Gentleman Auction House | On the Block

prof_gah_sm"Personally, I think if you're a person that is driven to do something, it's often impossible to describe why. I just know that I wake up every day with my stomach nervous and my hands jittery. I can't turn off the drive to write songs and play music. Ridiculous as it may be, that's how it is."

 

 

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Admit it; you've seen the name everywhere but you haven't yet witnessed the collective that is Gentleman Auction House. Over the past year and a half, this St. Louis-based seven-piece has been quietly taking over the Midwest, playing high-profile shows throughout St. Louis and the Midwest while writing and recording a cache of catchy and eclectic indie-rock songs.

Gentleman Auction House is, quite simply, St. Louis' answer to the Omaha indie rock conglomerate that is Bright Eyes. A seven-piece collective—Eric Enger (vocals, guitar, percussion), Michael Tomko (guitar, vocals, percussion, xylophone), Steve Kozel (guitar, vocals, organ, trumpet), Kiley Lewis (keys, vocals, flute, egg shaker), Eric Herbst (bass, percussion), Ryan Adams (drumset), and Stephen Tomko (drums, percussion)—GAH has spent most of the past year booking showcases and festivals and generally making a name for itself. And the hard work has paid off, garnering them a spot at Champaign's Pygmalion festival this past September, and a shout-out in the current edition of Spin magazine: "Besides eggnog and gingerbread, nothing screams holiday cheer like the wintry piano twinkle of Gentleman Auction House and the spring-loaded glam fuzz of Walkie Talkie U.S.A."

PLAYBACK:stl caught up with Eric Enger, Steve Kozel, Kiley Lewis, and Mike Tomko recently to discuss the band's inspiration and aspirations.

 

With so many people, how does the songwriting process work?

EE: I write songs, and sometimes I know how seven people are going to play them and sometimes I don't. That's what makes bringing in new songs so much fun for me; I get to watch everybody give life to the song.

SK: This project has been an exercise in differentiating between composition and arrangement. Eric is the composer of the songs, but the arrangement is often a culmination of everyone's ideas. Eric decides what we're cooking, but we all have a say in the recipe.

prof_gahThere's a definite Bright Eyes comparison to be made; was this intentional?

KL: I don't think anyone in the band intentionally tries to model themself after any particular musician.

SK: Eric's vocals and lyrics seem to be the main reason for this comparison, which I think can be attributed to a very literary and verbose approach to lyrics, and vocals with a sincerity that lies in their unpolished nature.

EE: We're all fans of good music, and I would file Bright Eyes in that category. Certainly tons of bands influence our sound, from the songwriting stage all the way to performance. From a songwriting standpoint, I am always inspired when I hear bands take a step outside of their bubble while still focusing on writing good songs. I like being surprised and I like when bands can be surprising at the benefit of the song. I think we will always try to stay eclectic when it comes to interests and output.

Are the members of GAH fans of Bright Eyes?

SK: I'd like to think everyone in the band has good taste in music, so I would hope they all like Bright Eyes.

You've just released your first EP. How's the label shopping going, or is that something you can talk about?

SK: I think we're still "window shopping" right now.

EE: Despite "label shopping," we've kind of been acting as a label ourselves. We're definitely not lying dormant waiting for anything. We've had a steady diet of St. Louis shows that will continue through the winter. Once spring hits, we will be hitting the road. We've been playing out of town occasionally on weekends, but our travel season is about over.

What are GAH's plans for the next six months?

KL: Winter is a scary time to tour and travel because of the weather, so that means we have to tighten up at home. Play our regular shows, but really focus on having a solid live set. Make sure we're connecting with each other musically during the songs and not just focused on our own parts.

SK: We've got some unfinished recordings that were essentially the songs that didn't get picked for the EP. We'd like to complete those, and also begin tracking some of our newest songs.

MT: I'd like to buy a new amp.

Any touring on the horizon?

SK: Once the snow melts, we'll probably be looking to embark on a small tour. I know everyone else in the band is worried about the slippery winter roads, but to be honest, my biggest fear is having our gear stolen. It seems like it's happening to everyone nowadays.

MT: I already have a slew of dates with some great bands in the works for February and March. We are all very excited to have dates with Headlights and Page France already confirmed.

Finally, what drives you?

KL: The need to perform music. I will not find satisfaction in my life if I can't perform. I've known music and the piano longer than I've known any of these boys, or myself, really. Playing music is the most powerful and universal instrument of communication I have; I need to connect.

SK: I think music is a vehicle for a lot of different things, so beyond the obvious ideas of self-expression and sensory aesthetics, there's a chance to communicate a variety of things to a variety of people. That's a chance most people never get, and I think we all feel the need to make the most of that, and be a positive entity in people's lives—and I guess in our own lives, as well.

EE: Personally, I think if you're a person that is driven to do something, it's often impossible to describe why. I just know that I wake up every day with my stomach nervous and my hands jittery. I can't turn off the drive to write songs and play music. Ridiculous as it may be, that's how it is every day. If I'm out of town with no guitar, I am usually a little on edge.

MT: I sleep with my laptop.

prof_gah2Why do you feel the need to make and perform music?

KL: It's essential to people individually and as a group to connect with music and musicians. I can't imagine my life without having ever coming into contact with my favorite albums or artists. We need to create music with a purpose because there's someone out there who needs to hear it, to hear exactly what we're doing.

What is the mark that GAH wants to leave on the world?

KL: We'd like to be a group of people who want to make good music. I want to bond with people through the music and let it be so much bigger than we are, because that's when your music can become unlimited and timeless.

SK: I'd like to think that, if nothing else, our music might make people examine their own everyday lives and actions, and think about if they're satisfied-if their regrets outweigh their hopes, if their anger outweighs their compassion.

EE: I just want to keep doing our thing, and if somebody relates to something, then that's wonderful. Either way, I'm just telling my side of things and the band is playing its heart out.

Photos by Natalee Cayton

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