Brandon Schlia, vocalist and bassist for local post-punk act Red Heat, lays out his solution to existential panic in the lead single “Dread” off the band’s newest release, “Animals:”
“Somehow, every day, I decide to fully and completely ignore it.”
It’s not the most sustainable solution, but it might be the most workable one, if Schlia and his peers on Steak & Cake Records are any indication. The label, which Schlia started in his bedroom, celebrates five years on Sat. 13 of providing young Buffalo musicians with experience, expression and escape.
Five years ago, Schlia was at a crossroads. He had indentured his financial future to grad school to study mental health counseling only to find he had no interest in the field.
With no clear path forward, daydreaming about starting a record label became his crutch. The desire to give an outlet to his friends gave him the incentive to pull the trigger.
It started small: Schlia set up a microphone on his bedroom floor and invited artists to play their guts out. Today, recording with Steak & Cake has become a much larger production, with Schlia recording full bands and holding shows in his basement, which he nicknamed Curly’s. But the label has retained its lack of pretense.
“It’s like small-scale musical socialism,” said Ben Randall, who has recorded with Schlia with multiple bands, including Wolf and Hop Hop & The Noize. “There’s no pretense … we get together and create music for the sake of the ecstasy we feel when we make it.”
That’s a refreshing attitude for many musicians. Like any other community, Buffalo’s music scene can get competitive and cliquey – there are a lot of talented people vying for a relatively small number of ears. That vibe can easily sour the escape that expression brings.
That’s a shame, because the world can be a hopeless place. On the opening track of “Animals,” for instance, Schlia works through the guilt he felt working at a liquor store enabling other people’s self-destruction, admitting: “This job makes me sick, I’ve got to get out of it.”
Despite the subject matter, “Animals” doesn’t wallow. It confronts. It’s an aggressive piece of work, reminiscent of Gang of Four but rougher around the edges. Guitarist Nick Randall soars above the foundation laid by Schlia and drummer Jordan Jones, alternately making his guitar roar, sing and syncopate. As Red Heat evokes a hopeless world, you remember that, by making music, the band is simultaneously introducing the antidote.
“I’m a compulsive person that can let this kind of existential dread dominate my thought process if I’m not careful,” said Schlia. “One of the best ways to bypass that seemingly unavoidable situation is distraction … I just happened to take to music so it’s what I do to make time go by without losing my mind.”
On Feb. 13, Red Heat celebrates the release of “Animals” in a showcase at Curly’s with Shelly the Cat, Anthony DelPlato and Bradley Kujawski, Mal.a.Mute, Barometric (Philadelphia), Hop Hop & The Noize, Red Heat, La Times, Wylie Something and Laube’s Old Spain. The musical acts will all honor five years of Steak & Cake Records enabling musicians to find meaning and distraction in the face of dread.
What: Steak & Cake Records five-year anniversary and Red Heat CD release concert
When: 4 p.m. Feb. 13
Where: Curly’s on the West Side (near Black Dots)
Admission: $7 ($10 to receive limited edition Steak & Cake booklet)