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Friday, 14 October 2011 11:04

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Chris Bay of Gold Soundz

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Chris Bay of Gold Soundz Roy Kasten
Written by Joe Roberts
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Gold Soundz may be a reference to the Pavement song of the same name but Chris Bay's show on Fridays 7-9 p.m. Central reaches beyond to the indie pop rock songs that make you feel good and keep you coming back for more.

Ranging from the freshest indie rock to everyone's favorite songs from the last couple decades, Gold Soundz places more emphasis on how a song makes you feel rather than how pristine the production is or the hype swelling around it. This last week Chris and I met at Foam in the Cherokee District to discuss the perfect pop rock song, staying up all night on the air, J Mascis' shoes and '90s rock favorites best kept a secret.

Joe Roberts: What was the genesis of your show Gold Soundz?

Chris Bay: I had been volunteering at KDHX for several years. And at some point I got really interested in doing something more than the normal volunteer stuff like answering phones and going to events. There were some audio production classes you can take that Andy Coco teaches. I took a couple of those. [The classes] allow you to decide what you want to do. Like in studio engineering with live bands in the studio or more production based work with PSAs, band spotlights and stuff like that.

I was interested in doing some in studio engineering, but I also mentioned at some point I'd like to put in an application for a radio show, and Andy Coco said, "Let's just do it now, it'll be a good way for you to learn all this stuff." So I did it. And three months later, which is way sooner than to be expected ... I mean, there's been people who've been on that list for years, and not because they don't deserve it, but because if a weeknight spot opens up [KDHX is] not going to put a bluegrass show there because of how scheduling is. So they offered me a spot at 3 a.m. 3 a.m. is tough, but I'll try it. I don't know. I'm a morning person! I don't have any kids! I can be sleep deprived one day a week! And also I got to ease into it. When you don't expect anyone to be listening, you can get used to things and not worry about screwing up.

So 3 a.m. was a good place to start?

It was awesome. I loved it. [Long pause] I never really want to do the 3 a.m. slot again. [Laughs] But I was totally happy to do it, because I love the show and love playing music for people.

Did the show start out as Gold Soundz? How long has it been on the air?

Yeah. The show itself is a little over a year old. I did the 3 a.m. slot from last July until April. So I've been on Fridays since April. So yeah, it's still a new show.

Has this been your first DJ or radio experience?

Yeah. For sure. I've always done music in various ways, but this was my first experience with radio production.

With such a concentration of music lovers at KDHX, do all the DJs at the station know each other?

It depends. There are a lot of DJs that go to a lot of shows. I go to a lot of shows. Maybe on average two or three a week. There are a lot of DJs I know just because we go to the same shows. There are a lot of DJs I know because we have the same interest. And then there's people you just meet, like Rich Reese, whose show was right after mine when I had the 3 a.m. slot. There was a minimal overlap between our shows, but it was enough to have a conversation about... . But there are a lot of DJs I've never met before.

I have to ask about the name Gold Soundz. Is that a reference to the Pavement song of the same name?

It is! Yeah, it's a direct reference. It's kind of weird since Pavement's had this resurgence lately. So this band that was fairly obscure in the '90s is now much more mainstream and getting a lot of attention. It has a bit of a different context. And I love Pavement. I'm not a fan boy or anything. But I think it's more about the song "Gold Soundz." The song is a perfect pop rock song. Everything about it is absolutely perfect. And that type of song and type of ethos that the song carries with it, the chorus of that song frames the kind of music I want to play. "Gold Soundz" is meant to embody beautiful, golden pop songs. No hype surrounding the music. No quirky instrumentation. Nothing overly dramatic. It's just about the song and the music and feeling good about that song. That's what the song means to me anyway. And the name also implies that. It's just a beautiful pair of words that also happen to be a great name for a radio show.

You started at 3 a.m. Now you're on at 7 p.m. Central on Fridays. It sounds like a prime spot. Is it?

It's great in a lot of ways. It's cool because Friday nights people are going out, excited about the weekend. They're listening to the radio on the way to a concert. They turn it on because they want that KDHX experience. They want to hear something cool, and feel really good about it.

Occasionally someone will call in and they'll be really excited about a song I just played. Like last week this woman called in and said, "I really enjoyed the show and I was thinking about changing the station, but realized this guy just did that show and he needs to know that I really liked it." She called in just to say, "Awesome job." And that makes it totally worth it. So yeah, the Friday thing's cool. I go out to shows or to a party, some kind of social event. It's great for me. It's a great way to wind down at the end of the week.

There seems to be a blizzard of genres of music today. How would you describe your show to an avid music fan?

