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The Deli KC

Behind the Board: Justin Mantooth at Westend Recording Studios

(Photos by Todd Zimmer)
Everywhere you turn, another local band is releasing another recording. In 2013 alone, the KC/Lawrence area has seen over 200 mostly indie album releases; that doesn’t even include singles, and who knows how much more is out there that we just don’t know about yet.
Technology is becoming more accessible than it used to be, and the music industry has transformed. It used to be that an independent band could subsist without a “professional” recording, because many of them simply couldn’t afford it. Demo tapes were typically acceptable at one point. It didn’t matter how tinny or trash-canny your demo was; if you were trying to book a show, the promoter just wanted to know what you sounded like. Being able to record in a studio was reserved for bands with a little more clout, or scratch.
Today, the music world has succumbed to the culture of convenience, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. One of the first things any emerging local band is asked is, “When are you guys gonna record an album?” The advent of home recording has afforded thousands of musicians the luxury of spending less money and, in many cases, ending up with a recording that sounds fairly professional.
But that begs the question: how have our professional recording studios been affected?
“Ten to fifteen years ago, everyone was using the studio to record,” remarks Justin Mantooth, engineer/producer at Westend Recording Studios. Now, so many musicians are turning to home studios to cut costs, but Mantooth explains that professional studio costs have decreased as a result, and gear is still expensive. There has been a steady and distinct decline in the use of professional studios, especially in smaller cities like Kansas City.
Westend celebrated its 25-year anniversary back in September, and still remains one of the premier recording spots in the Kansas City area. Owner Mike Miller and his experienced team boast an impressive collection of classic vintage recording equipment, all of which Miller maintains and modifies.
"Having Mike as the owner is ideal,” says Mantooth. "He has put in a lifetime of work building and restoring a huge collection of very choice equipment. I've worked in many studios in different cities, and you’d be surprised how many studios have half-broken gear. At Westend, I can patch into vintage equipment older than me and know it's going to work.”
Westend’s engineer is no slouch himself. A Kansas City native, Mantooth moved back just a few months ago to take this job. “I had my own studio in New York (Audio Parlour Brooklyn), but I thought this would be a great opportunity for me and for the KC music community. Everyone here is highly invested in doing things right.”
Mantooth notes that he’s been obsessed with recording since he was just 11 years old. He grew up near the original Midwestern Musical Co location. “Matt [Kesler] and Jim [Strahm] would give us half-broken things and we’d fix them. I understood what the good stuff was even then. I tried to buy a crappy PA for my band when I was 12, and they wouldn’t let me.” He saved up his money and bought a Tascam four-track tape recorder at the age of 13. He became an intern at Chapman Recording right out of high school, eventually being hired as an assistant and engineer. He later did freelance engineering for Westend before moving to New York in 2008, where he began working at Translator Audio.
In his opinion, the music scene and talent in Kansas City has grown exponentially in the five years he’s been away. But so has the advent of the home studio, which ranges from producers who have high-end microphones, soundproof rooms, and actual recording equipment to those with nothing but a microphone, a keyboard, and a song. Though home recording has obvious benefits and accessibility, Mantooth stresses that there’s nothing that compares to recording in a professional studio with well-built and maintained equipment.
“Sounds are recreated in a home studio, and you lose something with that,” he says. Westend is also one of the only local studios to actively record to analog tape, which Mantooth declares is a dying art. “Tape has a fidelity you just don't get with digital equipment. It sounds like the records you love. Whether we’re tracking to our vintage MCI JH24 2" 24-track machine or bouncing down mixes to our MCI JH110C 1/4" 2-track, our machines are maintained and ready to go. I think, once a young band gets a taste of recording to tape, they will surely hear the difference.” 
Westend provides artists an environment in which they can feel comfortable and creative, with a spectrum of sounds and options to choose from, dialed in by an experienced engineer on solid equipment. “We have old gear with a lot of mojo,” Mantooth mentions. And he, along with Miller and mastering guru Mike Nolte (Eureka Mastering), are dedicated to helping create a superior-sounding product.
“I hope that the community will continue to support this. We live in a throw-away culture; let’s make something that will last forever. Kansas City deserves this.”
Visit Westend’s web site at this link to find out more about rates and recording options, as well as samples of bands the studio has recorded. You can check out Justin's web site for more info at www.justinmantooth.com.

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also plays drums Drew Black & Dirty Electric and bass in Dolls on Fire and The Philistines. She will be bothering a lot of people to come to Apocalypse Meow 6 next Friday and Saturday. It's gonna be pretty rad.

