No Sleep for Zombies at Chalfant Sound, Photo by Mary Miracle
How important is collaboration to the music scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?
Views on the Pittsburgh Arts
For many, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is known as “a gritty, working-class city, recognized as a leader in shipbuilding and iron and steel manufacturing” (Salem Press Encyclopedia 2022). When it comes to the arts, Pittsburgh now has a booming filmmaking scene. Such legendary films as Night of the Living Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Dark Knight have all been filmed in the area.
However, it’s not all glitz and glamour, Southwestern Pennsylvania filming locations appeal to filmmakers for a certain reason. The first season of Showtime’s American Rust was filmed in Fayette County, PA because the story “traces lives connected by the thread of a dying steel-town” and it’s a “county gutted by industry and decline.” The second season of American Rust started filming in the area in November of 2022.
Netflix’s I Am Not Okay with This was filmed in Brownsville, PA. Decider described Brownsville as having a “weathered look” and that it “feels like a relic.” So, art-wise many don’t think about the area in a positive light.
Many news outlets would lead us to believe that the Pittsburgh area is dead, and only worthy of being used as a cautionary tale. However, young creatives are building exciting new projects in the Pittsburgh area.
Pittsburgh Art Collectives
In recent years, Pittsburgh has become home to many art collectives. Tate defines an art collective as “a group of artists working together to achieve a common objective.” They elaborate that those who are involved in the collective “are united by shared ideologies, aesthetics, or political beliefs.” Art collectives have varied interests from driving social change to being a way to make more money overall.
How does an art collective rise from nothing?
History of Chimera
It can all start with one person. Frank Augustine of Illegal Apparel started his empire as a teenager. He started by creating t-shirts and selling them from his backpack in high school. T-shirt design and production are still an integral part of Augustine’s business. His company Grapevine Inc. provides graphic design, illustration, and design to those in need of shirts for their organization.
However, Augustine did not stop at t-shirts. Grapevine is now a part of the creative house Chimera Effect, LLC. In addition to manufacturing clothing through Grapevine Inc., Chimera also offers photography, videography, studio rental, and music production through Chalfant Sound and Gatekeepers. Chimera Effect, LLC was filed as an LLC on March 19, 2021. All these lines of business are run in the same building, making it convenient for artists to make music and then market it.
Big Rig & The Vault
Chimera also produces a podcast called The Vault. This show is hosted by Raymont Edmonds and Big Rig. Raymont Edmonds is the owner of Y.A.M.S. and was the 2019 Mr. Olympia winner. Big Rig is a digital creator and musical artist.
Big Rig spoke with Pitt Music Live about his start with Chimera, “I got involved with Chimera about three years ago before Chimera was even a thing. I used to record out of Illegal Apparel and that’s where I met Frank and Shawn and our friendship took off from there. I became a host of The Vault when Shawn told me he wanted to start a podcast and he asked me if I wanted to be one of the hosts. I always wanted to be a part of a podcast in some capacity, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
Spring Alternative LLC
In addition to all of these lines of business, Chimera Effect, LLC. also hosts events through Spring Alternative LLC. Spring Alternative’s first event was the Spring Alternative Music Festival, which took place on April 16, 2022, at the Illegal Flagship in Pittsburgh’s Southside. Including this first show, Spring Alternative LLC has hosted over nine events so far. Spring Alternative has two upcoming events, Saiko and Supa Nxc (Date TBA) and Fernway and No Sleep For Zombies on February 15, 2023. Both upcoming events will take place at Chalfant Sound.
Turnmeuptone runs all of the Spring Alternative events. He is also the lead singer of No Sleep for Zombies, who often perform at these events. In addition, he is an audio engineer, producer, and solo artist. Tone told Pitt Music Live that his musical education started in school when he was in the drum corps, marching band, and musical theater. He has been producing music for the last seven years. Tone is currently earning his Bachelor of Arts in Music Production from Berklee Online.
Dan Winter & Chalfant Sound
Chalfant Sound is a music production studio that specializes in hip-hop. Chalfant Sound has provided and run the sound for various Spring Alternative events, including the Spring Alternative Music Fest and the Fall Slam Music Festival, both of which Pitt Music Live attended.
