Letitia is pulling lighting equipment around the bar with her chai-royale as I’m setting up my laptop and realizing I haven’t eaten yet. We’re setting up for another round of Side Project Sunday interviews. Mike St. Clair walks in with his brown nylon pants, vintage shirt and trademark glasses. The three of us loosely huddle around a table to connect about his upcoming show and recent big wins. I ask: “I think the main question everyone wants to know – is – who is Pocket Sounds?”
Like many great bands, Pocket Sounds has had an evolution of artists involved. They describe the music as ethereal and imaginative cinematic soundscapes that are engaging, funky, and rocky with that warm Wilco-esque tone. The performers who played together as Pocket Sounds last year, have taken a new form, and the new Pocket Sounds has emerged with a recent record release at Mohawk with their album You are Not Alone. The record name comes from one of the tracks, which St. Clair says is about depression. “I don’t think it’s a sad song, though,” Mike says. “It just gives different perspectives on the topic.”
This inspires discussion about music, and art, and how everything created is up for listener-interpretation, and how your own interpretation can change within the song-writing process. Letitia’s favorite track on the new record is Fickle Breeze, which the Austin Music Minute has aired on KUTX. Mine is 7 + 0, which I thought was about relationships. “It’s about sports,” Mike corrects me, we laugh, “but it can be about whatever you want it to be." 7 + 0 was featured in a film called High and Outside…”which is rad,” says St. Clair, “because it premiered first at Raindance in London, and then at the Austin Film Fest for the U.S. Premier. They used a little bit of the instrumental part of Chase too.” 7 + 0 isn’t the only song hopeful for film-play. St. Clair’s song Safety Dance will also be featured in a film that is currently under production.
The tracks on You Are Not Alone include: 7 + 0, Fickle Breeze, The Chase, Julian, and You Are Not Alone. “We don’t have the full line up from the record release this Sunday, because a couple of people are on tour (Marcus Maurice and Mark Henne). But this Sunday the line up includes: Jeff Olson on drums/vibraphones, Ethan Kennedy on guitar, Paul Deemer on synthesizer and trombone, and Mike St. Clair on bass, vocals, and keys,” says Mike.
Each of the artists playing with Pocket Sounds this Sunday has a rich history within the music industry. Jeff recently toured with Balmorhea, and Austin-local a six-piece minimalist instrumental ensemble formed by Rob Lowe and Michael Muller in 2006. He’s played with Batty Jr, and Food Group, and he’s also played with St. Clair before in White Denim. Ethan plays regularly with Suzanna Choffel and was formerly involved with Kinky Machine. Paul played with St. Clair in Polyphonic Spree, subs with Grupo Fantasma, and played in Progger.
Here is an excerpt from a previous interview with St. Clair that gives his musical background:
Mike St. Clair grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina playing music. Starting with the violin when he was five years old, he took lessons for six years or so. After he grew frustrated feeling a little in over his head on violin in the all-city orchestra, he switched to trombone in the middle school band ultimately adding guitar to his musical repertoire. Mike attended music school, playing the trombone and bass in Greensboro, North Carolina where he received a music education degree. “I went on to study jazz at the University of North Texas in Denton and graduated with a Master’s degree,” Mike shared.
He went on the road for the first time with the Glen Miller Orchestra. “It was a really good experience,” … “It was a bunch of musicians traveling around in a greyhound bus,” he recalled. “The band was a merge of all the jazz I had been studying with big band sounds and pop songs.” This was around 2005. Once he returned from touring with the Glen Miller Orchestra he was invited to play trombone with Polyphonic Spree. “That was my first European tour,” Mike said. “We had two buses, and a lot of the musicians had their families with them. There were at least two dozen people making music with us on that tour.” They had a full choir, percussion and drums, horns, and strings. Mike is not a full time band member but still plays Polyphonic Spree shows from time to time. “I fill in on trumpet or trombone.” The band’s most notable song is Light and Day. “I’m on three of their records, but I’m not on that recording,” he clarified. Two other notable bands Mike has toured and recorded with include: Okkervil River and currently White Denim. St. Clair moved to Austin with a jam band called Nelo. After Nelo ran it’s course, he played with Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express.”
After the show this Sunday at Kitty Cohen’s you can catch Pocket Sounds opening for Polyphonic Spree June 3rd at Baracuda, and find Mike on the East coast this summer. He’s hoping to take Pocket Sounds on the road late July as well, and we're hoping to follow them around on a road trip.