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Album review: Midwestern Audio, Vol. 2 - Electric Hullabaloo

(Photos by Todd Zimmer)
Love letters are funny things. The communique between two besotted people is such a private thing. Midwest Music Foundation has taken to writing very public love letters the last few years. The most recent being the release of Midwestern Audio: Volume 2: Electric Hullabaloo. The sampling of Kansas City music covers many genres and shares the talent and passion of Kansas City area musicians with fans and the uninitiated alike. Electric Hullabaloo kicks off with the catchy pop of Rev Gusto’s (pictured below) “Boys Are at it Again” and moves slowly into more straight forward rock and roll via Sons of Great Dane’s “Approximately 18th St.” The first three songs are rounded out by all-out-bare-knuckles-rock-and-roll with Cherokee Rock Rifle’s “Six to Midnight.” The initial offering is finished off by the fourth track, “Divorce Sea,” from Lawrence-based distorted punk-laced garage rock band Bloodbirds.
Lest the listener think pop and rock are the extent of the musical offerings in Kansas City, Electric Hullabaloo gives you musical whiplash by offering the sonic stylings of “Animate” by Middle Twin. The electronic indie band flawlessly flows into Heartscape Landbreak’s “God Money Problems’” fuzzy guitars, melodic lyrics, and speech sampling. Victor & Penny’s early twentieth-century rock and roll pulls you into each punctuated note on “Rickshaw Chase” and segues into the next chapter of the record.
This love letter has something for everyone, no matter your “type.” Dead Voices carry on the tradition of sad songs in happy keys as they bounce along through “Trust of a Fool.” Olassa delivers “Podner” with a deceptively slow start and then hits their indie folk groove with staccato guitar and subdued harmony. The mood mellows with The Silver Maggies’ “Slow Poke” and its smoky, gravel-laden vocals and keening harmonica.
Midwestern Audio’s compiler and mastermind, Brenton Cook, picks up the pace with Betse Ellis’s fiery fiddle in “Long Time to Get There.” The happy vibe of Metatone’s “Dark Empress” pulses with African-influenced beats and a nearly monotone lead vocal that clashes in the best way with the peppy popsplosion pulsing behind it. Spirit is the Spirit (pictured at top of article) follows with a throbbing beat, the distorted remnants of 60’s television science reporting, and angelic moaning in “I Believe That We Will Win.”
Margo May appears next as a counterpoint to the multi-faceted Metatone and Spirit is the Spirit tracks. Chanelling Lisa Loeb’s Firecracker, May offers a simple acoustic guitar and a broken heart’s lament. “Close the Door” spills into “Broken Wing” by Sam Billen, maintaining a similar tone and emotional state. Billen’s is a song you would like to put on at the end of the day to ease your transition home. Like a sonic bucket of water thrown on your sleeping ears, Drew Black & Dirty Electric pounce on you with “Love & A Riot.” The driving rock and roll beat and theatrical saucy spoken word “I love you. Let’s riot,” is reminiscent of Rocky Horror Picture show. Six Percent’s “Live Out Loud” is evocative of early Green Day, if Green Day had a horn section. Pounding drums and slamming vocals urge listeners to stand up and listen.
Heartfelt Anarchy’s “Funk” opens with horns in a dramatically different sound from the way Six Percent blasted them. Undulating horns flow under Les Izmore’s lyrics and the song exits on shimmering tambourine and harmonica. The experimental music of Various Blonde’s “Blind Samurai” sounds, oddly enough, like The Kinky Wizards in High Fidelity (which is really Royal Trux “The Inside Game”). You just can’t stop listening to the guitar riffs and space sounds twisted all around a manic beat. Furthering your trip down the rabbit hole of experimental music, David Hasselhoff on Acid rides into your eardrums on a wave of weedling guitars and in-your-face drums. Bowing in and out of the speed and thrust of loud and high sounds and the simplicity of drums and guitar, “Breakfast” will either make you lose yours or ask for seconds. The farewell of this love letter from Kansas CIty music is Jorge Arana Trio (pictured below). The experimental noise-rock of “Catching Bullets with Your Teeth” dodges in and out of instrumental traffic to express a frantic conversation.
To us, from the Midwest Music Foundation and the musicians of Kansas City, this love letter expresses the passion of expression that must be released lest the heart of the musician explode. Enjoy.