Like someone who's into all the sub-classification? I tend to not classify things because I think it takes away from the aesthetic of the music. I mean, a string of words in front of rock or pop doesn't really tell you what's it going to feel like when you listen to it, right? It can go so far as to tell the listener what vague area of music sits in, but it doesn't tell if I'm going to like it.

There's a huge range of rock and pop styles that I love, and for every band I love there's a band I can't listen to at all. I play a wide variety of stuff. I don't play anything super ambient or psychedelic or glossy stuff. Most of it is rock pop based. Definitely mainstream indie rock, a lot of older melodic rock like George Harrison or Big Star. A lot of folk like Nick Drake and Magnolia Electric Co. And alt-country is something that I really like, but it doesn't work on the show. You can't play Pavement followed by Son Volt. I can't play everything I like.

I always like how your show features all these new indie rock songs with some old surprises like Archers of Loaf or Pavement.

Well those bands were just as indie. Indie is really a bastardized term now. Indie is mainstream for the most part. In terms of how we consume it and are exposed to it. Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, Afghan Whigs are all bands that put in all the hard work before there was any avenue for those bands to become widely popular. Before the Internet, before a large number of indie labels. Those are bands that just played. And a lot of those bands just got worn out. Like if you read interviews with Eric Bachman he said the main reason [his band Archers of Loaf] broke up is that [the band members] just got really tired. Because being an indie just wore you out then. And now you have indie bands that make one album and get signed to a major label like Columbia or Atlantic. And are selling out tours after one album and they're still called indie.

The point is that it's less about the actual genre and more about how music fits together. You can play something like Cults, a super mainstream indie band, but those sounds come from '50s and '60s girl groups. So I can play Cults and then the Ronettes. That sounds really good together, even though they have nothing to do with each other.

What do you use in terms of equipment on the show? Vinyl? CDs? iPods?

You can use whatever medium you can imagine. You can plug right into your iPod or laptop. We have two turntable decks. We have CD players, cassette players, a DAT player. You can play music off the Internet. I tend to mix it up. I have a lot of vinyl records, so I'll play a fair amount of vinyl, mostly CDs and I'll play a lot of stuff off my laptop and iPod. It just depends on what I have.

How do you plan and prepare for each week's show?

I tend to prepare for a show pretty much the entire week in advance. I'm sort of a tech geek. So I have Google Docs spreadsheets with stuff on it. I listen to a lot of music, I read a lot of music blogs, listen to a lot of radio stations across the country that I listen to and get a lot of new music from. And if I hear something I like, I'll put it on the list. I might store it there for later. I might not play it this week, but I'll definitely play it the next week. I get about two-thirds of my show that way. And for the rest of it you just go back to what you know best, the records that are almost worn out. I'll fit those in between.

What was the first song you played on Gold Soundz?

I think I played a Sleigh Bells song. That record was pretty hot last year. And it was a good record.

Have you played Pavement's "Gold Soundz" on your show?

I've never played that song! [Laughs] I can't, right? It'd be too cliché, right? I definitely play Pavement songs, and I don't feel like I play Pavement more than I feel I can get away with. That's because people kind of expect you to if you have a show called Gold Soundz. I did play "Gold Soundz" on someone else's show. That was the only time.

Are there any records that you've wanted to play that have been deemed inappropriate or just flat out too embarrassing to actually play on air?

Oh, man. I don't know. That's a really hard question. There's a lot of stuff I've listened to in the past, like a lot of stuff I was into when I was younger that there'd be no way I'd play. Like a lot of the '90s alternative stuff, I was a teenager then and I love those bands and I love those songs. You're never going to catch me playing Tonic or Everclear on the radio. As much as I love to go back and listen to those albums, that's not what KDHX is for, right? [Laughs] You can find that stuff elsewhere.

To be honest there are some bands that are on the edge of that, that are alternative and good enough to be played on KDHX even though they're super mainstream. Bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, that were insanely popular and still are, but the music is just that good. But like Stone Temple Pilots I'll never play. And I mean, I like those bands for nostalgia reasons mostly. Not that it's bad music, but the main attachment there is the time and place.

Yeah, I guess as fun as those bands are we never hear them on KDHX.

I remember hearing Everclear's “AM Radio” on a KDHX show one time. I was like "What? Are they playing this? Seriously? Whose show is this?" I found out it was somebody subbing for someone else. It was this guy, it was his first time subbing. And he played "AM Radio."

You said most of the music on your show comes from your own personal library, but I understand KDHX has a lot of music that gets mailed in to the station. Do you ever thumb through there? Does anything from that pile make it to your show?

