Roo Yawitz believes that The Grove attracts a diverse group of people. So, it is only fitting that his venue The Gramophone hosts acts of various genres in order to satisfy this diverse group. He sat down with Eleven to talk The Grove, F5 Records and The Gramophone’s eclectic style.
What made you want to open up a venue in the Grove?
I had been coming down here for a couple years since the Atomic Cowboy moved down here from Maplewood and I could see, as there still are right now, there are a lot of available spaces. I looked at a couple different neighborhoods; I looked at the Loop, I looked at downtown, even as far as getting in buildings, looking in them, touring with landlords. I looked in Grand Center, actually in what ended up being the Creepy Crawl, which already, obviously opened and closed. That was the closest thing that was going to be the Gramophone. But, then when I found The Grove and a combination of liking this building and the neighborhood being really central and it just seemed like the momentum was going the right direction, which it still is, but obviously it has been a little bit stunted by the economy. In March of ’08, if you go back to the financial history of this recession, people really had no idea what was going on at the time, it was like “Oh I hear there is a problem in the housing market” back then. Obviously that has made things a little interesting. Businesses were opening at a pretty good pace in The Grove when we opened and then I think city wide the pace of businesses has slowed down, including in The Grove. We have more businesses now than we had when I opened, but the increase didn’t continue at the same rate that it was in ’08, but that’s the whole country. I really liked The Grove because I feel like what The Grove is going to end up is still kind of unknown. People come here to go out, a lot of different types of people feel comfortable in The Grove. You can get up here really fast from the south side or the county, or really from anywhere in St. Louis. It’s just an eclectic neighborhood, but I still feel like this is the before of The Grove, where it’s going to end up being a different thing and we will be what has been around before.
You work with F5 Records…
F5 Records is a Hip-Hop label and management company that was started by DJ Crucial, who is a friend of mine. I’ve been working with him on that and we’ve actually been around for 10 years, we had our 10 year anniversary party here. We are very project specific, F5 records is mostly projects that are between DJ Crucial producing and one artist rapping. He contributes beats to other projects like the Earthworms, and things like that, but the pace of F5 producing things is very sporadic. Like, we might put out three CD’s in a year, which we did in ’07 and we have only put out one CD since then. And we do some internet releases and stuff like that. It’s kind of a hobby, there is no full time F5 records office or anything like that. It’s just wherever we are right now, the next full length album is going to be the Black Spade album, which is Crucial with Black Spade. He does it as partnerships where he wants to work with an artist and he ends up making a lot of the beats. Black Spade is a producer also, so he also made some of the beats for this album that we are finishing up right now. But, we don’t have a big enough roster to have a release every year or anything like that.
Has your experience working with F5 influenced how you run The Gramophone?
I think so, in a couple ways. I am definitely more open to doing Hip-Hop shows here, because it’s people that I already knew as opposed to not knowing that scene at all, whether its DJ Needles throwing a night here, we’ve done CD release parties for Tef Poe, Vandalism, we have Family Affair this weekend. Those are guys mostly that I already knew just through working with F5 and then the other way that I would say is, I went out on the road as a DJ for a couple tours that we did with F5 and I’ve been on the other side . When we have a touring band needing a show in St. Louis, having been on the other side of that I think I treat bands differently because I’ve been the guy just trying to make gas money to get to the next town. I think that’s definitely had an effect on how we run things here. I try to make the place as artist friendly as possible.
You host a variety of music, what is the reasoning behind this?
I do 95 percent of the booking here and I like a lot of different styles of music. There are venues in St. Louis that specialize in a certain style of music. Like BB’s is obviously Blues, Cicero’s at times has focused on the Jam Band scene, and then Blueberry Hill is eclectic but its mostly Rock, that is kind of their thing, so I just felt like that there wasn’t a room this size that was really eclectic. Like this week, we had a Jam Band from Boston last night, we have Blues tonight, open mic night Wednesday, Thursday we were supposed to have country but the band actually cancelled, Friday is Troubadour Dali which is Indie Rock, and Saturday is Hip-Hop. If you just come here and you have no idea who is playing you really have no idea what you’re going to walk into. If people are up for seeing some great music that they don’t know about this is a great place to do it, but it definitely hurts us because if you like jam bands and you come to see a jam band on Friday and then you come back the next Friday hoping its going to be a jam band again, its not. I think in the last five years especially, now that you don’t have to have a physical music collection, people have really expanded the genres that they listen to. Before MP3’s took over the world you had to have an actual CD collection and it is probably going to be one or two genres. Now that it’s so easy to listen to music for free and then decide if you are going to buy it, I feel like nobody has an IPod now that just has Indie Rock or just has Rap or just has Blues. You put your IPod on shuffle and you’re going to get a different thing every song.
