Mabel and Joseph of Wrong Division

WRONG DIVISION: BRINGING NOISE TO OCCIDENTAL FREQUENCIES

By Justin Price

Whether it’s supporting local music, or introducing new and exciting music to it’s listeners, member-supported community radio is truly the lifeblood of any independent music scene. It’s no secret that Saint Louis has one of the absolute best in KDHX (http://www.kdhx.org). They have their time slots filled to the brim with incredible songs and sounds, and regardless of what time you tune in you can find something to satisfy your musical cravings. Wrong Division is a perfect example: They use a late Thursday/early Friday slot from 1 to 3 a.m. to spin ” the best in progressive punk and experimental DIY rock including everything from methodical, melodic post-rock to erratic, noisy math” by their own description on their program page. We talked about how new bands can get their music featured on the radio, and also how playing “noisy math” at 3:30 in the morning can  invoke the rage of Stormin’ Norman.

MOTH: For starters, What was the first record that either of you purchased with your own money?

Mabel: Actually, this is kind of sad, but we just got our first turntable only about a month ago (from a Goodwill! Only $12! That’s only a dozen George Washingtons! Yes, we’re still psyched about that!). We have accumulated a small but awesome collection of records from bands that we’ve seen either in the studio or on the road over the years and thought it was about damn time we were able to listen to them someplace other than just the radio station’s studio. But to properly answer your question, I think the first record I ever actually paid for was a live Duke Ellington album out of the bargain bin at Vintage Vinyl.

Joseph: I believe mine was the Tambersauro/Blue Letter Split, although it’s very possible that was given to me.

MOTH: How did you both begin working together/get involved with music in Saint Louis?

Mabel: Back in the summer of 2007, Joe was playing out with his skronky ass two-piece math rock duo Sleep State while my weirdo punk rock foursome The Ultraviolents (the product of four band/orchestra geeks goofing off in a basement together) was beginning to get its bearings around town. Eventually, we both ended up on a bill together opening for a great band called Ho-Ag at the Lemp Arts Center. After the show, Joe already had his mind made up that our bands would record a split together, which happened in his parent’s basement out in the middle-of-nowhere Jefferson County that same hot summer. A few years later, we’re living together, in love with each other and making and partaking in music however and wherever we can.

Joseph: Mabel summed up how we began working together really well. As far as getting involved, I have a little more to share. Ever since I picked up an instrument, it’s always been common sense to me to set up your own shows, advertise them and put together the best performance you can. I was living in High Ridge, Missouri when I started playing and I immediately started working on shows in High Ridge, House Springs, Festus, Sullivan, Owensville and Washington, Missouri. It didn’t take long to start participating in St. Louis.

“At the time I was focused on helping other bands (as well as my own) reach as many ears as possible. It feels very natural to be doing what we’re doing right now.”

MOTH: I know KDHX played a big role with me discovering new, and especially local, music. How did you get involved with the station? Can you explain the focus and/or origins of Spazztick/Wrong Division?

Mabel: I was in love with the idea of radio ever since high school, where I had my first transmissions through FM airwaves. From there, I went on to become involved with college radio at UMSL and became a volunteer at KDHX concurrently. Sherri Danger (DJ of femme fatale showcase Dangerous Curves) let me fill in for her a few times, which was always a blast. After being behind the board at KDHX, I knew I wanted my own show. I didn’t know exactly what to do until Joe came up with the idea of submitting a demo for an experimental rock show, something that was touched on but not fully delved into by any other show at the time.

Joseph: I have been a listener of KDHX since my 17-year-old days of working overnights at McDonald’s to fund my video game and music equipment buying addiction. I remember working two full time jobs concurrently in the Summer of 2004, and the CD player in my car never worked. I found KDHX and listened to a LOT of it. I never thought about getting involved, but then I met Mabel. She was already volunteering and showed me how easy it was to get involved. At the time I was focused on helping other bands (as well as my own) reach as many ears as possible. It feels very natural to be doing what we’re doing right now.

MOTH: With both you playing in bands AND hosting a radio program in St. Louis, I’m sure that must offer you a unique perspective on what’s happening locally. Do you think there’s enough healthy interest in forward thinking music in our hometown?

Joseph: St. Louis is a small city with big ears. There is a forward thinking population here, but there are so many great bands and so many shows and simply not enough people. Our shows are well-attended, but in comparison to larger cities the sheer number of people who attend shows is much more massive. I think this may fool people into thinking there is not enough interest, but I feel that many do not take into account that St. Louis has a smaller population. Shows here are more intimate and personal, and I think there are amazing individuals in our hometown. I love Saint Louis and the people in it.

Mabel: Joe made a really good point. After traveling out of town together and seeing how different groups of people behave and react to our favorite genres of music, it’s easy to appreciate the things that St. Louis’ music scene generally excels in, like treating touring bands with a lot of gratitude and respect. At the same time, we find things in other cities that we wish people would catch on to here, like starting shows earlier to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules and well, not being too timid to dance and move with the music while a band is laying it down. Overall, however, great things are happening constantly, and it’s wonderful to see people keeping that fire alive.

MOTH: How much of what you do on the program is dedicated to local music, and who are some of the local bands that you’ve featured on the program?

Mabel: We try to have as many in-studios with our local favorites as possible, especially to promote their upcoming releases or shows. Some bands that have recorded with us are Skarekrau Radio, Bikini Acid, The Conformists, New Dad, Sine Nomine and Egg Chef.

Joseph: I agree with Mabel. Our favorites are certainly not limited to those bands as our show is ever evolving. Many notable bands from outside the Saint Louis area include Upsilon Acrux, Cave, Pterodactyl and Zevious.