For sure! Most of the stuff I play, like two-thirds or half of the stuff I play is brand new. It's come out in the last couple of months. That's because I love hearing new things and I love the discovery process of music. It's not that I love old music, it's just that act of finding that new song that you never heard before. It's amazing and fun. It's what keeps you coming back. That's why I play mostly new stuff, I get the biggest buzz off new music.

So yeah, everything that comes to the station is a new release. It comes in and gets cataloged and stuck on the shelf. Every week I go in there and look for stuff. I'll look for stuff by bands that I know, or labels I really like, like Sub Pop, Merge and Matador, or if a bands name sounds familiar, I'll stick it in the CD player and see what it sounds like. You never know what you're going to find is the point.

So you do find plenty of stuff in the KDHX CD library and it makes it to air?

Sure. Like I said most of the stuff I play is brand new. Which means I don't own it yet, nobody owns it yet. You know, it probably hasn't even been released yet.

I know you play a lot of artists from LouFest, did you attend? What'd you think?

It was fun! It's a very different type of festival compared to the festivals going on in other parts of the country. Smaller scale, has a different approach. It's more laid back, almost like a local friends and family kind of thing. If you were to go to something like Austin City Limits or Lollapalooza you got people coming in from all over the country, it's going to be a huge mix of people. Crowded and intense. LouFest is just really chill.

The best part was that most of my friends and people of acquaintance were there. It was like a giant party for our city. It's kind of a rare thing that I have 30 of my friends all at the same show and we're all having a great time together.

Any bands stand out?

The Hold Steady was great. But I love them. That was the highlight for me. But all the local bands did great and represented our city well. I don't know if any band was a surprise. Like Surfer Blood and Deerhunter were bands I'd never seen before and heard good things about. They were solid. It wasn't mind blowing. But people said they were good and they were good.

What are some bizarre things that have happened to you on the air?

There was this old lady that used to call in at 3 a.m. all the time. She'd call in once or twice every single week. And the first time she called I thought she was really drunk. She was just rambling and going on and on. And after a while I realized she wasn't drunk, she just wanted to talk to somebody. She was probably an insomniac. She'd just call in and just want to talk, she wasn't even listening to the show, to be honest. She'd always be like, "Can you play something for me, honey? Play a song for me." [Laughs] And I'd be like, "What do you want me to play?" She'd say, "Just play something for me." Okay, so this one's for you!

When you're on in the middle of the night, you definitely get a lot of odd callers. And most people would think you get all the drunks after they leave the bars, but it's mostly the people that are up late. People that work the night shift, or can't sleep, or just like to stay up all night. You get a lot of odd balls that call up and, whatever, they're listening to the show and they're digging it. So I'll talk to them.

Do you have many guests on your show that you interview? Or bands that perform?

I do some in studios. I do that pretty often. Maybe one a month. I like to get local bands in the studio. To perform and interview. If there's a band that's coming through town that I really like that are on the level that I think they're really accessible and have a good sound, but a lot of people just haven't heard them yet, I'll try to get them in the studio. Like the Futurebirds. They're a really good band that a lot of people just haven't heard yet. Just provide for that opportunity for people to hear them.

I would love to see J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr on your show.

[Laughs] I'd love that too! He's got to come through St. Louis first. He was on tour in the spring. I work at Off Broadway, we were trying to get him to play there because he had like three days off, but he didn't. And I don't know why, people seem to love Dinosaur Jr here.

I caught them at the Pageant a couple years ago. They were really, really loud.

Yeah. That's their style. J's not that loud. It's pretty striped down. The amazing thing about his style is that it's not all guitars and amps cranked to ten, but there's still that identifiable component of his sound. Which is his really unique vocal sense and unique phrasing on the guitar and the way he bends the vocals around the melodies. You hear that on acoustic guitar and it sounds like everything else J Mascis has done. You just can't describe it. It's that good. And it's that unique.

I saw him at South by Southwest. I talked to him for just a minute. I walked out of this show into this empty street, I was with my friend, Nico. So we just walked out and there's just J standing there with like his tour manager or something. I didn't want to be super fan boy-ish, so I just went up to him, shook his hand and patted him on the shoulder. I said, "Hey J, how's it going? I'm Chris. And you have really awesome shoes." Because he had these bright metallic Adidas shoes, really bizarre shoes, they kind of matched his hair in a weird way.

So aside from all the KDHX stuff and music, what do you do in your spare time?

I tend to have a hard time sitting still. I'm really physically active. I run and bike a lot. A lot of long distance stuff, you know, for two or three hours. Endurance type of stuff. I really like cerebral stuff, like I like to read, photography. All these things are things I wish I did more often. I'm just really busy.

Aside from being a KDHX DJ, I just do a lot of volunteer stuff there. I'm one the steering committee for our Young Friends, I help organize events for that. I help with the website. I work with a couple of non-profits, one out in Old North City. I just tend to be really busy. I'd rather be busy than bored.

