Meet Stushido

Stushido has been impacting the Baltimore music scene since 2008.  What started out as an experimental project turned into something much more, and Stushido has been playing many shows and festivals to get the word out on their band and their message and people are catching on.

Stushido plays a major role in the live electronica music scene in Baltimore.  Stushido is comprised of Stu Lemley, bass/synthesizer/loopstation, Zachary Mattix, guitar, and Al Wheeler, drums. Stushido is working on a new concept album “Find Your Future” that will be released soon and many music fans are looking forward to the next chapter of the band.

Check out my conversation with Stu Lemley on the origin of Stushido and what he thinks about the Baltimore live electronica music scene.

Q: When and how did Stushidō form and start playing shows in the local area?

A: Stushidō actually began as an outlet for me to use my bass guitar, synthesizer, and loopstation to create instrumental arrangements surrounding my interpretations of different phenomena in the world. Initially, did not believe it was a project for the live stage, nor did I believe it would appeal to a large audience. Back in May 2008, a band I was with had personnel problems, and had to bail on a show we had on the books. Not wanting to leave the venue in a bad situation, I called up Zachary Mattix, who I knew to be a very talented guitarist with a penchant for the experimental, and Al Wheeler, a motown-drummer whose heavy bass pedal and snare-crack are as incredible as his fills. We never rehearsed together due to short notice and difficult schedules – I had to jam with each of them independently. We played the gig (where Zach and Al met for the first time) and it was great. Luckily, we were recorded live by a good friend of mine. I threw it on myspace, and took a look to see who was interested. I’m glad to say that a few people are.

Q: What or who made your band want to go in the electronica genre?

A: As a bass player, my top priority is motion and drive. As a composer, I want to move people, make them feel, and I love making people dance. I have a lot of influences, but David Byrne is at the top. In addition to another thousand reasons why I think he’s great, I have always admired his ability to create music by layering many rhythms, ranging from the simple to very complex, to achieve a sound that is truly special. As I combined multiple layers of music, and applied a high-energy approach with motion and drive, Electro felt like the most appropriate genre to work with. Since we also incorporate a large amount of Rock and World music in what we do, it might be misleading for me to say we’re 100% Electro, but I think it works for Stushidō.

Q: What electronica-based promotion companies has your band dealt with and what are some of the top Baltimore/metro venues that support this genre of music?

A: As far as promoters go, we did a lot of our earliest work with Steez Promo, and played many great shows with their outfit. They’ve done some great things in the past few years. More recently, we have been working with Walther Productions, who has brought some of the greatest projects of all genres through Baltimore, not to mention the collective responsible for All Good Music Festival. Working with them has been great for us. We also do some work with a super-cool crew called Fortune5Fifty, getting more and more involved with this region by the day. I’m also a big fan of CKC – They are a conscious-minded organization that devotes themselves to charity through music. March 27 they are presenting Rock the Ribbon, a breast cancer awareness event with Brothers Past and other artists. Their commitment is huge, and I hope to work with them someday.

As far as venues go, nothing in my mind comes close to the 8×10, as a musician and as a fan. Stushidō opened for Toubab Krewe there, and it was one of my favorite musical experiences to date. The management runs a great operation, and they do so with integrity. While the Electronica and Jam band scene definitely has a solid presence here, it is still very much a niche genre in many ways. While they would never create any illusions that they don’t need to sell tickets to stay in business, they fight the good fight in hosting all types of musicians and genres, continuing the existence of many different styles of music that would otherwise not come through Baltimore. With their Open Mic Programs, they consistently make their legendary venue available to new musical projects cutting their teeth. You don’t see this from any other major venue in Baltimore, and the fact that they do this is truly a beautiful thing.

Q: How important is Starscape to the electronica scene in Baltimore? Do you think that this festival makes people aware of not only the real big and popular electronica bands, but the smaller local/regional ones like yourselves?

A: I love Starscape. I gave out our first live demos at Starscape. We opened the Beach Stage in 2009, and I felt honored to just be in the party. I didn’t expect high attendance for our set, and I didn’t really expect Stushidō to stick in anyone’s mind after the 14 hours of great music that followed, which included Disco Biscuits, Lotus, and many other phenomenal bands. That being said, eight months after Starscape ’09, we played a festival in New Jersey a month ago, and a group of people were there who saw us at Starscape. I must admit, I was surprised. Starscape is an incredible party, and I hope it never goes away.

Q: What are some other local festivals that are geared toward the electronica genre?

A: The short answer is that there isn’t enough. I know that I’m speaking selfishly, but I would love to see more Baltimore festivals showcasing electro bands and jam bands alike. There is a lot involved with putting on a festival, so you can’t necessarily point at any one promoter or organization and say “you should put on a festival.” But someone should put on a festival.

Q: What do you think the electronica music scene will be like in a few years and do you think it will continue to gain popularity in Baltimore and across the country?

A: As far as music goes, I can’t wait. As far as the scene goes, at this time of economic crisis, it’s tough to say. More and more Americans become and remain jobless, their budget for live shows gets more and more constricted. As less people can afford to buy tickets, the venue’s bottom line suffers. A low turnout to a show can deal a serious financial blow to a promoter. The tighter the promoter and venue’s budgets decrease, the less likely they will be to go out on a limb and book a local band that may not have an obviously established fan base. With the live show being such a huge part in a new band’s development, we’re looking at the musical circle of life being jeopardized.

Right now Stushidō in the midst of recording Find your Future, a concept album surrounding growth, the human condition, and the experience of life. We’re recording at the Peabody Institute, one of the finest facilities on this coast, and we’re pumped just to have this opportunity, and how it is coming together. I look forward to seeing continued success for our friends in Segway and Damn Right, I’m excited to see Marm0set representing Baltimore down in Miami for UMC, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Baltimore.

The music is out there. Baltimore is extremely rich with musical talent, and will continue to be. I’m really glad people are getting into our project, but whether or not someone digs on Stushidō is irrelevant in the big picture. Many of us are hurting financially in the short term, and there’s no way I would ask someone to spend their last few bucks on a ticket for one of our shows. If they are, they may need to re-prioritize, and possibly buy a sandwich instead. That being said, more than 8 out of 10 of us are still very much employed, and doing just fine. If these people enjoy live music, and the news is scaring them into staying in and watching Dancing with the Stars, my advice is this: Don’t lose your life because of the hype, dust off your groove shoes and get out there. You never know when you’ll miss a beautiful experience.

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