Modernstate: 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.

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 standpoint 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.