KEXP’s Sharlese Metcalf On Seattle Artists, Audioasis [INTERVIEW]
Although it may not have the same level of musical association as cities like Nashville and Austin, Seattle has a rich and varied history within the music industry and is particularly notable as the birthplace of grunge. In this interview, KEXP host Sharlese Metcalf weighs in on local artists the state of the scene in the Pacific Northwest.
Guest Post by Nicole Pompei on PledgeMusic
When considering America’s major music cities, one automatically thinks Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, and Austin. What about all of the other places? Thriving music and arts communities are nestled all over the country and they shouldn’t be overlooked. As the birthplace and beginning point for Jimi Hendrix and the epicenter of the ’90s grunge movement, Seattle boasts a strong musical pedigree. Seattle was the place to be for underground music.
While those times have passed, Seattle remains one of America’s best music scenes. Tucked away in a northwestern pocket between mountain ranges and forests exists an incredibly diverse and close-knit artistic community. As the host of KEXP’s locals show, Audioasis, Sharlese Metcalf is a wealth of knowledge for all things Pacific Northwest. PledgeMusic college rep Nicole Pompei recently sat down with Metcalf to discuss the vibrancy of the Seattle scene.
You’re known as being a super fanatic of the Northwest music scene. Why Seattle? What makes Seattle and it’s music scene so special?
Well, I’m from Seattle so that’s a big part of it. There’s a lot of things that I remember when I was a teenager. Just like listening to things on the radio and different people that were on the radio that were pushing a lot of local music. I actually never thought that I would fall into it. When I got the opportunity when I started at KGRG, Green River Community College in Auburn, that was the opening that they had. They let me sit in on one show with them and then they gave me a crate full of local music and I had to go through it.
So I would say, I definitely love all music, but I have chosen to expose myself to all this local stuff, this Northwest music. I just really like it. I love being really close to people that are making music and I love being able to talk to them about it. I think the Northwest is really special because there are all different types of sounds that are coming out of here that people wouldn’t expect.
I have friends at the station who travel around the world, and when they come back, they say that all people know is the grunge era. Nirvana is all that comes to their heads. I love Nirvana too, but that’s so dated. It’s not what’s happening right now. I feel like I am the vehicle to push that forward and play these amazing things that are happening in the Northwest area.
Would you say there are a lot of different genres?
We touch every different genre. I’m sure I could come up with something for everything. I don’t like to pinpoint people into these little corners. I can honestly say that we have people in this area, the Northwest — I like to consider the Northwest as BC, Idaho, Washington, Oregon — representing every genre. I could think of bands that are making all different types of things. I think that is really special.
Can you talk a bit about your experience at KEXP and running the Audioasis show? How did that come about and what has your experience been like?
It started out by meeting John Richards. I met him at his first child’s baby shower. We had this really intense conversation about college radio versus the real world, and I told him I was ready for the real world. He said, ‘Okay, come to the station.’ He gave me the opportunity to work on the local show, Audioasis. This was my dream. I had known all these bands because I had been booking them on my show, Local Motion. I took every opportunity that I could.
At the time, the station was transitioning into New York programming. He was moving there to do his show, his job, and to help expand KEXP’s brand out there. He was the producer of the show, so I asked if he needed someone to produce the show, to handle the DJs, and to book the interviews. He said, ‘Yeah,’ so I just slid into that job. I was producing the show for so long and it transitioned into me being the host and the producer of the show. That was the happiest day of my life — it was such a big accomplishment for me.
I get to have so many incredible experiences. I’m able to promote music for people that are working really hard and putting out these awesome songs and awesome albums. Interviews are another thing. When I’m sitting in a room and I’m watching this band play that has probably only had three interviews in their life and this is definitely probably their first radio interview, it’s a special experience. I’m helping them to feel comfortable, like they’re only talking only to me, in this high stress situation. I feel like giving people that experience is something I’ll never be able to explain entirely. I can’t believe that I’m in the position that I’m in.
