When analyzing someone’s presence and credibility in a local music scene, people tend to look for what that someone has given to the scene during his or her time. By that theory, Kenny McWilliams’ time playing in the wildly popular group Baumer makes him one of the Columbia music scene’s favorite sons. Add to that the fact that he’s continued playing after the group disbanded with new powerhouse acts The Internet and Rejectioneers and Kenny becomes a scene legend. Now throw in his being one half of Archer Avenue Studio, he and Eric McCoy’s recording and producing brainchild that has churned out the latest wave of great records from Columbia artists, and Kenny may as well be the Godfather of the scene.
Recently, I sat down with Kenny to discuss his time living, playing and recording in Columbia, the rise of Archer Avenue and this Friday’s Archer Avenue Triple EP Release at New Brookland Tavern, which features CD releases from AAS clients Foley, The Sea Wolf Mutiny and Rejectioneers.
Has growing up playing in bands in Columbia helped you in your producing/recording role in that you have a musician’s ear first and foremost?
Yeah, I think it’s been really huge. In fact, the whole way that this got started is because I was doing that [playing music]. I got interested in recording in high school and bought a little, cheap four-track…literally a cassette-tape recorder thing and started recording. I was in bands that were recorded in studios and I was so fascinated by it, so I started building gear and my dad built this place [the studio shed]. I started by just recording bands that I was in, and then friends’ bands…stuff like that. I think part of the reason that people trust Eric and I when they come is that they know a little bit about our history and that we were on the other side of it. When a band comes to us, we’re not just some stuffy producer that has been doing this for years and years, even though we have been doing it for a while now, but we did the band thing. We understand the budget issues…the scheduling issues because we were there too. I think all of that is huge. Even just being a part of a band and learning how to deal with personalities…those are all skills that help us in here too.
You guys have worked with major artists in the Columbia scene over the years, including Baumer, Marry a Thief and Austin Crane. Because of your work with these artists, have you seen a lot of referrals coming in as clients?
Yeah, actually. Pretty much, up until really recently, every single client that either of us got was through referrals or word of mouth…kind of real grassroots. We haven’t ever advertised formally; we have a promo with WXRY and we’ve started trying in the past year and a half, two years to get an online presence…try to brand the image, that kind of stuff. But really, it’s all been referrals.
This Friday’s Archer Avenue Showcase is the first time you guys have ever done anything like it, correct? With three bands releasing records at the same show?
Absolutely. We’ve talked about it for a while, sort of, but it never quite was the right time…and I think now, piggybacking off of some of the things that have happened this past year, it’s the perfect time to do it – to have three talented bands that have sought us out and are willing to do it. It’s huge for us…We want it to be really community based and I think Emily [McCollum] and Cayla [Fralick] opening…I think they do really well, both of them individually and people will be really intrigued to see them together. Our hope from the very beginning of planning this thing was that people will come at the beginning and stay through the whole show…We’re trying to encourage people that this is going to be a quality show.
With a lot of CD release shows, you pay a higher cover charge and get the CD free as a part of admission. With three bands debuting records at this show, will the bands just be selling their records inside? How’s that aspect going to work?
When we talked about booking the show, I basically told each band, “Look – I’d love for you guys to do this. It would really help us out, I think it’d be cool for you guys because there’d be some cross fan bases…but what we want to do is keep the ticket prices as low as we can.” I told them up front, “I know none of you guys are going to make as much money as you would have if you’d done your own CD release show; done it disc for free, charged $10…” And they were all totally fine with that. What Archer Avenue is doing is with each person that pays to get in, we’re giving them a download card where they can go to this Bandcamp site that we have set up specifically for this show that has one song from each of those three bands…That’s really cool because say a Sea Wolf fan walks in, they get the card and they buy the Sea Wolf record, right? But when they leave they have that card, so they’re not going to forget about the other bands that played that night and they get to hear them. Hopefully, over time, that encourages this “scene”…grows the whole scene as a united thing.
Of the three clients releasing CDs at this event, which record did you spend the most time on recording and producing?
Hmm…that’s a really good question. Probably…hands down the Rejectioneers. I’m kind of in that band, I play with them, so that changes things a little bit. We’ve been working on that thing…dude, we started recording that thing about a year and a half ago or something ridiculous. It was kind of this thing where I would do it whenever I had time or whenever we could get everybody together; it was really laid back. But what that inevitably does is it drags everything out…Foley I spent four solid days on, so we did it fast. Sea Wolf…I want to say we spent probably right at a week; I’m talking full days for both of these bands. Rejectioneers is hard for me to tell exactly how long I spent because it was a day here, a night here…doing it over a length of time is just so hard.
Was there anything extremely unique about any of the recordings for these three bands?
Yeah, I think with Rejectioneers I tried really hard…to not do a lot of overdub stuff. There are certain sections with there’s a lot of overdub guitar, but a lot of it just three guitars – a little more minimalistic. We’re each doing our own thing on purpose. With Sea Wolf, they came to me and were really intent on recording live. I get that often and I try to accommodate as much as possible…They wanted to all be in the same room, so I just decided, “Alright…we’re gonna make this happen.” That was a first for me…probably the most unique of the three.
The Archer Avenue Triple EP Release takes place this Friday night, August 12, at New Brookland Tavern. Admission is $5 for 21+, $7 for underage guests and includes a free download card that can be redeemed online for a song from each of the three bands releasing a CD that night. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the night’s lineup is as follows:
Emily McCollum and Cayla Fralick
The Sea Wolf Mutiny
For more information on the show, visit www.newbrooklandtavern.com. For more information on Kenny and Archer Avenue, visit their website at www.archeravenuestudio.com or find them on Twitter @ArcherAveStudio.