The studio is co-owned by audio engineer Dan Winter and audio engineer Timothy Carr. Dan Winter has a Master of Fine Arts in Fine/Studio Arts from The George Washington University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Point Park University. Winter also plays bass guitar in the band No Sleep for Zombies and also makes appearances as DJ Danimal from time to time. In the past, Winter has worked as an adjunct professor at Point Park University and a gallery attendant at The Frick Pittsburgh. Timothy Carr has a Bachelor of Arts in Music Technology from Duquesne University.
Winter told Pitt Music Live that he started DJing while completing his Master’s degree, as well as learning about how to run a recording studio. On Chimera, Winter says “I think Chimera is a unique business venture. So we own the studio.” He continues that “There’s a screenprinting business, and there’s a photo video studio. There’s another recording studio, among a couple of other things. And I think it’s pretty unique, because, you can kind of get everything in one building. You can come here and record a song with us, and then you can walk down the hall and also get your merchandise for your band or solo art project.”
Advice for Running Live Shows
Dan Winter describes running live shows as “Running the sound at the live shows, when I have to do it, is always a little bit stressful, but I always enjoy a good challenge too.”
Tone told us that “Advice I would give about putting on live shows is roll with the punches and you’re gonna make a lot of mistakes. You know, also, the number one rule do not, if you’re gonna put any money into anything, do not short the sound. Put all your money into sound. You know, you can put money into marketing, obviously, but coming from somebody, our first show, you know, you were there, Spring Alternative, we ran through four PAs. We blew, we blew through, yeah, we blew through the first set, and even the second set was a little iffy, and it was because our budget wasn’t there for sound. So don’t short the sound, that’s the most important thing. And roll with the punches, cuz nothing is gonna be perfect. Know you have to do within your means. We all want to throw a rolling loud, but you have to start somewhere.”
Music shows are not an easy thing to run. Just ask Bob Arthurs of Rhythm House Studios. The advice he gave to Pitt Music Live is to “Expect to fail and learn from your recovery. There are hundreds of moving parts to get live sound right and there is subtle nuance that can drastically change the outcome. Investing in the right gear, room treatment and training will go a long way to minimize the risk of providing a less than stellar event.”
Bob Arthurs studied Economics and Computer Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a self-taught System Engineer, Process Engineer, Acoustic Engineer, and Audio Engineer. In 1978, Bob Arthurs bought the now 118-year-old building at 406 Fallowfield Ave in Charleroi, PA. Before transforming into Rhythm House Studios, the building had been a music shop called “Sound and Strings” and then the magistrate’s office. Since 2008, Arthurs has run a recording studio at this address. In 2019, Arthurs started hosting weekly live music shows. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the series had to take a break but came back with live shows in 2021.
Arthurs’ study of music dates way back, he told Pitt Music Live that “Initially, I gained a love of classical music from my Uncle beginning at the age of 3 when he brought home Tchaikovsky‘s Peter and the Wolf. I remember being so fascinated by the narration discussing how the instruments set the mood and portrayed the different animals and scenes. That love has continued to grow into every genre of music and I feel has contributed to my keen ear and sense for producing recorded music and live sound events.” He continues that “I started working with live and recorded music in the early 70s. I bought a real to reel tape recorder and spent time engineering live sound for high school bands.”
One of the huge benefits of being a part of an art collective is the chance for collaboration. In Unpacking collaboration: non-human agency in the ebb and flow of practice-based visual art research from the Journal of Visual Art Practice, it is stated that “collaboration is about give and take in which each collaborator is transformed even as they transform themselves through practice.” So, in collaborating you may not only make something amazing but also improve yourself as well. As stated in Searching for Authenticity in Fashion Design and Art Collaboration from Leonardo, “a collaboration can be fruitful, because “with the creativity of artists, such crossover can effectively contribute to providing fresh and original elements to a brand.”
Turnmeuptone weighed in about how collaboration works at Chimera, “This building is the essence of collaborating. Meaning, you know, we’ll come and do a song in here, and then I’ll go next door and I’m like, okay, I have an idea for a t-shirt, and they’ll help me put the t-shirt together. The reason why I know how to use a Cricut, I know how to paint my own shirts is because of them. I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things if it wasn’t for them. Even now, even going to the photo shoot, you know, that, having somewhere we can go two doors down and shoot a video is super, it’s amazing.” He continues, “I think this whole building…is motivated by the aspect of collaboration.”
