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Getting down to business with Small Talk Industries

Charlotte band finds balance between what they love, what pays the bills



Getting all of the members of a band together in one location on a weekday afternoon usually requires a juggling act of schedules. With Peter Gray, Grey Brewster, Stacey Leazer and Jonathan Erickson, the process was a bit easier. Day times are usually more laid-back as each member has a career fueled by music -- in bands, as music teachers or session musicians. They do what they can to pay the bills so any spare time can be focused on what they enjoy most -- playing original music as the pop/indie-rock outfit Small Talk Industries.

Our hour-long conversation over pints at The Liberty on South Boulevard is easygoing, humorous and peppered with the Charlotte band's drive to play the music they love. There are jokes about how Leazer wanted to call the band "Sweet Meat," venting by Gray about his frustration with discussing his lyrics ("I hate talking about it"), laughing about how Erickson was "tricked" into the band and Brewster's excitement about the group he's a part of ("Playing with these three guys is fuckin' slammin.'").

Through it all there's a common thread. These guys do whatever it takes to play original music, even if it means playing shitty cover songs for a solid paycheck.

"If you want to work in this town and just play music full time, you can't do that playing original music," Leazer (who plays with Benji Hughes, The Hot Gates and, years ago, Muscadine) says. "Most of us do sideman kind of work when it comes to cover bands — none of us is the lead singer. If you want your cover band to stay busy enough to make a good living at it, you'd have to play three or four nights a week. That's bullshit. I barely want to play in an original band three or four nights a week. You make great money, you get to play with different folks every night, but you have to play 'Brown Eyed Girl' every night. I'm fortunate enough that I don't have to play 'Brown Eyed Girl' in any band I'm a part of."

Gray (who plays with Benji Hughes and Buschovski) agrees, noting that it's better than the average 9-to-5 job. "It's not like it's not work — it is," he says. "As bad as it can possibly get — playing 'Brown Eyed Girl' at somebody's wedding — I'd rather do that than anything else I'm qualified for, like washing dishes or parking cars. Playing a song you hate is great because you have to make it sound good."

Erickson (who played with The Noises 10) also weighs in. "I used to do residential painting on the side, but I'd much rather play 'Brickhouse' than go paint again. Playing as much as you can with as many people as you can helps."

Balancing out all of the different cover acts to try and find time to practice, record or play gigs with Small Talk takes work, but it's worth the effort. "You've gotta be able to afford trading a night where you could be making money playing covers to go play for no money where we get more out of the music," Brewster says. "When we play live, it's better than anything else in the world as far as what my soul gets out of it."

The members of Small Talk Industries got together in June 2010. It started as Brewster (former member of Atheneaum, Lindsay Horne Band) and Gray working on songs before quickly adding Leazer. Then the trio began efforts to add Erickson.

"We didn't know if Jonathan would be interested," Brewster, who played with Erickson in the early days of The Noises 10, says. "So, we wanted him to record one song with us and gauge his interest."

Erickson adds, "I thought I was just going to record one song as a kind of session work. When I got to the studio to rehearse, they had four or five other songs they wanted me to learn. It started to click with me when they started talking about how good the song was going to sound live. Live?!"

As the pieces fell into place, the writing process became collaborative with each band member adding their two cents. "Everyone contributes and it feels good to do it that way," Brewster says. "We've all got a lot of different roots and I think what's consistent is a sense of melody and purpose to any note that's played." Their sound has been compared to Bob Mould and Weezer, as well as Thin Lizzy and Ween.

Small Talk Industries is working on material for an album, though an EP is more likely, simply so they can get something in the hands of fans. "I like to think that I could have had at least 20 songs written by now," Gray says. "I just have too much other stuff going on."

Small Talk Industries

With Temperance League, Scowl Brow. $5. Jan. 6. 10 p.m. Snug Harbor.

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