“Overall, however, great things are happening constantly, and it’s wonderful to see people keeping that fire alive.”

MOTH: With both of you being musicians in various projects around Saint Louis, how do you go about choosing what local bands to feature? Do you actively seek out new artists, or do you like to see what comes into your inbox? It must help being on the ground level.

Joseph: To be honest, our inbox does not get flooded with music. I wish it did! We actively seek out bands by keeping our eyes and ears open. We have a limited budget, so acquiring new music can be difficult. We’re file sharing or music is being donated to us. Because both of us play in multiple bands, we often perform with wonderful musicians and acquire music directly from the source. If you’d like, please send our email wrongdivision@kdhx.org to as many bands as possible.

Mabel: In addition to getting to perform with great bands locally, we live in South City, only a stone’s throw away from our favorite venues. Joe hails from Jefferson County and I’m from the suburbs, so ever since we moved down here a little over a year ago, fellow musicians became more frequently familiar faces and good friends. I feel like we’re at the heart of where a lot of amazing shows happen, so if a new project springs up or a sweet show gets set up, we get to hear it or at least hear about it right away. Outside of that, MySpace is a great network for bands, and we find out about some music on there (and sometimes, it even finds us).

MOTH: I love a lot of the bands you guys have in rotation. What kind of response have you received to some of your programming choices? It’s a very interesting, and diverse, spectrum you guys cross throughoutthe length of the show.

Joseph: We often receive phone calls from people who are surprised to hear our selections circulating on FM radio. I would be lying if I said that people didn’t call and complain, though. It is a rare occurrence when this happens, but it stands as a reminder that what we do is not widely accepted. For every negative response, we have received many more positive responses.

Mabel: Back when we were in our 3:30-5 a.m. time slot, we got hilarious curmudgeony phone calls from an elderly man named Norman (who we dubbed “Stormin’ Norman”), who had the stereotypical older generation’sresponse to music that came after his time. We always tried our best to humor him, as we do with any late-nighters with oddball requests. We get so many nice calls though, and it always makes it all worthwhile. My favorite call so far was from a truck driver who randomly tuned in to KDHX for the first time and thanked us for keeping him up company during his late-night drive.

MOTH: Is Wrong Division a pretty accurate snapshot of your collective taste? Or does one of you lean more toward a specific genre than the other?

Joseph: Mabel tends to gravitate toward visceral hard-hitting rock and other ’90s throwback types. I really like ugly guitar sounds, atonal yelling and odd time signatures in punk music. I have to admit that I become bored with most music very easily, so I’m constantly seeking out new sounds that excite and inspire me. I’ll take an ugly skronky guitar chord over a finely executed melody any day. Wrong Division is meant to reference math, which is an indirect reference to the genre “math rock.” “Wrong Division” is also an homage to the Fugazi song “Long Division.”

Mabel: Joe knows me too well. I have a definite appreciation for catchy riffs and hits that make me want to move. Some of the more out there stuff he plays still makes me raise an eyebrow from time-to-time, but I’ve found that it’s always best to approach everything with an open mind. I, too, suffer from musical ADD, so music that possesses unique or standout qualities appeals to me the most.

MOTH: What are some memorable moments or experiences you’ve had on the program?

Joseph: Everytime an individual calls and donates during pledge drive is memorable. It does not happen often, but when it does, it reminds us that people are invested in what we’re doing. Every wonderful bandthat has performed for our program has been a memorable experience.

Mabel: I’ll never forget the time that we had ninjas in the studio. We usually book our own sessions, but this one in particular – a two-piece drum and bass duo from Los Angeles – was recommended to us by the KDHX staff. We accepted thinking it might not really be our thing and were so pleasantly surprised. Two guys in full head-to-toe ninja costumes skillfully hammered out some of the catchiest music we’d ever heard while their friend named Donkeypunch – I kid you not – whipped around a pair of nunchucks.

MOTH: If somebody wanted to get a recommendation from Wrong Division about what to check out in local music, what resource could they use or where could they start?

Joseph: Josh Levi’s website FLOOD YR FACE keeps updated on excellent performances taking place in our city: apoprecords.com/floodyrface. The individuals who run and work at Apop Records on Cherokee St. are well-informed and keep a wonderful selection of local artists stocked. The store windows are a great resource for upcoming shows as they let local artists plaster their store with flyers apoprecords.com.

Mabel: In addition to those great resources, I also like checking Annie Zaleski’s music blog out often for show announcements and other local music news: riverfronttimes.com/atoz. There’s also a pretty rad forum called STL DIY Hardcore that’s kept up-to-date with a lot of hardcore and punk shows, and the address to that is stldiyhardcore.proboards.com. We also update our MySpace page (myspace.com/wrongdivision) occasionally with a list of shows happening in town that we personally recommend.

MOTH: What are some artists that you gravitate to, or who highlight the spirit of Wrong Division, that you feature on the program?

Joseph: This is an ever changing, constantly revolving door of amazing artists and excellent musicians that I cannot begin to define by dropping a couple of names. Our show is on from 1-3 AM on Thursday Nights-Friday Mornings. If you visit KDHX.org and search under “Shows” for our program, you will be able to browse our playlists. Every band on our playlists will come highly recommended by both of us.

Mabel: Definitely. We’re just a couple of people who love sharing our favorite music with people. If we can turn just one or two people on to a band that we think deserves attention, then our job here is done! We’ve seen and heard so many great musicians in the experimental rock genre – both bands that have made it big already and ones that have yet to show up on St. Louis’ radar – and each week is just a sampling of the things that we love.

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