Ed Schrader is a natural, albeit unconventional, storyteller. The Baltimore-based musician, comedian, and sometimes pasta chef, who is best known for his sweaty performances as half of the postpunk duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat , writes loosely autobiographical songs that are full of witty observations. But while it’s not unusual for storytellers to set their tales to music, Schrader’s words pack a punch on stage—literally. Live, he spends most of his time simultaneously singing and smashing a light-up drum.
If you’ve been to a concert or art show in Baltimore over the past few years, you’ve probably heard of Wham City. Founded by a group of local artists including Schrader, electronic musician Dan Deacon, and others, the artists’ collective puts on events throughout the city’s downtown. Schrader is quick to point out the passion of the group’s members, a trait he shares. On stage and in conversation, he speaks in long, animated sentences, sporadically interrupting himself to squeeze in a few more details. He’s especially enthusiastic when discussing the value (or lack thereof) of art in American culture.
“You know, I think that Americans value jalapeño poppers more than art,” he says. “People spend $15 to $20 on Netflix, Comcast, and this and that. But they don’t see spending $5 on a show that could be life-changing to be worth any value. We need to change that. We need to place a value on art.”
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat began as just Schrader, armed with a rich baritone and a single floor tom, before bassist Devin Rice came on board. The band’s first album, 2012’s Jazz Mind , featured a jarring mix of chaotic, shout-sung chants and mellow, psychedelic melodies in its short 20-minute run time. The follow-up, 2014’s Party Jail , is more fleshed out than its predecessor, with a handful of danceable tracks sprinkled in among its more abrasive offerings, largely due to Schrader’s decision to bulk up the album’s percussion with drummer Jeremy Hyman (Ponytail, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon).
“With an album that’s more of a cerebral experience, it’s easy for some of the details to get lost in translation with just a drum and a bass,” Schrader explains. “With the quiet songs, I felt like in order for them to express their fertility, their nuance, their complexity, they needed a more varied language in terms of percussion. Because when you slow a song down, it’s almost like spoken word. And at that point, you want to do everything you can to offer people a gateway to the story you’re trying to tell. I feel like having a great drummer is a good way to accomplish that.”
Schrader has had plenty of opportunities to tell his stories in Baltimore. The city’s thriving arts community, as he explains it, welcomes local bands and touring acts with open arms.
“I think it’s good for newcomers to know the city has a reputation and there’s a reason for that reputation,” he says. “When promoters put on shows in Baltimore, they always make sure that the bands are taken care of. If you’re from out of town, you know you have a place to stay. If you’re living up the street, you take $20 of the door for gas, but you give the touring band $200. That’s the mentality, and I just don’t want it to change.”
For all of Schrader’s passion about Baltimore, his music, and the arts in general, he somehow saves room for another love: pasta sauce. In his spare time, the musician makes and cans an Italian meat sauce that he sells at a handful of stores in Baltimore. The entire process takes around seven hours, but Schrader says that the undertaking doubles as a source of creative inspiration.
“I was home for two weeks recently and all I did was make and can my pasta sauce,” he says. “Once I started making it, the ideas for our next album just started flowing. I’d be cooking down the garlic and—bam!—I’d hear the first verse. Then I’d start crushing the tomatoes and—bam!—I’d get an idea for a guitar solo.”
Recently Ed Schrader’s Music Beat hit the road with friends and fellow Baltimoreans Future Islands for three months. “For an avant-garde pop band like us, it was a really great opportunity—it’s as good as it gets at this level,” he says. “And we definitely want to take it to the next level.” Since the tour, Schrader has been a staple on the road, sharing the stage with acts like Washington, D.C.’s Chain and the Gang. But the rigorous schedule hasn’t stopped him from developing some fresh, lighter material.
“The newer stuff that I’m coming up with is a little bit more dancy—dare I say pop,” he says. “I’m excited about it. It’s definitely more dancy than one would expect coming from us.”
Ed Schrader's Music Beat with Daddy Don't
Pilot Light (106 E. Jackson Ave.)
Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 10 p.m.