Defining the Undefinable: The Phonocaptors

So here it is: The Phonocaptors sound like they stripped down rock ’n’ roll, inspected what it had to offer, and then rebuilt it the way they wanted.


Sometimes you need to take
music further than it needs to
go so that you can bring it
back to see where you started.

At one point during my interview with The Phonocaptors, lead singer/guitarist Jason Hutto boldly grabbed the small tape recorder off the table at The Jade Room, held it close to my face, and asked, “Tell us Rachel, what do you think we sound like?” Okay, so he caught me off guard, and out spewed some nauseating assessment comparing them to Velvet Underground meets Pulp. As I looked around, I could tell half of the band didn’t even listen to Pulp—and there are only three guys in the band. But after a while, I found this question to be particularly perplexing. Sitting in front of me were some of St. Louis’s most professional, most respected musicians who prided themselves on not fitting into any rock ’n’ roll genre. Here is a band that was created to defy the compartmentalized rock ’n’ roll that was coming out of St. Louis in 1998, and they’re asking me what I think about them? But then again, isn’t that always the first thing we ask: “Yeah, but what do they sound like?” Maybe I was the first person who didn’t make their sound (or lack thereof) such an issue.

So here it is: The Phonocaptors sound like they stripped down rock ’n’ roll, inspected what it had to offer, and then rebuilt it the way they wanted. The Phonocaptors eliminate all of the pretension of rock ’n’ roll and just play it. And they put on one of the most impressive, exciting, completely rockin’ shows in St. Louis. At one point, they’re playing power pop with “Fool Around,” and then they’ll completely switch without stopping to a total glam track such as “Kiss Her Lips. At some of the shows I’ve been to, Hutto is on fire. He can be damn sexy, dressed in all black with tinted sunglasses. Then there was the night at Fred’s Music Lounge when drummer Scott Hermes stole the entire show. Bass player Keith Voegele recently broke his hand but taught himself how to use a pick so he could play the band’s CD release party at Lemmons. Voegele knows he’s good; look at how long they’ve kept him around.

Their new full-length CD, appropriately entitled, Call It What You Want (released on Pro-Vel Records), is a sharp record that doesn’t discriminate against genres: it practically uses them all. “Trifecta,” their first try at an “epic” song, is outstanding when preformed live, but unfortunately doesn’t represent as well on the CD. However, “PLT (Pretty Little Things)” is everything it should be; it’ll have you pressing the “repeat” button before moving on to the next song. Lucky for St. Louis, The Phonocaptors plan to stick around and work on playing rock ’n’ roll the way it should be, no matter how many bass players it takes.

I see you’re up for Best Garage Rock Band for the SLAMMIES again—yet another band that is placed in this category because they cannot be defined.
SH: We’ve been nominated every year from 1998 to 2008. We’ve never won.
JH: You’re right. We’re not even garage rock.
Tell me about Southside Rocks Off. Jason, weren’t you part of that?
JH: I coordinated it with Jason Trifenbach from The Electric. We just threw it together. We had the idea to do it based on Halloween down here on the strip [South Grand] a few years ago. It just made sense. Obviously, there are available venues.

How do you choose the bands?
JH: We had a committee—a secret committee consisting of two people. [Laughs] No, basically we had bands submit their materials. Then we contacted some friends from out of town, and Nancy [co-owner of Pro-Vel Records] helped get some contacts. This year, I think that it’s going to be more regional. I think there are enough reasons for out-of-town bands to come and play it. They know now that it works.

How involved was KDHX?
JH: They were involved as much as they could be. It was a for their pledge drive; we gave KDHX the money, somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000. It was pretty substantial for a bunch of dirty, unorganized people throwin’ a party. And all the bands got paid.

How long have the Phonocaptors been you’ve been playing?
JH: Scott and I have been playing since 1998. We’ve had a couple of bass players.

That was one of my questions. How many bass players have you had?
JH: We’ll, if you count Sexicolor, that takes up a lot of St. Louis bass players.
SH: We ran through about everybody in town.
JH: Yeah, we had six bass players in Sexicolor. We’ve had two other bass players besides Keith in The Phonocaptors. Scott, you and I pretty much just eat St. Louis bass players.
SH: We were just whorin’ ourselves to any bass players that would have us.

Tell me about the songwriting process.
SH: We have one. I couldn’t explain it, but we do.
JH: I’ll write a song or have an idea, and then probably 70 percent of the time they’re both on the same page. And then there’s other times someone will want to take it in a different direction and we work that out. We have a certain chemistry.
SH: It is kind of strange; I think we take it for granted. Jason pretty much comes with the main idea, and we play around and see what happens.
JH: We’re very intuitive on where we need to go and where we want things to go. Sometimes you need to take music further than it needs to go so that you can bring it back to see where you started. Like with “Trifecta”; in the beginning it was such an in-your-face thing. Then we wanted to do an epic-type song.

It comes across very epic in scope. I wanted to talk to you about that, too.
JH: It’s our way of trying to recreate a Queen song. It has different movements, but they all tie in with the same story, the same event.
It feels like there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to the song.
JH: That’s what happened. We had three songs that sounded totally different but we worked on combining them and changing the arrangement.

How long did it take to create a song like that?
KV: Well, we lost the practice space right at that time and had to stop working on it. We had to wait until [Jason] moved to rehearse again.
SH: We started calling each other so that we could all practice in the same room. I would put my cell phone next to the kick drum. “Can you hear me now? That’s my kick drum.”
JH: The practice thing was really frustrating because we had about six songs done. They weren’t mixed but they were recorded. After we started up again, we decided to focus on new songs, so the whole thing took on a new feel. It seemed more cohesive in the end. There was a certain vibe already established in the new space. Once we started recording there, it felt better.

When you first started, was your sound much different then than what it is now?
JH: Yes, it was. The whole point of this band, though, is that there is no rock ’n’ roll genre. When we first started, there were all these genres. The rockabilly bands had their thing and ska was really big. We wanted to know where rock ’n’ roll was. It seemed like everyone was hung up on very compartmentalized music; that’s all you saw. So the idea was that we just…
KV: Rock
JH: Yeah, rock. It seems so cliché to say that now, ten years later. That whole idea that how rock ’n’ roll died—we don’t’ agree with that. It never went away. Why does it need to be revived? That was our whole point. So we would do things that would free us up so we could explore different areas.

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