You have London calling, could you explain a little bit about that?
London Calling is twice a month, it’s an Indie Dance Party. The second one this month will be four years and they have had it at multiple different venues. They were looking to move from where they were, which was at Shock City Studios. They approached me in March about moving here in April and so we did that and this will be the ninth one. It’s a video dance party, so there are DJ’s spinning videos instead of music. They set up five projectors around the space, so there are two behind the stage, one on the gramophone wall and they actually put projectors on the front windows. We clear out all the furniture, its definitely a late night dance party, it doesn’t really get going until midnight and it’s a really fun crowd and people get really sweaty and dance around.
How do you choose what artists you want to play at the Gramophone?
At this point, being open as long as we have, I have a relationship with local bands that have played here and done well. So, I always kind of have them in mind for playing shows. Then there are the emails that come in unsolicited off the website that are just bands that are touring and want to stop in St. Louis and they probably just Google St. Louis music venues and email the top ten. And then there are booking agencies all over the country that I try to form relationships with so that when they have, what you would consider big ticket acts, they’ll send me an email and say “Hey I wanna bring John Mooney later this month.” He is a pretty well known guy, he very rarely leaves New Orleans and he was just on that HBO show Treme, so I got an email from his booking guy trying to get him to Kansas City from New Orleans. Instead of going through Tennessee, he would take the highway so he has to kind of come up to St. Louis anyway, so he’s stopping through on the way to a Blues festival in Kansas City. Those are the three different levels as far as where we get shows.
What kind of music do you personally enjoy listening to?
I listen to everything. I don’t have a giant music collection, but I use Pandora a lot which is great for discovering new music and I use Last also. At home I listen to a lot of Jazz, I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop, I listen to a lot of bands that are playing here. With the emails that come in off the website, just listening to bands that want to play here, it’s like never ending new music exposure. But then I also try to keep up on what’s on TMJ and who Paste is writing up and whose playing at Pitchfork and stuff like that. It’s almost like so much music that I don’t know what I listen to. But a lot of times I will definitely sit down and put on a Jazz record and just listen to that.
Do you have any future plans for the venue? Where would you like to see it in five years?
We are always working on the acoustics. With a space this size you can’t do everything you want to do, it’s like one project at a time and each project creates another project. We upgraded the sound system which has really gone well; the bands love the sound here. Some people think it’s too loud, but it just depends on the band. Now we are going through and trying to isolate where we have acoustic problems. For me, I would love to see the neighborhood build up around us so that we could have more walk up traffic, because we are a destination venue and in most cases people that walk in the door here it’s because they know who is playing that night, which is great because all the people that come in came to see that band, but there just isn’t that foot traffic factor. I would love to see the environment that the bar is in change, where some people open up businesses on this block. As far as the programming goes, just continue trying to bring in music that people want to see. We’re a place that’s small enough that we can work with a band that isn’t from here on actually building a St. Louis fan base, like breaking bands into the market. We’re not so big that you have to be able to draw 300 people to play here and we’ve had some success doing that with some touring bands. They came in one time and there were 15 people and the second time there was 25 and the third time there’s 45. The band that I am actually talking about is a great band from Austin called Uncle Lucius, they are one of our success stories. The last time they played here, it was a Tuesday and they drew almost 100 people, which for a Tuesday is really nice thing for a band, it’s not like there getting commercial radio play. I just want to keep showcasing good music of either new or established acts. Funk and soul, like retro soul, Daft Kings type vibe does really well here. That’s definitely one of the things that I like doing is having a full horn section on stage and singer doing old Motown, stuff like that. That kind of soul revival stuff does really well here so I try to do as much of that as possible. So five years I would just love to see us having a lot of great national acts as well as some great local acts depending on the night and just being able to look out the window and see a restaurant across the street and a record store next door and whose knows what else.