 --Angela Lupton 

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Spotlight: Mike McCoy's 50th Birthday with Cher UK at Davey's Uptown, 10.4.13

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
We young pups could stand to learn a thing or two from Mike McCoy.
McCoy is best known as the man behind Cher UK, a band that has been around in various arrangements and cities along the way. Originating in KC in 1989 with Mark Reynolds and Jeff Nichols, Cher UK has undergone several incarnations throughout the years, with McCoy as the only constant—even geographically. In addition, he’s had his hand in other projects here and in his current home of Austin, where he moved in 1998. Among them, The Service Industry, The American People, Wood Roses, Black Rabbits, and Yard Pups.
Throughout his years in his different projects, he has accumulated a smorgasbord of talented players in Kansas City straight down the I-35 corridor to Austin. In fact, he started the North vs. South Music Festival with Baby Grant Johnson in 2003, which brought bands from KC, Austin, Minneapolis, and surrounding areas to collectively display their musical abilities in one place—for the common goal of appreciating of music.
“I am a very fortunate man to have known all these players all these years. The list is long and the people on that list know who they are and why they play music in the first place,” says McCoy. This Friday, he’ll join some of these longtime KC musicians at Davey’s Uptown to play newer tunes and old favorites from the Cher UK catalog. The lineup will include Lyle Wells on guitar, Bernie Dugan on drums, and Jason Beers on bass.
Cher UK reunited at Middle of the Map Fest 2012 and has played a small handful of shows since. Friday’s show will be a special one: McCoy makes his way to the half-century mark.
His thoughts on the big shindig?
“Sometimes you have to go ahead and live in the self enough to fabricate good times with people you love from your history, musically or otherwise. It is indulgent, but it's also not a fucking sport.” To McCoy, performing his songs with friends in front of loved ones and supportive fans has become an integral part of his being. “Though I have intentionally made my life to be a slave to this idea, it also has given me more fulfillment than any one man has a right to. I am a spoiled white American male who depends on his friends' happiness in order to see balance in the world.”
After this symbolic coming of age, McCoy will be working on his first solo record at Sparta Sound in Minnesota with friend Rich Mattson. The studio is in Mattson’s house, a renovated small-town church. “It will be a completely different recording for me, but the lyrical content will be my best so far, appropriately,” remarks McCoy.
The songwriter looks forward to heading back to see old friends. And being a veteran of both the KC and Austin music scenes has given McCoy some perspective on why he’s moved on and what he’s left behind.
“For me, [Austin] is the perfect place to write songs as we get further and further from the ‘good old days’ here. My favorite thing about Austin is its ability to complain about itself and then sit smugly in its own greatness and ballsy creativity,” quips McCoy. “But I need the aural consideration of a town so helplessly out of control and self-indulgent. Austin is the place for that. I need the confusion, I guess.”
But seeing the music community in KC grow over the years has also provided him with valuable insight. “The KC scene is unique and more well-rounded than most scenes. It's insulated at times, but the growth there is surprisingly not marked with the stain of American groupthink that is so common in ultra-fashionable cities and overhyped festival towns.”
Most importantly, there seem to be no doubts in McCoy’s mind that he’s made some incredible musical moments because of the passion he's put forth and has gained from those around him. “It's time with good friends recreating songs that left some sort of mark on my life due to the people who have been kind enough to let me onstage with them, the people who came/come to the shows, the people who have sold the product, the owners of the clubs, the talent buyers in any given region, the production people, bartenders, door staff, sound engineers. Hell, it’s just people.”

Help toast McCoy as he celebrates his 50th on Friday, October 4 at Davey’s Uptown. Get there early for a song-filled evening: the show kicks off at 8 pm with Baby Grant Johnson, followed by Dolls on Fire, John Velghe and The Prodigal Sons, Drop A Grand, The Dead Girls, Cher UK, and Ernie Locke with Missouri Bultaco Association. Facebook event page. 

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also plays drums Drew Black & Dirty Electric and bass in Dolls on Fire and The Philistines. She likes to schedule naps in between her regular schedule whenever possible. There's no shame in that.

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Show preview: Midwestern Audio Vol. 2 CD Release Party

(Artwork by Sheppa)
Join Midwest Music Foundation for the release of the Midwestern Audio, Vol. 2: Electric Hullabaloo local music CD compilation series this Saturday, October 5, at recordBar. The lineup includes four local acts featured on the compilation: Jorge Arana Trio, Les Izmore (of Heartfelt Anarchy and Hearts of Darkness), Rev Gusto, and Spirit Is The Spirit.
Show starts at 9:45, 18+, $8, and entry gets you a free CD. Chipotle is also offering a BOGO burrito coupon to the first 100 people through the door.
On Sunday, October 7, the compilation will be available at http://music.midwestmusicfound.org. Volume 1 is currently available at that site for a pay-what-you-want download. All proceeds go to Midwest Music Foundation.

