Written by Raymond Sanchez
Photos by Jeremy Mirchandani
Seattle is known to be one of the best music hubs of the country, with bands from all over the world coming to play sold-out venues. Some of the best shows, however, lie within the DIY scene that the city has to offer. This piece is a reflection of a writer's experience at a basement venue with singer-songwriter Amandala and eight-piece Americana group Upstate Rubdown.
Surrounded by friendly people and full of barbecue, we were eager for what we hoped would be a great show. From the freely provided home-cooked meals to the Old Seattle Lager wall tap, our hosts had gone all out to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. But this wasn’t a bar or a concert venue — it was a concert at someone’s house.
In the year since I moved from Tucson to Seattle to start grad school, I’ve been blown away by the music scene here. There are shows every night of the week, from mainstream acts playing sold-out stadiums to local noise-rock bands at dingy churches-turned-art galleries. But when you get invited to a basement show, it's hard to know what to expect. With rare exceptions, going to someone's house for a concert almost seems like a relic of a bygone era.
At the very least, I decided it was an experience worth documenting. When I got the invite, I reached out to my friend Jeremy and asked if he wanted to get some photos. He’s been shooting shows for T&E for a while now, and I knew he’d be game. Still, neither of us had any idea what we were in for. A basement show could be an intimate exhibition of all that's right about a local music scene, or it could be your coworker's cousin's half-baked rendition of Green Day's "Time of Your Life."
Luckily for Jeremy and I, the former was the case. When we arrived at my friend Stefan’s house in a quiet Seattle neighborhood, we were directed downstairs to the basement, which he and his wife Abby had converted into a makeshift venue, complete with a stage, full sound system, professional lighting, and enough floor space for about 50 people.
Amandala, stage name of Seattle local Amanda Lamprecht and the first act of the night, didn't disappoint. Amandala's stripped-down acoustic guitar and piano-laden melodies set a relaxed and intimate tone for the evening. Songs like "It's You That I Find" and the catchy "Nothing" were driven by Lamprecht's wispy, uniquely haunting vocals and atmospheric piano flourishes that recall Bjork or early Radiohead. She also performed a song completely in Afrikaans, the language of Lamprecht's native South Africa, highlighting her music's unique blend of styles and influences. Down-tempo and hypnotic, Amandala's tightly-composed tunes gave us a great taste of Seattle's local music scene, but left me completely unprepared for what was coming next.
Things kicked up a notch when Upstate Rubdown took the stage. The eight-piece from upstate New York was a sonic whirlwind of foot-stomping Americana, complete with mandolin, baritone sax, guitar, cajon, and upright bass, all led by a soaring harmonic trio that I sort of can't help but compare to the Andrews Sisters or the Chordettes. From the a capella opener "Tonight You Belong To Me" to the end, Upstate Rubdown had everyone in the room in the palm of their hand. You could practically hear the hairs stand up on the backs of everyone's necks as the rich harmonies of the lead vocal trio dipped, bobbed, and soared around the room.
It’s probably impossible to have a bad time at an Upstate Rubdown show. Their songs constantly changed style and direction. It was hard to know where they'd go next, but they never had a problem keeping the crowd moving. The super danceable "No Slack" started off as a straight-ahead folk rock jam driven by funky mandolin, before slowly morphing into a more ominous samba-style groove with the lead vocalists chanting "This town ain't big enough for the two of us." They're probably right. The initially somber blues of "Playing Games" slowly built into a soulful, upbeat shuffle featuring mandolin and bass trading solos, before finally exploding into a cajon solo that almost made me forget the small percussive box wasn’t a full kit. Finally, jazzier tunes like "Nobody" highlighted the versatility of Upstate Rubdown’s sax player and gave everyone a chance to mellow out before we were all leveled by the next freight train of folk funk. I can speak for the whole crowd when I say Upstate Rubdown was a blast.
Still, at the end of the night, what was most striking to me was the incredible warmth and generosity of the show's hosts. I wanted to find out more about what originally inspired them to open their home to independent artists, and what motivates them to keep doing it.
"Abby and I lived in music wastelands throughout our growing up period. A lot of this was self inflicted in that I never sought out independent music," said Stefan. "Some of that had to do with lesser-known artists being different and weird, so fear was part of the problem, but I was also ignorant of a lot of music outside the mainstream until we moved to Seattle."
Stefan explained that when the two discovered Seattle's local scene for themselves, he "experienced a profound sense of rebirth. It was like a new universe just popped into existence to me, seriously. Live music is like an elixir to me."
"I never knew music beyond Top 40 until I moved to Seattle,” Abby said. “The opportunity to connect with local music and enjoy awesome live shows any night of the week was astounding. Live music quickly became a passionate hobby for us both. Our interest grew from not only enjoying live shows, but also in learning about the musicians and looking for ways to promote their art."
As they got to know the scene better, Stefan and Abby talked with a lot of DIY touring artists, all of whom said that the most valuable thing they could get on the road was a bed and a warm shower. They began letting bands that were passing through Seattle stay at their house, but they soon realized that even with lodging provided, traveling bands often have a hard time making enough money to keep the tour alive.
"So then I started envisioning turning the basement into a little venue, and trying to offer a place for bands to not only play a venue show (if so desired), but also have a chance to play a house show with one or two local bands helping out to pull a little crowd for donations," said Stefan. Soon after, they converted their basement into a venue they call the SandCave, and they haven't looked back.
"We are hopeful that playing a show in the SandCave will grow the fanbase of the musicians and provide a bit of income for the traveling bands as they tour," said Abby. "The focus is on the music. We do not throw house parties with a band in the background; we invite people in our home so they can connect with the music and artists. By hosting a local band to play as well, we are hopeful that many musical connections can be made."
"When it's all said and done, we'd like for our house to be a little oasis on the long, winding road of touring," Stefan added, "where bands can come and feel at home with all the comforts and support that comes with."
Both of them emphasized that the most rewarding part of the whole experience has not only been making emerging artists feel at home, but getting to know the people behind the music they love.
"We have met nothing but wonderful people in the short amount of time we've been doing these events," Abby said. "People have such interesting stories and it's fun to get to know the artists beyond their music on the stage. They're all passionate about their musical endeavors and by hosting them in the SandCave we hope to get them a little closer to where they’d like to be in their musical careers."
Edited by Greg Gonzales