using a laptop as a crutch, or is he exempt?

S: I think he definitely did and still does at times, but I also think he branches out more than most musicians do, especially with the addition of Lisa on Viola.

Yeah that’s a nice addition. What about the pirate radio station, can you talk about that at all or is anonymity best?

S: We can talk about it, what would you like to know?

Well if I remember correctly, you kind of started it and it was really your baby and now it’s turned into this huge thing and I was wondering if you could maybe tell me about it.

S: I don’t know if it’s huge cause I don’t think anyone listens (laughs). But it’s cool, I guess. Kevin (Talkdemonic) was really the impetus behind starting it in the sense that he’s the one who procured the gear.

You guys did a benefit as well, right, a couple of them?

S: Yeah this is gear that we procured from an unknown college radio station which is how it started and I was the guardian of that gear while Kevin was gone for a few years and actually hooked it up and made it happen. And brought the gear to Portland when I moved here and so I’d say we actually share equal responsibility in making it happen. Without our good friend Gus, who has tech expertise, none of it would’ve really happened. So I’d say motivation and technical expertise in equal amounts actually got it moving, and now it’s self-supporting and it just sort of goes.

Do you think that it will keep growing? Do you feel like it will get more listeners and that it will last for a while?

S: Until we get arrested!

I Know that when you originally started you were maybe more sensitive to public awareness, like you wanted a level of secrecy. But I’ve noticed recently that it’s common knowledge who’s involved. Do you feel at all paranoid about being caught, and if so does it concern you or is it more like a joke?

S: I’m not too concerned about it now because I’ve studied the history of the FCC in the last five years and they generally don’t just show up and arrest you. They show up and warn you. And one, we know when they’re going to show up, and two, they’ll warn us when they do. So I think it’ll be OK. Anonymity would be great, but we also want listeners, so I guess it’s worth it.

Let’s talk about the label you’re on, Lucky Madison.

S: The label started with Kevin’s neighbor who lives on Madison Street and also went to college in Madison, Wisconsin. He put out a Roulettes record just on a whim because he didn’t really know what he was doing. He was like ‘Oh, I’ll put out your record because you’re also my neighbor’ and they broke up right away and that never really amounted to anything. But he was sort of ready to start the label, and then he put me out right after that as the second release and things just kind of snowballed form there.

You guys have four bands on it right now, right?

S: One more actually, there’s myself, Talkdemonic, the Fourth, Quiet Countries, the Snuggle-Ups, and Alan Singley just put out his new record, Audio Bicicleta, which is an amazing record.

Do you enjoy being on a small, local label? Is this something that you think you would do regardless of …

S: I think it’s beautiful from a community stand-point and I appreciate that about it more than I appreciate other things. I would like to have support when I tour and things like that that larger labels could afford me, but that’s not a reality for someone in my situation right now. It may happen.

Your first Modernstate album came out about a year ago, are you working on any new recordings right now or are you kind of busy with everything else?

S: I just put out a limited edition cassette single.

Oh the cassingle.

S: They’re all different and the art work is all done by me with a sharpie on cassette singles like Bad English, Tevin Campbell, I have a whole New Kids on the Block series that I’m pretty proud of.

Those are more collectible I’m assuming.

S: And they’re two new songs on which I’m playing drums and singing.

Is that difficult for you or does it come pretty naturally, playing drums and singing at the same time?

S: It’s hard. I have to practice a lot.

So what’s in your future, it sounds like things are going well for you, is there anything you want to do differently?

S: I want to tour! I want to tour and play good shows. I do all my own booking and I thinking seriously of biting the bullet and hiring someone to do it professionally. I can get a lot of good shows in a lot of nice places, but like not L.A. or San Francisco, for example, where it’s hard to get a good show. And for me it’s not really worth going to places like those and playing to five people who don’t give a fuck about your band because they’re waiting for the stripper to come on after you. You know those kinds of shows are not that fun.

Maybe you could combine the strippers into your live performance.

S: I’m into it, I’m into it.