Mike Stover knows the value of some good old-fashioned peace and quiet. When he's not at practice with his five active bands (the Grisly Hand, Mr. Marco's V7, the People's Liberation Big Band, Ernest James Zydeco, Dead Voices), he spends his days working at the audiovisual desk at the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library, expanding the music selection and loaning cult movies to curious customers. The Pitch dropped by recently to talk shop and learn more about his day job at the library.
The Pitch: You were born in Joplin, Missouri?
Stover: I was born in a rural area in Joplin, Missouri, and started playing music when I was 10 years old. I started playing guitar like a lot of people. And as I got older, I started branching off into other instruments, like mandolin, steel guitar, bass guitar, basically anything I could get my hands on, really.
How did you pick it up? Did your parents influence you?
Oh, no, I just loved rock and roll. I watched MTV like any other kid and just said, "I want to do that." It wasn't really a sheltered existence; it was just a rural area. We didn't have cable, but I'd go over to friends' houses and watch it.
Who were you watching on MTV?
Van Halen, stupid stuff, really stupid stuff, like Bryan Adams. There's a Bryan Adams video where he's rocking out in a field, and I knew I wanted to do that. Playing guitar through high school, I was kind of an awkward, weird little kid. I didn't study music in school. I took some private lessons. I have almost no traditional music education. I'm pretty much self-taught. I went to college for a while and I dropped out. I thought I wanted to do sound recording. And then I just stopped going to school and kind of forgot to go back.
How did you start working at the library?
I've been working in public libraries pretty much all of my adult life. I lived in Texas and worked in a library there for three years. Then when I moved here, I worked in a kitchen for one summer and then I got the job here in Kansas City, Kansas. I was 24; now I'm 39.
What was appealing to you about working there?
Well, I lived out in the sticks, so even going to the library was a big deal. I wasn't a big reader but I was intrigued by the possibilities. As I got older, living in Texas, they had all this music on CD that I was interested in. It gave me an opportunity to broaden my musical horizons.
Has your role changed much over the years?
I've kind of had the same job the whole time. When I came here, I told them about my experiences as a musician and was put in charge of ordering music materials for the library pretty much right away. I've been doing that since I started here, so all the music-related materials, I select that stuff. I take suggestions from our patrons, but mostly it's just sort of me curating the collection.
Would you say it has grown exponentially, thanks to your dedication?
Oh, yes, absolutely. I'm pretty familiar with a lot of different types of music, obviously. I can order stuff and keep the collection nice and broad but also accessible. To a degree, I can select the more intimidating, more esoteric stuff but try to market it and get people interested in something they might not have heard before. That's the most exciting and most interesting part about it. I can't think of a better day job for a musician.
People ask you for suggestions?
That's a big part of what we do. The staff members here are in charge of the collection, which is kind of rare in the library world. Everyone that works here is either a movie nerd or music nerd, or somewhere in between. So we get a pretty eclectic clientele that comes from all over the city. I mean, we're just out here in downtown KCK, which is kind of a weird place. But we have patrons driving from all over the metro area just because we have the best stuff. We have the cool stuff here.
I heard something about your dressing up as the library mascot?
Yeah, dressing up in the lizard costume was something that happened earlier in my career.
Lizard costume? Why a lizard?
Um, he's the library mascot. His name is R.U. Reading. He doesn't have scales. He's just big and cuddly. When we first got that costume, it was a big adult-male-sized costume, and most of our children's-library employees are shorter, little ladies. So I was kind of drafted to go out to the schools and sort of wave, hug kids, jump around, whatever.
Oh, I didn't know you were visiting schools. I was hoping you weren't on the corner ...
No, no, definitely not like the Little Caesars guy.
You probably never thought that dressing up in a lizard costume would be a part of the job ...
Well, it wasn't a new thing because I'd done that in Texas as well. That was the weird one. The children's library had a promotion called "Baby Big Foot." They had a big papier-mâché cave in the corner of the library, and we would do this promotion where kids could come hang out in the cave with me. It was bizarre. Baby Big Foot would go around to all the schools in San Antonio, Texas, and kids were just terrified! We would go to kindergarten and first-grade classes, and they would just cry and cry and cry. They knew something was up. They knew to avoid the man in the gorilla costume. So yeah, I had previous experience as a weird library mascot, so I got to wear the lizard costume. Now we have four lizard costumes for each branch. Big Foot is gone, though. We left him in Texas.
What project are you most excited to be working on at the moment?
Well, we're finishing up the new Grisly Hand album. We got what I think will be the final mixes last week, and I've just been driving around in my car listening to them all the time. We recorded with Joel Nanos at Element Recording Studios. It was a great experience, and it's just rare to still be excited about your own record after the whole process. We're shooting for a springtime release.