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Album review: Ha Ha Tonka - Lessons

Nothing is more exhilirating than the feelings that accompany the birth of autumn. The air turns crisp and the colors become more vibrant, indicating the end of pool parties and beginning of bonfires and pumpkin patches, but also the impending promise of winter's chill. It brings with it a mood that is at once galvanizing, uneasy, and contemplative. Ha Ha Tonka's latest LP Lessons—released on Bloodshot Records just in time for the changing of the season—provides the soundtrack to that atmosphere, presenting a majestic, warm sound with delicate undertones.
Ha Ha Tonka has come a long way since its previous release, 2011's Death of A Decade. The group has completed several US tours with the likes of Langhorne Slim, Murder By Death, Reverend Horton Heat, The Old 97s, and many more. Back in June, Tonka completed its second European tour (link to our article on the tour with drummer Lennon Bone) and has gotten a steady amount of buzz that’s only increased since the first track from Lessons, “Colorful Kids,” debuted back in July in Spin.
But most of all, Lessons represents the maturing sound of a band that has grown collectively as musicians and individually as men.
Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson, Lucas Long, and Lennon Bone have been making music together for nearly a decade—nine years to be exact (three of those years were spent under a different moniker; Ha Ha Tonka has been a band since 2007)— and Lessons is the culmination of their refined musical abilities and personalities. This is probably most evident in the title track, which eases in like that first slow, cathartic pull off a cigarette after a long, stress-filled day. The vocals build from a delicate chant (“I can’t keep learning the same lessons over again / I keep learning the same lessons over”) into a compelling drone, while Anderson’s electric guitar squeals over ambient effects. Roberts has fully embraced his capabilities as a charismatic but formidable frontman—he has a penchant for intermingling a gentle, doleful tone (“I try to kick so many habits that I hold / but they hold onto me even when I let go of them”) with a dynamic battle cry as the song reaches its apex (“My heart is hurting / I don’t know when to say when”), careening into the ghostly four-part-harmony mantra.
From lead-off track “Dead to the World,” it’s indisputable that Tonka has carved out a new path with this LP (which was inspired by the writings of Maurice Sendak). The track features Rob Moose (who has worked with artists including Paul McCartney, Rufus Wainwright, and The National) on strings, who creates a rich, opulent foundation that lingers until the final note of the album. Somehow, the band creates a colossal environment around the string arrangement, with Bone’s textural cymbal accents, Anderson’s mandolin riffs—which continually become a more crucial element of the band’s sound—and Long’s punctuated but fundamental bass lines.
From there, the album shifts seamlessly through heartfelt interludes and transitions. Ushered in by the forlorn thirty-second interlude “Synthetic Love,” “Arabella” features Anderson on lead vocals and represents the haunting, desperate purity of the band’s evolving songwriting style. It also demonstrates a respect the musicians have for their craft; they exercise self-restraint in the music without leaving out critical elements. They emphasize the strengths of each piece of each song and adorn them with nuances that sometimes may take a few listens to catch. But they are worth catching.
Make no mistake: though Tonka’s sound has become more refined, it is still steeped in the same Ozark tradition, charm, and authenticity that its fans appreciate. Produced by Dan Molad (Lucius) and The Ryantist (Antennas Up) with assistant engineer Jacob Goldman, it seems that Lessons was an opportunity for the band to experiment with methods it hadn’t before—methods that would enhance and cultivate its existing sound. For instance, in “Rewrite Our Lives,” the vocal harmonies were sung through a large kick drum, giving it an enormous, celestial presence; this is also Roberts’ most earnest and resolute vocal performance on the entire album. Bone pointed out in a previous interview with The Deli KC that “it’s still totally us, but it’s like the Tonka we’ve always wanted to be.”
At first blush, the ornate instrumentation and subtleties seem like an attempt toward a kinder, gentler, more radio-friendly Tonka. But with each listen, each member’s individual stories and characters unfold. And although it lacks some of the Southern rock grit that made Death of A Decade the success it was, Lessons more than makes up for it with a stronger sense of self-awareness and development. It tells a story that reads more fluidly and gracefully than any of Tonka’s previous efforts.
Tonight, you can catch Ha Ha Tonka in Columbia outside of Mojo’s at Forrest Rose Park with Amanda Shires and Man in the Ring. Show starts at 8:00 pm. Tomorrow, the band will travel to Lawrence to play The Bottleneck with Shires, Til Willis and Erratic Cowboy. Show starts at 9:00 pm. Facebook event page. You can see the rest of the tour schedule below.
Newly released video for “American Ambition,” an acoustic version performed by Brian Roberts:

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also plays drums Drew Black & Dirty Electric and bass in Dolls on Fire and The Philistines. Lennon Bone is her archdrumnemesis. He's winning that and their beard-off.

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