Q&A with Aaron Rhodes
The amorphous underground music scene in Kansas City, Missouri spent a good portion of the latter aughts into the early teens sight unseen. Without above ground venues actively hosting all ages and 18+ shows, much of it existed in fleeting DIY art galleries and warehouses scattered throughout Midtown. There was even a contemptuous response from a number of lifers toward a live concert review of a house show in the Pitch - the Kansas City Police Department made a concerted effort to target house venues in those days. There was a definite wilderness period that left many wondering where all the kids were.
Aaron Rhodes’ arrival to Kansas City proper, with his fledgling Shuttlecock Music Magazine in tow, saw not only the first real documentation of this scene in years, it also proved to be a platform for disparate subgenres that often didn’t cross paths in prior generations. Rhodes also showed a capacity for decidedly non-DIY musicians and those who flirt in both worlds. This breadth led him to an ongoing tenure at the Pitch, after a long gestation period that sees the publication slimmed down and revamped.
Photograph by Zach Bauman
Marty: I’m curious about what drove you toward music journalism at such an early age. I know that you’ve played in bands and wrote for the Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College. What was the initial spark?
Aaron: I was on my high school newspaper all four years just because my teachers had liked my writing and I enjoyed getting to see my work in print. I had been interested in music since my early teenage years, so I always asked for assignments where I could combine these two interests of mine. I was just happy to find out music journalism was a somewhat viable career.
Marty: I recall that you made a decision to leave school and start covering local music at a certain point. When was that and what was that transition like?
Aaron: After a couple years at JCCC I hadn't made as much progress with my credits as I had hoped, so the moment I started getting freelance work with the Pitch, I ended up dropping out. I'd like to go back to school at some point and further hone some of my skills, but the coursework at the time was just starting to get stressful for me. Thanks to some help from my family, and support from the music scene as a whole, the transition has gone just fine.
Marty: What was your impression of the local scene in Kansas City, both in the city and the suburbs, before you started writing?
Aaron: When I was first started going to concerts frequently back in high school, I often wasn't impressed with whatever local acts I would see opening shows, whether it was big Buzz shows or melodic punk acts. Only when a friend took me to my first DIY punk shows did I start to find local bands that really fit my taste and got me excited about local music. Most of those bands were from the city, but I did always love seeing Vestibule (an Olathe band featuring Matt and Mike from Bummer) playing crazy shows around Johnson County. I've never been super into a lot of Strange Music acts, so I didn't really start finding local hip-hop that I liked until I had started Shuttlecock and was really digging for it on SoundCloud and other places online.
Marty: Was it your intention to bridge gaps between musicians of various genres or did that come after you started Shuttlecock?
Aaron: I definitely didn't have any grand visions for Shuttlecock when I first started it. I just wanted to build a good portfolio of my writing work so I could get hired elsewhere. It wasn't until I booked my first showcase at Mills Record Company back in 2016 that I started to see how cool it could be to bring so many different people and sounds together like that.
Marty: I know that, with your events, you aim to create a live music experience that is both free in expression and safe to occupy. What are some of the challenges you face in maintaining those standards? What can the community around Shuttlecock do to help you uphold those standards?
Aaron: There's always some juggling to be done, but I'm pretty happy with how most of the shows end up going. I think most people have come to understand that I value a safe and welcoming environment, so there are lots of times when people will tell me about a person who shouldn't be at a show, or something that like that. So yeah, just stay vocal and don't be afraid to tell the people booking shows in your scene how they could improve it.
Marty: Do you find that there are more bands birthing from within the city? Or like previous generations, are there musicians moving into the city from elsewhere and becoming a part of what’s happening?
Aaron: The city itself does seem to be the birthing ground for a lot of the bands I'm into. I haven't heard of all too many people moving to Kansas City from other big cities, but there's starting to be a pretty consistent influx from the surrounding suburbs right now - at least in the punk scene.
Marty: What are some of the biggest barriers to the growth of DIY music and culture in Kansas City?
Aaron: One of the biggest barriers has been the lack of all ages concert spaces, although the city is definitely better off in that regard than it was a year or two ago. Another is probably diversity. Like sure, maybe these three bands made up of all white men fit the bill the most, but if someone new walks into that show and they don't see one person who looks like them on stage, there's a chance that they won't want to return and become part of that community.
Marty: How do you feel like your role in documenting the scene has changed over the last few years? Where have your priorities shifted?
Aaron: I don't think my role has changed all too much in the past few years. I care about documenting and championing the local acts that I care about. What has changed are some of the ways I'm doing that, like through the podcast or writing full-length features and profiles. If anything, I guess I just feel more responsible for making cool shows happen and making sure they're documented, as I grow older and other people in these scenes move away from them.
Marty: I know that you’ve also provided coverage outside of Missouri, traveling to festivals like Everything Is Not OK in Oklahoma City. You also host bands that are from all over North America. What parallels do you see between what’s happening in Kansas City and with other localized scenes in the Midwest?
Aaron: I haven't gotten to travel and see too many other scenes, but from what I can tell, as much as some people are dragging their feet, there is a big push for diversity happening in a lot of other places. There's also plenty of arguing about what specific sub-sub-genre of music is being played, but I think that's a pretty timeless thing that I'm just starting to notice more now that I've been around longer.
Marty: Has your tenure with Pitch affected your output with Shuttlecock? What differences are there in contributing to a publication versus being Editor-In-Chief?
Aaron: My contributing to the Pitch and other outlets has slowed down some of my Shuttlecock work a bit at times, but the chance to reach more people, build my resumé, work with talented editors, and pay my bills more easily has made it worthwhile. I don't get to write about every little thing for those outlets that I want to, but I'm fortunate in that they usually trust in what I'm doing.