Where are you finding new bands in Seattle? Are people sending you music or are you seeking it out somewhere in particular?
I have some people who have their ears to the ground. I have four absolutely wonderful assistants that bring me music. I scour the Internet. It’s a really good resource; it’s a sign of the times. On Facebook events, I’ll visit all the Bandcamps of the bands playing. I look at every Facebook invite. I sit around on SoundCloud or Bandcamp and see what I can find. A lot of people send things to me, and I listen to everything — every demo I get. I rule out everything that isn’t local, though. I can say that I know every local CD that’s in rotation right now.
As an outlet that champions artists often overlooked by more commercial media outlets, thus showcasing inventive, contemporary artists, what is KEXP’s role in the Seattle scene?
I would say that one of the beautiful things about KEXP is that we get to pick all of our music. We pick every song that you hear that comes on air. Even the stuff that we may not like, we’re playing it because we feel that it’s something that needs to be played. That is super unique and gives us a way to promote tons of different artists and bands. Our music director will contact me and say that he needs some local releases to add to rotation that week, so I’ll give him things that I think are really great. That’s really unique that the station makes it a big point to promote local music.
Audioasis is a local musician’s dream. The show gives local artists great opportunities to get their music heard. Audioasis features a bit of everything from radio airplay, to interviews, to in-studio live performances. What are your goals with Audioasis? Do you have any future projects you want to see happen with the show?
I want to do more theme shows because I think they’re really fun. My assistant Alex has helped me do some. We’ve done a couple so far. We did all Portland bands, we did a Halloween themed one, and the next one we have coming up is A-Z.
I want the show to have an educational focus and incorporate youth into that. As we move into the new home, I’ll get to work more on community outreach. I’m hoping tours will happen. They’ll be able to view in-studio sessions, so they can learn confidence building skills. Maybe even visualize themselves in a job like that.
I want to do more “demo of the week” features. Bands who aren’t getting as much play during the week will get a little feature on them. Something where we can expand what the station is playing just on airplay basis.
KEXP is way more than just a radio station; it’s an arts organization that provides experiences on air, online, and around the community. Let’s talk about the monthly Audioasis Charity Benefit. What impact does KEXP’s community involvement have on the arts overall in Seattle?
The community partnership program is a program that we developed and is super unique. We don’t make any money off of the shows- we actually give a lot of promotion. We give online and on-air support. Online is a website, an event page, and a home bucket so that it can be seen on the homepage of the KEXP site. We have a community partnership page that explains all about the nonprofit. Our hope is to have the shows in our new home.
The program is so great because all of the bands play for free and the venue is donated. A lot of local bands love playing these shows because they’re giving back to the community. I’ve learned so much about all of the different nonprofits, what they do and why they’re important. How we get the community involved is that we ask them to come to the shows. We try to pick a variety of different nonprofits.
I think it’s really important that we give back to the community in this type of way. We are 60% listener supported, 20% grants, and 20% business support. We ask for a lot from people to make sure that we are running, so it’s great that we can give back in some way. Maybe a listener has some sort of connection to this nonprofit that we’ve chosen. We can connect with them in a very special way.
Who would you say some up-and-coming Seattle acts are that we should keep an ear out for?
Childbirth, Crater, Mackned, Midday Veil, Wimps, Pony Time, Versing, Youryoungbody, Sassy Black, Wild Powwers, SSDD, Dude York, Stickers, Brian John Appleby, Key Nyata, Gifted Gab, DoNormaal, Grave Babies, Nightmare Fortress, So Pitted, Bread & Butter, Strange Wilds, Vats, Mommy Long Legs, So Pitted, Boyfriends
There are a lot of special people here and I don’t want to list everyone. I think there are so many bands that have made great albums and so many bands that are playing good music. It makes me sad to make a list out of it.
Currently a Music Business student at Berklee College of Music, Nicole Pompei is a drummer and a DIY enthusiast. Outside of her involvement in the Boston DIY community, Nicole can be found crafting galaxy sweatshirts and juice recipes.