Baltimore seems like one of those cities where nearly every art-school grad
is trying desperately to become a unique personality, the next big indie
star. Ed Schrader, on the other hand, never had to try to be interesting – he
can fill an entire hipster warehouse with his natural-born chutzpah and nerve
and not even realize he’s done it. From initially performing with little more
than his larynx and a floor tom, to his current Music Beat lineup with bassist
Devlin Rice, Schrader has always been a fearless performer, invoking all sorts
of interesting no-wave and post-punk comparisons, with a creative drive that
flows regardless of whether he’s on stage or in line at the DMV. I wasn’t prepared
for all the REM talk, but that’s on me, not him – the man is full of surprises and
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you decide that you, by yourself, on stage with a single drum and
a microphone (or sometimes just your own lungs), could be a live performance
people would want to see? Was it a scary idea?
I currently (for the past 2 years) record and perform with a bassist. From 2007 to
2009, I played solo: just me and a drum. It was (looking back on it) a time where I
was listening to NON (Boyd Rice, no relation to Devlin Rice,my partner-in-crime /
bandmate), Current 93, Big Black, Swans and Lou Reed’s Berlin. I was in a city
where lots of folks were utilizing electronic gadgetry to make multi-layered dance music,
which I enjoyed, but didn’t personally relate to as my own personal form of expression.
I’m a word guy, and the bands I’ve previously mentioned are of that nature, so I think
I was just trying to make something in that vein with the abilities and tools at my
disposal. Was it scary? Hell yes, but what worthwhile adventure is not? Playing to
thousands of people in New York while opening for Dan Deacon, Deerhunter and No Age
is one of my favorite memories, just me and a drum – wouldn’t do it again, but hell
it was good times. I think people would love to see a dude banging a drum by himself,
it will just not be me. That was a product of necessity and honestly had a limited
audience – I write songs with whole orchestras in mind. I want to be as big as John
What prompted the decision to have Devlin Rice join the group? Do you
foresee more members joining at some point?
I think I had just gotten to a point about two years ago where I couldn’t imagine myself
doing this the way I was doing it for too much longer. The press seemed to pigeonhole
me as some wacky outsider performance artist, or a surrealist comedy routine, and I
just wanted to write and perform pop songs. Devlin showed up the moment I was having
that thought, rather I showed up as his new roommate. We would just hang out and play
video games and talk about music and make Homer Simpson-esque jokes for hours. One
night I told him how I had a weird gig coming up that I wanted to kind of blow off,
as I was nervous about just playing to an electronic dance audience with a floor tom.
He offered up his services and we have been a unit ever since. I would certainly
like to bring some other folks in the mix once the time is right, but that stuff has
to happen organically. I don’t feel comfortable doing the same thing for too long. I
have always been impressed by people like Ricky Gervais, David Bowie, and Werner
Herzog, people who come at you with something new and enthralling every three years,
well we’re still waiting on the Thin White Duke! What I’m saying is I don’t wanna be
40 and banging on a drum and yelling “Gas Station Attendant” every night. The world
doesn’t need it; once is enough. I like to keep moving forward. Whatever set list
you hear now will be gone in three years. Devlin and I will be in it together no
matter what, he is my core guy, my Mick Ronson, my Steve Merchant!
I had a lot of fun collaborating with Matmos, and Randy Randall of No Age on this album,
Jazz Mind. Javelin will be working with us along with Matmos on the next one (if their
schedule permits and if they will have me – I haven’t asked them yet, but I can charm
I perform minimally, but when I compose songs I imagine an orchestra. The minimal performance
is for me more captivating than a nine-piece band. I just did vocals for the new Matmos
single coming out soon, and that was lots of fun because all I had to do was show up and
I was given themes and soundscapes to work with, and was asked by Drew to do something
relatively phonetic, yet I ended up tossing in some lyrics, cause I’m a word guy. They
ended up going with it. I think it’s going to be their first song with that type of pop
vocal structure, it’s really an honor! Those guys have worked with Bjork, and have made
amazing music! But yes the future will involve many players.
How did you meet and get to working with Matmos? Was it different for you
to approach singing on an electronic song, versus your own songs that are straight-
forward rock, at least by comparison?
Matmos and I met over dirty dishes. I was a dishwasher at this place called The Golden
West in Baltimore, and they had just moved to town. As I was busing their table (picking
up the dirty plates) Martin mentioned that he and Drew had bought my record The Choir
Inside and were rocking it in their house quite a bit. I did not know who they were
right away by face, just seemed like two nice folks making a dishwasher’s day. We chatted
for a bit, and I slowly realized who they were – duh! I was a bit intimidated, especially
since I was wearing a dirty smock and had crud all over me. They were so gracious, they
really made me feel special at a time where people just kind of laughed at me or yelled
for more oval plates. They talked to me like a real artist, and even asked what my future
recording plans were. When I told them about Jazz Mind they seemed very intrigued,
so I said, “hey, wanna cut a few tracks with me?” To my complete amazement they said yes,
and Devlin and I cherish those tracks.
