At some point, every musician plays in their basement, or someone's basement. It just makes the most sense — it's the dirty, grimy place where you leave everything you don't want other people to see. Music can be included in that because a lot of it is made down there, but doesn't emerge until it's ready to be seen by others.
But now, cameras and bright lights are illuminating that space, and this pair of guys have their own project in a basement they call their own. Jake Metz (above) and Jack Maples are two do-it-yourself kind of guys in that sense, and their project, Urbana Basement, has generated a bit of buzz around the local music scene. With the combination of their ability to capture studio sound with pristine video, UB is the real deal.
I got a chance to sit down and discuss the project, how it came to fruition, what they aspire to create from it within the local scene in C-U, and its integration with us in the near future through our Smile Politely Show Series.
Although the origins of the project came from an idea that Metz and others had discussed, the project was Metz and Maple's from the get-go. "I had this studio, and then I started recording some EPs for different bands," Metz said, "then we really discussed having the studio-quality audio with video incorporated because we had access to some equipment. So we went from there."
Although the magazine began helping them with certain equipment and whatnot, UB originally began with some guys and their iPhones. Shooting local bands Elsinore and Grandkids on low-production value was how things began when they were under the name Buzz Basement (the duo previously started the project as a partnership with buzz magazine). Regardless of the production value, I'm still a big fan of Elsinore's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" cover. Just great.
"There was really no type of standardization," Metz said regarding production. "That was back in April and May of 2011, so we shot a couple of videos early on. We only had four sessions under our belt before Jack left for a short period of time, so it went into shambles after releasing those four. When Jack got back in January, he and I set it up and started to make it happen. Got some videos edited, a website and really forged ahead."
The partnership is based a lot on their skill sets, where Metz coordinates and contacts bands, schedules times, while Maples cuts the video once they have scoped everything out with the space and sorted out arrangements with the bands they bring down there. "Once we have the actual session, he mixes down the audio, I cut the video from the camera, then once it's pretty much a finished, cut product. We like to get together to do some final cuts and then he throws it up on the website. Then it's done."Of course I had to ask how long this all takes because to me, and to the average person who has zero experience with audio/video, it seems like that would take a great deal of time. Metz said that every situation is different:
A lot of it just depends on the pressure we have for getting it out the door, because if we had to we could probably turn it around in 24 hours if it was the ultimate rush. We can develop a backlog [of bands] pretty quickly, and it takes a while to get around to things because we have other lives going on with school or work or whatever. On average, it would take about a month to be safe.
They've had some projects recently from bands that have been in town, including Jet W. Lee, who just released their new record, Cowboy Indian Bear, Pamala Machala, and another session from Henhouse Prowlers. But not so fast — there are more interesting things in the mix as well. "I did one group that was a piano group and a painter; that was interesting," Metz noted. Interesting, to say the least.
When they're putting together the sessions, data from the cameras and audio equipment builds up fast, sometimes over 40 gigs of data at a time for each session. Metz said, "The fact is that it's only two of us. A lot has come up over the summer, and a lot of it within the last month or so. It's a pretty haphazard process, it's always a bit precipitous."
It's an interesting combination of skill sets mixed with a local music scene — which is the ultimate goal of the project in their eyes. I was initially interested because the website says:
Urbana Basement is an endeavor to capture and archive the current local music scene in Champaign-Urbana. Our community supports an amazingly diverse and vibrant group of musicians (both living in and traveling through these twin cities) and we hope that this project will help people find and connect to them in an easily accessible way. — urbanabasement.com
Regardless of what bands play, whether they are from out of town or not, Metz believes that there is a bigger picture: "It does say we want to promote the scene, but a lot of bands that just tour through are often recommended to me from local bands that perform here. The reason those bands are touring through here a lot of the time is because they are friends with bands here."
Like myself, I consider the music community in C-U to be pretty great and diverse, but I'm not schooling anyone with that knowledge. Metz feels the same: "It's just a reflection of the music that is taking place here. I consider the bands that come through here a part of our music scene — they are coming through participating as a part of it even if they are from out of town."
With a bunch of live shows going on all the time around the community, there are even talks of the duo branching out into live video. Branching out into different sections between the basement, porches, local singer-songwriters on location, as well as jazz musicians have been things that Metz & Maples have been trying to do recently. The whole idea is fairly versatile, and these are just new ways to spice a great idea up.
In the near future, they'll start working with us at Smile Politely as a sort of partnership, if you will. "We're interested in reaching out to a wider audience and hopefully with Smile Politely, it will draw in some more people to see these videos and more people can see the other bands on the site," Metz said about the project. You'll be able to see the work in the upcoming months that will coincide with the Smile Politely Show Series, a monthly concert series that began back in May.
With any project, there are the pitfalls. In a way, these two are lucky that the biggest issue, in their mind, is the lack of people to work for them, not the lack of bands wanting to do sessions. During the last few months or so, they've had some help from an additional cameraman J.P. Goguen. The operation can be time consuming considering all the steps they take, but Goguen has been especially helpful since he came on board. However, both Maples and Metz site manpower as their biggest pitfall. Metz claims:
I’m hoping to recruit more people but it’s sometimes hard to find people that are interested, committed, and talented at the same time. Sometimes you might find someone who’s really talented but can’t commit to it, or sometimes you might find someone interested in helping, but it would be a long time before they are ready to take on any of the big points that are causing us the most trouble at this point. It would be nice to find a really enthusiastic person who’s like ‘oh by the way, I have a Mac and I’m really good at final cut and I want to help you for free!' That’s the biggest pitfall. Generating too much content isn't the main problem, but it’s the second worst [laughs].
Representing as much of the music scene as they can is the ideal situation for Urbana Basement. In the future, they are looking to do more types of videos, branching out into different genres. Thus far it's been mostly indie rock with a little bit of pop and bluegrass, but they are trying to reach into the different scenes around town, including punk/hardcore, rap, and jazz.
In the end, as much work as it is for these guys, the project is ultimately a fun one. "I think when we're done shooting videos, Jake and I are both watching the videos about 100 times and saying 'oh this is so cool' and stuff like that," Maples said. In the end, it's another labor of love situation.
Photos of Metz courtesy of Sean O'Connor.