Not even a rough night slows down Mike Schalk’s music wave. Here’s a one-man-music-thought-pool: Attached to one hand an iced coffee, the other a cigarette.
Outside Starbucks on a sweltering Sunday, everyone around needs a bath, but Schalk is on a mission, sharing about projects nonstop, yet he’s still weirdly laid back. As if chillin’ on a raft but braced and ready to hit up some rapids.
Scoring his fancy, square-toed kicks at Goodwill, he prefers to live simply.
“It keeps me hungry,” he says. “You know, so I can do the music.”
Obsessed, sure, but far from pretentious. See, a screw comes loose from my glasses. Schalk hunts for it, really diving in, feeling his fingers across the dirty ground, as if searching for a camouflaged, deep sea fish. No luck.
Submerged in music, he sings, plays guitar and piano, promotes two bands and on some nights morphs into DJ Peachy Paul. He knows the frontman role, but sometimes he’ll hide in a deep corner, treading lightly, sliding fingers over keys. His darker, Electronic project, Hyacinth House, even practices at his pad.
Schalk takes another drag, smiles and says, “The last couple of months, I’ve been swimming in music.”
Today, he wears a yellow T-shirt imprinted with a bigger-than-life Crayola, neck to belly. He squints his brown, almond-shaped eyes, exhaling. His dark hair crests at the center of his forehead, making a “C” shape. Self-taught, he's played in bands since he was 15.
Last year, when Hyacinth House was on break, Schalk tuned in to a Punk Rock compilation and suddenly he wanted “Rock and Roll shit, not just dancy stuff.”
Soon, The Dust Feel crawled out of Schalk’s Psychedelic garage.
Writing comes in the brainstorming/poet/splash method, though it’s held in check.
“I’ll just sing the whole song through, like freestyle rappers do, I guess,” he says. “I’m also a Pop enthusiast at heart, so I like not having songs too long, and I like having songs upbeat. ’Cause I get bored too easy. I like the stuff that gets your ass moving and gets your heart, not just a bunch of sound.”
On drums, Black Flag enthusiast Brett Trisch (formerly of Frontier Folk Nebraska and The Loose Threads) is a “Keith Moon kinda drummer.” Steven Oder (of Frontier Folk) plays lead guitar. Schalk says, “He’s got a lot of soul, kind of loses himself when he’s on stage.” On bass, there’s Chris Kiger (of Loose Threads).
Schalk hands me a live CD. The recording is definitely rough but strangely refreshing.
Back home, he has prettier songs in the works, but, he explains, “These just rubbed me the right way.” Surfacing with an energy-packed, upbeat, yet sexy-bad basement sound, The Dust Feel could easily sneak onto a vintage record, one where ’70s Rock meets Jack White. Or for an exciting, troubling visual, picture The Pixies sleeping with The Who.
When chewing on it, it’s meaty, but the band doesn’t stick with smooth Pop or cough up total noise. Rather, the music motors out from some seedy place while the structure holds it heart-close. Prominent drums beat out like a rabid butterfly. Schalk laughs: “(Trisch) loves his cymbals, man.”
At a recent Northside Tavern show, The Dust Feel played the loud front room.
“We just blew the lid off,” Schalk says with a laugh.
It was a roaring, sweaty mess (they’d expected to play the bigger, sound-friendlier back room). Schalk smiles and says, “I saw some people leave, I’m not gonna lie.” Then he turns serious. “I’m totally confident on the songs. It didn’t sway me in any bad way at all. … I know the songs are there, and I know what we’re capable of.”
From here, no coasting. On finishing a new EP, he’s blunt.
“Just get it done,” he says. “Get something concrete down.”
Then we synchronize our watches and again search for the lost screw. But soon conversation sinks back into music.
Yes, hard to leave the pool once you’re swimming in music — the land of ever-cool, both darkness and light, both hazy and clear blue. If you love it, like us, why leave, really? Sometimes, sound is the greatest life preserver.
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