Interview: Jake Stern

Jake Stern is a DIY Renaissance man. Along with playing in several bands, Jake is an artist, a booker, and an avid music listener. FoundSound Music got the chance to chat with Jake about music, house shows, and the scene as a whole. 

1) How are you involved in the Pittsburgh Music Scene? 

I play in Meridian, The Otis Wolves, and Same. I also book DIY shows for touring bands looking to come through town. Besides that, I draw show posters for a lot of gigs that happen in the city, and try to see as much music as I can.

2) What have been some of your favorite shows that you've put on? 

Lets see here, a few come to mind.

Back in September I booked a show for my friends Abi Reimold and A Day Without Love from Philly at my house, Bates Hardcore Gym. It was just a beautiful late summer evening, tons of really great people came out, and all of the acts that were on the show really brought something unique to the table. Abi writes these expertly crafted, haunting alt/folk songs, and she played out in the middle of my back deck while all these people gathered around and politely listened. It just felt like a really special evening.

Later on in October, me and my roommate Sam decided to put on a Halloween show at our house cuz we'd always wanted to have one. We booked five local bands to play a cover set of their choice, they ended up being Nirvana, Outkast, The Bee Gees, The Beastie Boys, and My Chemical Romance. As soon as we announced the show, there was this crazy overwhelming response--like almost 400 people RSVP'd within a few weeks, which is pretty unheard of for a Pittsburgh DIY show. Then about a week before the gig, we got a knock on our door from the state police saying that we had to cancel the show--they'd found the public Facebook event and said we were operating as an illegal venue. So, we decided to call it off because the risk of being evicted and arrested didn't seem that appealing to us. Luckily, another house that does DIY shows offered to pick up the gig cuz it was way too good not to happen--when we announced that we had to cancel people were really bummed. Not to mention all the cover bands had put in so much work getting ready to play. So, we publicly cancelled the original Facebook event and secretly got the word out about the venue change, and the evening went off without a hitch. Tons of people showed up and went crazy for all the bands, it was such a fun time even though it was a massive fire hazard. DIY prevails I guess.

3) What advice do you have for someone trying to put on their own house shows? 

I'd say that if you're looking to put on some shows, just make sure to be as smart as you can about it. We learned the hard way not to have a public facebook event get out of control. Don't have loud shows go late on weeknights if your neighbors live close. I dunno, there's not much of a rulebook for things like this, haha. Probably above all just don't make promises you can't keep and respect all the members of your household.

4) What have been some of your favorite shows in Pittsburgh? (local or touring) 

Last winter I saw The Sidekicks in an Oakland basement called Sharkweek. The house was really cool, it had this tall stage in the basement which was really unique. A lot of people came out and were really going off by the time The Sidekicks played. One kid was crowd surfing and unplugged an extension cord with his feet, cutting all the power in the basement. So that kinda sucked but also totally epitomized the madness that was that evening.

A few years ago Meridian played our first full band show at 222 Ormsby, a now defunct DIY venue that was in an old grocery store. We played with a band from Australia called The Smith Street Band, who were on their first US tour at the time. That night we became incredible friends with them, which served as our introduction to many of their Australian counterparts who I've worked with over the years. Since then, Smith Street have gotten massive, doing huge tours in the US and even bigger ones in Australia. It's just really cool to think about when we met, playing to like 20 of my friends who I had dragged out to a DIY spot up Mount Oliver.

5) Do you a split between the DIY scene and more "professional" venues? If so, how? 

Organization and quality of equipment is definitely a big difference. With a lot of DIY shows the sound setup is less than ideal and kind of a pain to get everything necessary together. But that's because these shows are much less of a money-making opportunity than shows at real venues, which exist to pay out a lot more people than just the band on tour. People make sacrifices to make DIY shows happen--someone has to sink in money somewhere down the line to get a PA system, microphones, stands and cables--and chances are it'll just get broken and misused, or people will walk off with stuff here and there just because everything is a lot less regulated than at normal venues. However, these shows have to happen, because most lower level touring bands would eat shit financially and get very little exposure if they were booked at bars and venues every night. DIY shows allow them to tap into a really supportive and musically diverse community in most cities they go to.

6) What is the biggest challenge facing the Pittsburgh Music Scene? 

I'm not sure if there are too many right now, I feel pretty confident that Pittsburgh musicians are continuing to make great innovative music, and that promoters are doing a good job at making shows appealing and fun to attend. I do wonder how long it will last, like whether or not integral people in the community will leave the city and if new people will take their place.

7) What do you think makes the Pittsburgh Music Scene unique? 

The Pittsburgh music scene is very tightly knit, which is a really cool thing. There's a really great web of promoters and concertgoers that have the best interests of the music scene at heart and are willing to give people contacts or make sacrifices and agreements to make shows happen. Whether it's lending someone a PA system (thanks Nathan) or combining a show, people seem very willing to lend a hand to someone that needs it. I don't know if that really makes us unique, as that kind of seems to be how DIY scenes operate on a fundamental level in most cities, but it's certainly one of the things that I find the most enjoyable and comforting about the Pittsburgh scene.

8) Where do you see the Pittsburgh Music Scene heading in the future? 

It doesn't seem like the Pittsburgh scene has gotten lot of exposure on a larger scale in the past, people from other places don't really know about our city and how great of a music community we have here. Word seems to be getting out though--the past year or two have really been exceptional. A lot of bigger shows are happening and coming through town which has been super exciting to be a part of. I think that people will be hearing a lot about this city in the future. And hey, even if that doesn't happen, I'm pretty content having Pittsburgh be this sweet little hidden gem in the midwestern touring circuit.

To learn more about Jake and his work check out:
Make sure to check the Otis Wolves on 3.8.16 at The Shop: