“Radio is so fleeting, but at least we have this,” said KCSB general manager Yibing Guo, her hands gripping the cardboard cd case with “KCSB 91.9 Live in Studio A” stamped on it in green ink. Live in Studio A is KCSB’s first compilation cd, featuring 19 tracks by artists varying from indie rock to Brazilian jazz to DJ sampling.
Measuring at a mere 17 by 9 ½ feet, the hexagonal Studio A has been visited by droves of musicians in the last fifty years, including jazz pianist Mose Allison, the late virtuosic trumpeter Don Cherry, and, more recently, DJ and rapper Madlib. The compilation stretches only as far as the last 12 months, but its 19 featured artists represent a sizable snapshot of what grooves the little studio under Storke Tower.
The project was spearheaded by Guo, who has always dreamt of doing a compilation album to document the going ons of KCSB. Although the streaks of blue in her hair create the effect of a blissed-out mermaid, Guo is a powerhouse when it comes to getting stuff done. She spent the better part of the last four months contacting the musicians and okay-ing their contribution to the CD, a job that took an absurd amount of back and forth emailing and persuasion.
During her role as program director last year, Guo formed a dynamic duo with fellow program director Bennett Piscitelli and the two created a show in the Friday noon spot, “Future Daze.” The goal of the show was to present the new music that KCSB constantly comes into contact with. “It’s always like Christmas at KCSB – we are always getting new CDs and vinyl,” said Guo.
Through “Future Daze,” Guo and Piscitelli were able to showcase new music that they found on CDs mailed to the KCSB office. “We’d play CDs that we liked, review them and talk about them. We also contacted people through promoters – we had so many live bands coming through for that show,” she said.
Some of these live performers included New Zealander indie rock group Streets of Laredo, L.A. funk masters Evolfo, and most notably, Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante. Each of these musicians secured a spot onto the compilation.
“Bennett [Piscitelli] and I met Streets of Laredo at a venue in lower east side New York. We walked down these steps to this huge showcase of New Zealand talent. One of the members of the band – this tall guy with a big beard – was handing out CDs so we took one and got his card,” said Guo. “That night I popped the CD into my laptop,” and the blue-haired lady loved them.
Later, the dynamic duo got in contact with the group back in Santa Barbara, and few a months later the kiwi band came to the West Coast for the first time and played in Studio A. There were seven of them with keys, guitars and various other instruments, and the small space of the studio bled with intimacy throughout the set.
Streets of Laredo’s bit marks the second track on the album. “Hey Rose” is a gorgeous indie rock tune following similar undertones of the Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The harmonies meld wonderfully while the tambourine lends a nice shakeup towards the end of the track.
Evolfo was another of Guo’s favorites. “The lead singer of the band was really good friends with the general manager from three years ago, the general manager when I first got involved in KCSB,” Guo said. “One day he sent me a message on Facebook that Evolfo was gonna be in the area and he sent me a YouTube video. It was great! So we set it up the next day.”
But live sessions don’t usually get set up that quick. One artist in particular, Rodrigo Amarante, was on Guo’s radar for months before she braved sending emails to his publicist. “I’ve liked his music since freshmen year of high school, when I first since I heard Little Joy, one of his projects with Fabrizio Moretti from The Strokes. I was just like, wow this guy has such a wonderful voice,” she said.
Piscitelli, whom Guo affectionately refers to as the “more chill one” in their partnership, urged her to contact Amarante’s people all year. She finally rid herself of inhibitions and sent the email. A couple weeks later, Rodrigo Amarante showed up at Studio A.
“He called me on my phone, saying he was in the parking lot and coming to KCSB, and I couldn’t even believe it,” said Guo.
The meeting with Amarante happened mid-July, and it was an especially beautiful performance because it was the first gig that Guo and Piscitelli worked on together since the latter’s graduation in June.
“Rodrigo Amarante – that was really something,” Guo said, annunciating the “che” sound in the famed singer’s last name. “It was mine and Bennett’s [Piscitelli] comeback to the airwaves.” It was their last time on “Future Daze.”
Nowadays, “Future Daze” is manned by the current program directors, and between that show and SBDIY founder Josh Redman’s “5…4…3…2…fun!!” program, loads of musicians are rolling into Studio A. Live in Studio A is a testament to the great tunes and closeness that forms within the cramped hexagonal walls.
“Listening to the CD, so many feelings come back,” said Guo. “They were playing and I was standing in the middle, the middle of the band. I was doing this three sixty [camera] shot and they were all standing around me. It was just – awesome. You’re in this music landscape, but it’s a different kind of dimension that you’re involved in.”
That different kind of dimension is the beauty of Studio A.
Live in Studio A is being released as a present for donors of KCSB’S Fund Drive, happening until Friday, Nov. 21. Other presents within the Fund Drive include vinyl, cds (some of which are signed by Mac DeMarco), t-shirts and concert-tickets. To donate, go onto kcsb.org/donate-online/ or call the station at 805-893-2424.