The unofficial headquarters of Golden Sound Records is the basement of a house on Rockhill Road, near Rockhurst University. Ross Brown and Jerad Tomasino, two of the three young men who run the local record label, live at the house; Mat Shoare, the third, recently moved out. The basement is split into two sides, though the sides basically mirror each other: drum kit, amps, guitar cases, beer bottles, cords, microphones.
"That's where Everyday/Everynight practices," Brown says, seated cross-legged on a patch of carpet beside his black-and-white Rickenbacker and pointing across the room. Everyday/Everynight is Tomasino's band. It takes a certain amount of focus to keep up with the various projects roiling around under the Golden Sound umbrella. In addition to putting out other people's music, all three guys lead their own bands: Shoare, the Empty Spaces; Tomasino, Everyday/Everynight; and Brown, the Fullbloods. They also tend to play in one another's bands, and they all have released solo albums. The most recent of these, Brown's Small Victories, arrived last week. It is the most interesting thing the label has put out to date.
Brown is the studio rat of the label, and he engineers, mixes and masters most Golden Sound releases down in this grimy basement. In person, Brown wears his dark hair slicked and parted, greaser style, and he speaks softly and sometimes haltingly. He's quietly funny, but you also get the sense that he's holding back stranger thoughts. This suspicion is confirmed upon listening to the music he makes.
Brown grew up on the rural western edge of Olathe and started playing music in middle school — trumpet, then euphonium, then guitar, then drums. He was home-schooled from his sophomore year on (he started at De Soto High School), which gave him time to start writing and recording music. In 2007, when he was 18 and still living at home, he recorded an album, Ross Brown's Human Condition, on which he played all the instruments. "Don't ... listen too closely to this," he told me, as he handed me the album the other day.
The songs on Human Condition are amateurish, lacking in focus and generally forgettable. But they're also remarkably ambitious for a teenager. In addition to David Bazan and American Analog Set, Brown cites Art Blakey and bossa nova as early influences. "I think there's some songs on that record that are these kind of cringeworthy attempts at mimicking those styles and trying to fit them into simple rock songs," Brown says. The lyrics also reveal a sharper-than-average 18-year-old. I don't know what I've got the leverage if I need to talk some trash/I've got the floor plans, I just don't have the cash means, but it sounds smarter than what was going on inside my brain in high school.
A year after Human Condition, Brown enrolled at BRC Audio Productions, a two-year training school for audio engineering, where he met Tomasino. "They do a pretty awesome job of balancing music education — theory, arrangements, stuff like that — with the technical side of things," Brown says. He soon formed a band, Fullbloods, with some BRC guys: Bill Pollock, Glenn Shipps and Alex Chapman.
"I had written a bunch of songs and wanted to make a concept album out of them, which is an absurd thing to do, and I would discourage anyone from attempting it," Brown says. "And I wanted to play with people, so I wrote the parts and had those guys come in and play the parts, and we started playing some shows."
The Perpetual Machine sprawls across genres, but the songwriting has matured. The surf-rock guitars, Western twang and more traditional pop leanings add up to something like an indie-rock version of Chris Isaak. (Brown's hairstyle might add to this impression.) There are also moments of beauty, like the ballad "Alaska," a five-minute triumph of lovesick loneliness.