Ed Schrader’s Music Beat started out as a comedian with a floor tom. Now, it’s got just half of a traditional rock-band lineup, with drummer/vocalist/comic Ed Schrader, 35, and his bassist/vocalist pal Devlin Rice, 29. Yet even with half the horsepower of a typical fourpiece, the duo (with a little help) managed to make one of the best records out of Baltimore this year: the throbbing, paranoid Party Jail.
The only time I’ve seen Ed Schrader’s Music Beat perform, it was at a novel gathering arranged by Chain & the Gang’s Ian Svenonius. Hosted at my friends’ Adams Morgan vintage shop Meeps, Club Lip-Sync was a show that required bands to play their own music without actually playing it. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat turned out the most transfixing performance of the night: a bizarre and expertly mimed rendition of their haunting song “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar.” I was struck by how Schrader looked normcore but sung like Ian Curtis.
Sunday, the duo that’s now based out of Baltimore and Providence, Rhode Island—Rice moved north not long ago—returns to D.C. to play Black Cat with Chain & the Gang. In advance of the show, Rice and Schrader (particularly Schrader, a true ham) talked my ear off about the pains of touring, D.C.’s ever-changing punk scene, whether Americans value art and the tantalizing possibility of ditching punk and going dance-pop. Here are some choice snippets from our conversation.
Ed and Devlin tell the story of how a Louisville booker tried to pay them $10 to play a show:
Devlin Rice: The email [from a promoter] had a typo, and instead of $100 it said $10. And [the guy running the show] was like, “Here you are, here’s $10!”
Ed Schrader: We thought he was messing with us. We were like “Haha, oh yeah, he’s pulling our leg, I guess that’s how they do it in Louisville!” … [Then] I was like “I can’t leave until we get the $100 we’re supposed to get.” And he was like “Well that’s gonna be a problem!” And I was like “Is it going to be a problem?” And Devlin’s like “Whooaa” and I’m like, “I’m 140 pounds, maybe I shouldn’t start fist fights with people.”
DR: That whole night was like—maybe there was some sort of eclipse…
ES: A red moon. Yeah, well there were 10 bands, and it was essentially like Lightning Bolt was playing Louisville, which is a big deal, everyone in town wants to be on the bill. Totally understandable. But it ended up being like, 10 locals and then us and then Lightning Bolt. So they paid all the locals the same amount they would have paid them if they would have came from Miami. And then they paid us as if we lived in the basement underneath and just watched Spongebob all day and ate Pop Tarts.
DR: Even though that’s what we do on a daily basis.
ES: Yeah, well, that’s what we were doing before the show.
On the possibility of expanding the band someday:
ES: We’re in the groove right now and feeling good, and we have expanded to some degree, like on the album [Party Jail] for example, we had Jeremy Hyman, who plays with The Boredoms and Dan Deacon and Animal Collective. He came on board with us to kind of flesh out the drums a bit more for those more nuanced, quieter songs which I felt needed a wider berth for drums. [Note: Hyman also sometimes plays live with the band.]
Because I’m not an actual drummer; I play drums the same way that Bowie plays saxophone. It’s not that good and it’s supplemental… we’re also talking about a year or two years down the line having a drummer and having me move out front more. We want to kind of make this happen organically and not force it, and wait till it’s the right time. I feel like that’s how we’ve done everything so far.
On playing in a competitive and constantly changing D.C.:
ES: The venues in D.C. are in cool, but if you’re an established band. If you’re on your way to getting there, it can be tougher place to play. It’s perfect for a band like Future Islands or Wye Oak or Dan Deacon… You know, we’re still building and establishing ourselves, and we haven’t had the same type of press hype that those guys have had. So we depend on word of mouth, and if the scene is in a constant state of flux, that can be kind of problematic because it seems like everything changes a little bit each time we come back.
“Americans need to value art. We really do. And we don’t. We value musicians the same way we value jalapeño poppers at Outback Steakhouse.” —Ed Schrader
On D.C.’s young house-show scene and figuring out what punk means to the next generation:
ES: We probably seem like Huey Lewis and the News to those kids… Everything’s so fragmented and vague and totally confusing, which is probably how people coming up in the ‘60s felt like in the ‘80s when they’d go to shows. You know it’s just a generational thing and maybe I’m still trying to connect with all that. But yeah… it does seem fragmented.