As far as the way I do things, well here goes. I walk to Dunkin Donuts, pump out a chorus
over my hand held recorder, sit there at the cafe for an hour, make a verse or two, come
home and bang it out on the drum then eureka! At that point I show it to Devlin, who is
brilliant at taking something broad and harnessing it with just the right touches, like a
young Peter Buck! (He is a metal guy so probably wont like that comparison.) They both
share the bond of less is more, and economy of sound. We tour the song around, see how it
goes over, and feels. If it makes it through a tour and still feels right and gets folks
clapping, we hit the studio and lay it down. Now with electronic music (i.e Dan Deacon or
Matmos), you have guys that are well versed in music theory or capable enough to create a
large fleshed out atmosphere in the lab, and have it essentially ready to blow minds when
they hit the stage. Not to say they don’t try out different things on the road and work out
songs over a course of time, but essentially they have the nuts and bolts at the front (the
well expressed and mostly realised vision). I start with a crooked paint roller and a rickety
ladder, and as the tour progresses and I listen to what the audience is saying to me about
the songs, I develop and mold the idea to fit that “live” physical world, and use that as
the boiler plate for the fully realized tune. I feel like as long as you have a good stock,
the soup can’t get too fucked up, unless you just burn the shit out of it, or over think
it, which I have done. Devlin is really good in that situation, with honesty, and the ability
to say “hey dude, take a break, you’re thinking too much.” If i didn’t have that, I think
I would meander a bit.
Why do you want to write songs, do you think? Why did you gravitate to songs,
rather than abstract electronic music, or painting, or any other art form?
That question’s never been asked to me oddly enough. Well, I think some of it is hereditary,
lots of showboaters in my family – at the age of five I saw Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”
video, and around that same time my parents took my sister and I (more for my sister who
had a crush) to see this Michael Jackson impersonator who up until the age of fifteen I
thought was actually Michael Jackson. That was all I needed to get the bug – I wanted
to be a pop musician. After a spot on performance of “This Is How We Do It” in 8th grade,
and three unsuccessful REM cover bands, and lots of bad jobs, this is just kind of the
weird thing I ended up doing with my life. I happen to be doing pop/rock now but who
knows in five years! I am a ham, and it’s really hard to ham it up with a laptop in
front of you – I mean try doin’ a wizard’s hand while you open ProTools – yuck. I’ll take
the other special, please.
Do you find that your hamminess ever leads to people not taking you seriously?
Is that even a concern of yours, if people think you’re “joking” when you’re actually
Yeah it is a real big concern which is ridiculous because I do stand up comedy routines
where David Bowie and Rush Limbaugh are talking on an elevator about cat sex toys. It’s
like in one sense, I’m walking around with a sign that says “throw tomatoes at the circus
freak”, but then the next night I’m in Manhattan being like “check out my stoic beatnik, Bob
Dylan-on-acid drum-and-bass thing – okay, now don’t laugh.” I think I have to come to grips
with the fact that I’m an intense dude and it’s not bad if someone laughs – I laughed when
I met Michael Stipe, and he’s my hero.
Why Michael Stipe? I only know you through your music, but I would’ve never guessed him.
Growing up in Utica, New York, I really didn’t have access to lots of counterculture – the
music scene mostly consisted of wedding bands and weekenders who mostly covered Top 40 hits.
There were a few exceptions: a cool guy named Dante Blando that worked at Sears and made
me mix tapes, and my friend Bill Seth who made even cooler mix tapes and somehow always knew
about edgy stuff a year before people in New York. I’d say those guys were a big part of
my early exposure to weird stuff. But what really kicked it off was when I worked at this
pizza joint called Tolpa’s and one day in the middle of an ungodly awful shift “What’s
The Frequency Kenneth” came on. I wanted to run as fast as I could to the magical universe
where that was emanating from – I soon started a band called LOL, with Andrew Morse.
We covered REM and The Police with two originals. I felt like I was Bono! My fate was sealed!
You started a band called LOL? Did you predict the popular internet-speak, or
did this all happen very recently?
I wanted something like REM, but I didn’t want to seem obvious, so LOL it was. It would be
like naming a band Netflix or “Who Let The Dogs Out?” (“WLTDO”). It’s pretty stupid, but
the things we do when we’re young! Man what a dumb name. Named it after the term was phrased.
I though it meant “Laugh Online”, does it?
I always figured it was “Laugh Out Loud”. Anyway, what’s the next big change we
can expect for Ed Schrader’s Music Beat? Will there be some Jazz Mind tour support?
The next big change will be our direction musically – this next record will be as experimental,
but coupled with a broader pop sensibility that we hope taps a nerve with people besides
folks who are already in on the joke. I have no plans to stay underground – it is an
atmosphere that, although it fosters much in terms of musical progression, speaks a very
specific language to those privileged enough to relate to it – a dude playing put-put with
his family after putting in 60 hours at a car plant has a hunger for the catharsis offered
up through bizarre musings, but in the same breath does not have time to figure out what
Pitchfork is, or what he “should” like – he just wants to be blown away – that’s our guy.
This next album’s for him, and it’s gonna have to be a monster.
At this rate, we’re touring about six months out of the year with constant shows in between.
We’re about to hit North America for six weeks, then off to England and Europe for five weeks.
The buzz of the record and great press really helped, but you have to tour. So yes, we have
been supporting this record – it’s our job and we love our job!