Mike St. Clair grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina playing music. Starting with the violin when he was five years old, he took lessons for six years or so. He shared this with me over the phone after his photo shoot with Letitia that day. After he grew frustrated feeling a little in over his head on violin in the all-city orchestra, he switched to trombone in the middle school band ultimately adding guitar to his musical repertoire. Mike attended music school, playing the trombone and bass in Greensboro, North Carolina where he received a music education degree. “I went on to study jazz at the University of North Texas in Denton and graduated with a Master’s degree,” Mike shared.
He went on the road for the first time with the Glen Miller Orchestra. “It was a really good experience,” Mike said over the sounds of a dog barking in the background. He was playing fetch with his dog and the neighbor dog was getting jealous. “It was a bunch of musicians traveling around in a greyhound bus,” he recalled. “The band was a merge of all the jazz I had been studying with big band sounds and pop songs.” This was around 2005. Once he returned from touring with the Glen Miller Orchestra he was invited to play trombone with Polyphonic Spree. “That was my first European tour,” Mike said. “We had two buses, and a lot of the musicians had their families with them. There were at least two dozen people making music with us on that tour.” They had a full choir, percussion and drums, horns, and strings. Mike is not a full time band member but still plays Polyphonic Spree shows from time to time. “I fill in on trumpet or trombone.” The band’s most notable song is Light and Day. “I’m on three of their records, but I’m not on that recording,” he clarified. Two other notable bands Mike has toured and recorded with include: Okkervil River and currently White Denim.
St. Clair moved to Austin with a jam band called Nelo. After Nelo ran it’s course, he played with Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express where he met Sam Lipman. In that band Sam played a variety of instruments: clarinet, violin, keyboard, flute, saxophone and vocals. “We all played a bunch of instruments,” Sam shared, “and watched all the ladies line up for Mike.” We are on a three-way conference call and the jokes are rolling in. “Mike roped me into that gig,” Sam said. “We used to play every Wednesday night at a lovely old pub called the Ghost Room on 4th and Lavaca. I was amazed with Mike because he could play rock and jazz."
Sam is originally from Sydney Australia. Much like his colleague St. Clair, Sam also grew up playing violin with the Sydney youth orchestra. “Same thing,” Sam said, “I got disillusioned with violin in high school and played heavy metal guitar. Metallica. I grew my hair long and did all that for a couple of years. But later I discovered the saxophone and jazz.” He decided to move to New York and become a jazz musician, where he played for eight years. “I got to tour with some great musicians during my time in New York: Barney McCall and Kurt Rosenwinkel” (the latter he referred to as one of the biggest names in jazz in the last twenty years). “I got to tour with him in Australia.
“I had a good time, but sort of fell out of love with it and wanted to do some other things. After 9/11 I came here to Austin and got active in the rock scene. I started a band called the Handsome Charlie’s. We did three national tours, signed on a local label in 2004, had songs on MTV, etc. Eventually that ran it’s course. I got tired of that loud, difficult lifestyle. After that, Mark Hudson, who had produced one of my labels, asked me to score some music for GSD&M. He knew I grew up playing classical music and he liked my rock arrangements. So I put together some orchestral writing for short TV commercials that utilized the Austin symphony.”
Sam is back in school at the University of Texas now, obtaining a Masters in composition. “I grew up loving classical music, rediscovered it, and fell back in love with it. I really enjoy the modern orchestral stuff; it’s very involved. It’s like being a movie buff – it’s more like that than listening to a rock record which is a different experience that I still love to do.
Sam recently scored a film that did pretty well: Kiss Me Goodnight got short listed for an Oscar for best song. “I really enjoy doing (music for) films. I’m doing two right now,” he shared. “I just did a ballet. My daughter is in the background she helped write it,” he said.
On Sunday, the audience can expect a good show. Matthew Judson will be sitting in on drums with Mike on bass/keys and Sam on sax, keys and guitar. Marcus Rubio will be playing synth and violin, and Jesse Chandler will be playing keyboards, flute and bass clarinet. They describe the music as ethereal and imaginative cinematic soundscapes that are engaging, funky, and rocky with that warm Wilco-esque tone. Matthew and Sam also accompany the UT ballet three days a week.
Mike’s Facebook page: Pocket Sounds