Dan Winter’s thoughts on collaboration are “I think that’s kind of how this whole band started was collaboration. I kind of made a lot of house and techno music, and Tim was kind of making bedroom pop music, and we were all kind of doing our own thing. And then, Tone came up to us, and he had just started renting out our studio and working here at Chalfant Sound. And then he asked us to play as his backing band and I think all of our different, unique backgrounds kind of like are what makes up No Sleep for Zombies. Cuz we all come to the table with just kind of a little something different and unique. And I think that’s what makes it special for all of us.”
Timothy Carr spoke to us about collaboration and songwriting, “Some of the songs that we have are songs that Tone brings to us that he kind of has a writer who does some instrumental stuff for him, and then we basically take those instrumentals and rework them into our own thing.” He continued that it’s like “someone who kind of formed out the song beforehand then we basically already have chord changes and melodies that are laid out, but we take them and adept them into our own thing.”
Big Rig’s opinion on collaboration is “I feel like The Vault is all about collaboration, it’s the heart and soul of the show in my opinion. It’s getting all of these different creative minds from different walks of life into the same room to make something great happen every single time.”
When it comes to collaboration at Rhythm House Studios, Bob Arthurs states “I have an amazing staff that believes in providing the best experience for the artists and guests. From the vibe and support to the setup, sound check and performance, we all strive for a night to remember.”
If you are interested in collaborating with others, a good tip from The 21st-Century Musician and the Art of Collaboration, published in the Journal of the International Horn Society is to “create a practice pod of people you really trust who are around the same stage as you.” They also recommend keeping it diverse, crossing disciplines, and working with people across the country.
It’s important not to get frustrated when starting a collaboration. In the article Collaboration in the Humanities: The Art of the Academic Dance, it is mentioned that though the art itself may seem seamless, this is a result of the practice that those who are collaborating have been doing behind the scenes. The same can be true of music. Many hooks and melodies may be discarded on the way to the final project.
While filmmakers may look at Pittsburgh a certain way, more people are taking notice of the thriving music scene. In 2022 alone, Pittsburgh and the surrounding area hosted many large music festivals including the Pittsburgh Black Music Fest, the Deutschtown Music Festival, the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, the WYEP Summer Music Festival, Rock Reggae and Relief, the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, the Millvale Music Festival, and Maple House. These festivals typically feature local musical acts and are often free or very affordable to attend.
In 2021, Trib Live stated that “Pittsburgh ranks 3rd on list of best cities for artists.” This article cites many reasons for this ranking, including the local festivals. Even Bandcamp acknowledged the rise in excellent Pittsburgh bands in their 2022 article, “Six Bands to Know from Pittsburgh’s Flourishing DIY Scene.”
No Sleep for Zombies’ new album, Die Alone, will be released on January 1, 2023. They shared that upcoming live performances include shows at Club Café on December 29th, Twelve on January 9th, Smiling Moose on January 21st, Mr Smalls Funhouse in early February, The Bridge Music Bar on February 9th, Chalfant Sound on February 15th & Smiling Moose in late February.
On May 20, 2023, No Sleep for Zombies will be headed to New York for the first time. While there, they will be recording exclusive, custom vinyl singles, which are now available for pre-order. They will also be performing in New York. You can follow No Sleep for Zombies on Instagram and YouTube.
Big Rig shared that their next guest on The Vault will be Stixx. He shared that “Our long-term goals for The Vault are to make it into a platform where artists from all over can come in and showcase their craft and tell their story to the world and become a part of an artist’s press run every time, they come to Pittsburgh to perform. To me that’s the most fulfilling part of the show is interviewing and asking artists questions and learning their story.” You can follow Big Rig on Instagram and The Vault on the Chimera Network YouTube.
Bob Arthurs shared that upcoming shows at Rhythm House Studios include Open Mic nights on December 10th and 17th and a New Year’s Eve show on December 31, 2022, which will include Broom, Half Past Yesterday, Rhythm of the Night, Marty Zundel, and Cint Erb. You can follow Rhythm House Studios on Facebook.