‘Cause you know if you went to a hardcore show in Syracuse, New York in 1998, you knew what you were gonna get. Skinny, scrawny white dudes with black T-shirts and all the same flash tattoos… these days it seems like every kid’s kinda doing their own thing, which is cool, but it doesn’t cohesify things really. They need to be more uniform! They need to all get boots that are the same color and they need to start wearing berets.
I’ve been to a lot of venues like on tour, and I’m like “Oh what’s their thing here? Is this a venue where I can’t take my shirt off?” Sometimes I feel like the venues, it’s like “The parents are away, I’m in college, we just wanna have some weird thing happen at our house. You’re in town. Let’s do it.” It’s almost like the socializing and being at the show is more important than what’s happening…
[But] then there are the other places where people are obviously all about the music. Paper Sun [the now-closed punk house in Columbia Heights] was like that. You’d play at Paper Sun and everybody there was either in a band or knew everything about what was going on in the scene, and was excited about it, or they were music writers. Everyone was kind of involved. It’s kind of like Max’s Kansas City or something like that.
On the need for a punk-show handbook:
ES: It seems like back in the day there was an ethos and everybody was on the same page, like make sure the touring bands get paid, have someone at the door. Where it’s like now, and this is throughout the country, you go to a lot of places where people need a handbook. I think somebody needs to make a handbook to be like, “All right, we’re older, we’ve all got jobs, we’re not playing shows anymore but you guys are carrying the torch, here’s what you’ve gotta do.”
The other night I was at a show and it was out-of-town bands playing and someone had, like, a bucket for donations… but nobody was being aggressive about the donations. People weren’t watching the door, people would come by and put a quarter in the bucket. So I just picked up the bucket and was like “Come on man, three, five dollars, whaddya got?” And the guy running the show was like, “Chill out man!” And I was like, “Well I just made you guys $75.” And he’s like, “OK do your thing.”
So this is how you have to do it! You’ve gotta take care of touring bands because if touring bands come to your town and you don’t feed them or give them a place to sleep and you pay them $20, they’re not coming back… Americans need to value art. We really do. And we don’t. We value musicians the same way we value jalapeño poppers at Outback Steakhouse.
On the virtues of simplicity in music:
ES: The drum and vocal—I mean it was a product of necessity when I first started, but it was also kind of a statement. When I first moved to Baltimore, there were a lot of people who had like 100 pedals and crazy things going on, but they weren’t saying anything. … I wanted to show people that you don’t need your dad to buy you 100 effects pedals and have three laptops.
I think Devlin and I just want to show people that you can do this. And you don’t need to wear, like, crazy sequined outfits and have your dad buy you a tour bus… you don’t need to bury things in crap to make them work, you can just make things that work and they’ll work by themselves. Just work on the song being good rather than adding 20,000 keyboard players.
On their creative process:
ES: I’ve started making these crappy blueprints that I send to Devlin who then tries to cohesify into something that’s listenable. I’ll send him like, “Ohhh-da-do-da-do-da-do! And here comes the second part: Den-den-den-den!” And he’ll email back, “Doo-doo-da-doo-doo-deeter-da-ding!” He’s able to translate the insanity into something that somebody wouldn’t wanna throw a tomato at.
Bandwidth: Devlin, would you say you bring order to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat?
DR: I bring a certain level of organization. And a driver’s license.
On the followup to Party Jail:
DR: I don’t think the next record will have much of a common thread with the first one outside from it just being—a couple of the songs will be still only two and a half or three minutes.
ES: And there’s that chanty element, that dirge element that’s always in the mix. But I’m making these new ones and kind of putting these song sketches together, and I find that I’m leaning towards something that’s more dance pop, and I don’t know where it’s coming from or why I’m doing it… In the ’80s it was all about going big… and I think that’s always been in my blood.
I think on this next one, I would love to be like, “Let’s make a frickin’ dance-pop album and see what happens!” Maybe I can change my outfit and go in drag or something. I’m 35, I’m not gonna look good in drag in five years. I might as well just go for it now.