I heard you've gotten your Masters and such. What'd you study?

I went to undergrad at Truman State. I studied math. I got minors in physics, philosophy and religion and computer science. After that I went to grad school to get a PhD in math. I didn't finish the degree, I got about three years into it. So I got a masters plus a year or so of PhD research. I just realized it wasn't the career path I wanted to be on. I really like learning, but the whole solitary academic research, almost monastic lifestyle was not something I wanted to do. I thought I have to change this now or be stuck with it for the rest of my life. So I got out of there.

So no going back to school?

I might go back. I've definitely contemplated going back to college pretty seriously. The question is what can I do for the rest of my life, you know, and how do you know until you do it?

What do you think of the current state of radio?

In a vague and broad sense you can separate people listening to music into two categories. There's the people who really love music, who are really passionate about it. To find something self-renewing about it. About investing time to find new bands and go to concerts and really appreciate the artists. And then there are the people who do it as filler, or for entertainment. Entertainment in a superficial sense. We all listen to music for entertainment.

Most commercial radio is like cable TV. There's just enough channels to flip through them and there's nothing to watch, and it's like another half hour's gone by. So you flip through them again. There's just not anything worth watching there. And I think with commercial radio, it's just there, people want it for noise. Whether it's something comforting, like an oldies station or a grunge station, something that provides a modicum of entertainment and comfort. They're not people invested in the deeper qualities of music and the artists themselves.

You know anyone can say, you know, modern radio sucks and modern TV sucks, I mean so does most journalism, you know, like USA Today is the most widely read newspaper in America, and it sucks. But the people who what to get something out of it will find people who are doing it for them. There are bands out there who'll play for those people. If you want it, you'll find it. It's hard to say that everyone should listen to the kind of music I listen to, because they probably shouldn't. They don't like the same kind of music as me. There's no value in saying something is good or bad, because we all listen to music for different reasons.

Do you think commercial radio is on it's way out?

I don't know. It's hard to tell what's happening. The one really positive thing about the music industry I can say is that the small labels are doing extremely well. And I don't mean in the sense that they are raking in millions of dollars, I mean in the sense that they are sustainable. They're putting out great music by great artists again and again.

The major indies is what I call them. Like Merge, Matador, Sub Pop, Hardly Art. The fact that these labels are putting out great music again and again means they're doing okay. They're doing well enough to sustain themselves and stick around for a while. And that's all that matters.

What are your thoughts on the St. Louis music scene?

I don't know. There's a lot of great bands here. A lot of bands that work really hard and are really good. It feels like a really small music scene. When you go to a local show, you tend to recognize everyone that's there. Which is great on some levels, but at the same time that means that those bands aren't getting heard by the kids out in the county.

There's not a big enough audience for the bands to make their case to get on to a new label. It's really hard for bands to get on a label here. Because there's not a certified scene. But a lot of bands are totally happy with what they're doing. Most of the bands in St. Louis are working really hard and putting out great music and that's exactly what they want to be doing. They're not trying to get signed or go on tour for four months of the year. Because they don't care, and that's what's great about it too.

There are bands here that, I think, can stand up to the best bands that are out there today. Not just in the quality of the musicianship and songs, but in terms of the records. Like the Old Lights record was phenomenal. The Theodore record was really good. Sleepy Kitty and the Blind Eyes records were all great. And the fact that we have that many bands putting out solid records means that, something's pretty healthy and we don't need anyone else to validate our scene. If we're happy with it and the bands are happy with it, that's what music's about. I don't think St. Louis is ever going to be a go-to city for bands, it's never going to be a buzzy city. But it's a healthy scene. And that's great.

Where would you be ideally with your show?

When you play songs on the radio, it's this opportunity to try to make this amazing mixtape. Like when you were in high school and you made mixtapes for your friends. Man, you're going to love these bands. I can't wait for you to hear these bands. It's kind of that same feeling. It's all this really great music that I think you're going to love, and you try to frame it in a way next to bands you already know. You frame it in a way that you hope everyone's going to dig it.

You know, the best feeling is when someone calls into the station and asks what that last song was, you know, it was so good. Who was that band? That's the best reward you can have. So that's what you're trying to do each week is make this amazing mixtape for the rest of the city. And how you do that is what changes as you go on. Trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. You figure out how you like things to flow, how you like things to fit together. It's a pretty involving process, but that's what's cool is how to make the show better each week. It's a really fun and rewarding thing.

What have you learned as a DJ at KDHX?

There are a lot of people in this city that really love music and really love their radio station more than you might expect. That's pretty damn awesome.

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