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Marcy Mays

To write an all-encompassing book chronicling the highs and lows of Columbus music would be a daunting task. But when that tome is finally written, assuredly Scrawl will have their own chapter. Should teenagers of the future want to know the triumph and tragedy that defined that history, they’d be wise to dog-ear the pages [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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To write an all-encompassing book chronicling the highs and lows of Columbus music would be a daunting task. But when that tome is finally written, assuredly Scrawl will have their own chapter. Should teenagers of the future want to know the triumph and tragedy that defined that history, they’d be wise to dog-ear the pages in which Marcy Mays speaks – she’s got a lot to say on the subject.

Mays is one of few survivors of the ’90s explosion of Columbus rock – a time when everyone was being courted by major labels looking to have their stake in the alternative nation, only to be dropped just as quickly when the bottom fell out. She’s a sage when it comes to recounting the past, but doesn’t dwell on it. She was an insider during those halcyon days, but doesn’t believe there was ever a “Columbus sound.” Scrawl, which started as Skull in an Athens bar in 1985, has logged a lifetime of celebrated European tour stories and recording session nightmares, many of which Mays divulged during our hour-long interview. They’ve gone from college rock to spartan pop to bittersweet grunge in their evolution, yet, for the most part, Mays talks of the band as if it’s always been a work in progress. Like they just started playing yesterday.

As Scrawl remains relatively active, especially considering they’re veterans, they very well could have played yesterday, and likely on the stage of Mays’ heralded Ace of Cups. Lessons learned on the road with Scrawl, by cycling through the country’s best and worst clubs, dealing with shady promoters and flaky soundmen, have undoubtedly informed Mays when she took the giant leap towards owning and operating her own venue. In the few years since the club has opened in the Old North, it’s quickly become one of the city’s preeminent havens for live music. With a spacious patio, distinctive Czech beers, Ray Ray’s BBQ, and a near-perfect sounding stage, it has all the rec-room amenities required to make it a second home for locals.

And then there’s the name. When the Ace of Cups is drawn in a tarot reading it represents new endeavors – certainly apt in Mays’ second chapter – and the five streams that flow from the chalice represent our five senses rising to a heightened state – certainly applicable when it comes to the full experience Mays wants to provide in her bar. As for the future, she has visions of AoC becoming a desired destination for both local and national acts. Given her experience nurturing the humble beginnings of Scrawl into a world-renowned outfit, the future looks bright.

I love this line from one of your bios: “Long before the riot grrl movement opened the floodgates for the widespread emergence of female artists in the male-dominated world of indie rock, Scrawl carved out their own tough-minded yet feminine niche within the underground community.” Was that the intent when the band first got started? To be a champion for feminism? Or was that secondary to the music?
No. I think it was just that we were not good when we started. We were literally just doing what I would call performance art at the beginning. I had to learn guitar. We had to learn how to be a band together. I was in bands with guys and girls before and it had always been f*cking mayhem, with everyone doing crazy things to each other. With Scrawl, we were in a band to just have fun. There was nothing intentionally feminist about the music, but we were leading feminist lives by doing what we wanted to do and not really paying attention to what people wanted us to do. And that’s definitely reflected in the music.

It seems any time I read anything about Scrawl, it’s always prefixed by saying the band was “underrated” or “overlooked.” What’s your take on that?
It’s interesting in hindsight, and there are a lot of years of hindsight…there’s always at least one person in a band who wants to make their mark, who is not afraid to be the center of attention, who wants to be famous. We never had that. I think that led to us being more of a “band” and with that mentality, people tend to focus more on the songs.

The history of the band has been marked with a lot of good luck/bad luck moments. Signed by Rough Trade Records, then Rough Trade goes out of business. Signed by Elektra Records, then dropped by Elektra shortly after releasing Nature Film. If you could, would you have done anything differently?
Well, Columbus pushed us out and made us do our thing. We’ve always been a product of Columbus and there was a time when it seemed like every band in Columbus was being signed. We knew almost as soon as we had signed with a major label that this was not for us.

There are a lot of things I would do differently. We didn’t know we could fire an engineer. We didn’t know we could decline to work with certain producers. We were like slaves when it came to recording. I don’t think we had a good experience recording until we met [famed producer Steve] Albini. He knew what we should sound like when he heard us for the first time. He got it.

With Elektra, they had signed us, Built to Spill, Spoon, all at the same time. But we saw the writing on the wall and we knew pretty soon, they were going to drop us. So by re-recording older songs for Nature Film, we were basically saying “f*ck ‘em” by not giving them anything new.

And what are your thoughts then on major labels and the music “industry?” Was it a good experience?
I could picture myself being someone who could write pop songs and rake in the bucks as a pop songwriter. I think that would be a cool way to go. Trying to be the product that they are selling was just not what we wanted to be. You have to be very business- or fame-oriented to do that. People always say that we “almost made it,” but I think we totally “made it” as far as we wanted to go and then said, “f*ck this.” We weren’t cut out for it. It wasn’t us.

I have to ask, because this was something I never knew. He’s Drunk was recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park. How was that? Did you meet the man?
No. We saw his bird and we saw his meat. He wasn’t there at the time but there was a fridge in the studio that had packages labeled “Prince’s Meat.” We actually have video of that. The best part of that trip is that we got to hear whichever album he was releasing at the time on the console where it was recording. It was f*cking amazing.

Which brings us to now. How do you feel the music in Columbus has changed over the years? Is it as strong now as it was in your heyday?
I tend to want to judge things in the timeline that Scrawl traveled and we did things slower. Now it seems like a band forms and six months later they are out on tour already. I am worried about people who have good ideas and good bands who aren’t patient enough to let them flourish. It seems like the trajectory now is a lot sharper and the fall is a lot sharper. Back when we were doing stuff people weren’t in two or three bands, so I guess that is nice because you can wander off and do something else and come back. I love that there’s never been a Columbus “sound,” but there’s always been a great Columbus scene.

What prompted you to start a rock club?
I felt like there was this period when there was nowhere that Sue and I wanted to play in Columbus. That was crazy because there was nowhere we felt comfortable playing in our hometown. So once the band wound down and we paid our rock and roll debt by getting “real” jobs, [Mays is a now a system analyst for the state of Ohio by day], I knew eventually I wanted to have a live music venue. At first we were hoping that Surly Girl would be that place, but quickly it seemed the music would be secondary. But being there was a great experience for what came next because I did a little bit of everything.

You said that there was “nowhere you felt comfortable playing,” so what did you want to include at Ace of Cups that you saw missing from other clubs through the years?
I wanted it to sound good. That was huge. That’s the most important thing. I wanted the stage to sound good for bands and feel comfortable for bands. If it doesn’t sound good for bands they are going to be tense and not give the best show. I don’t want the show to be an incidental type of thing. It’s not a money-making machine or a sports bar with bands; it’s a live music venue. We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but each day we get a little better.

Obviously your experience in Scrawl, dealing with promoters, sound guys and bartenders, has given you a good perspective to run a rock club. To what do you attribute your success at Ace of Cups?
I think the big thing was finding people around town who I knew were f*cking geniuses. The first thing we did was decide where the stage was going to be. That was before we even designed the bar. It sounds kind of technical, but I wanted people who understood the physics involved. I’ve been in plenty of clubs over the years so I knew how I wanted everything.

What’s the future of the club? What would you like to see it become?
As far as schemer/dreamer things, I’d love to have a second level above the bar. I’m not sure what it’s called? A “loge”? Of course, [soundman] Nick Shuld and I have a master plan to turn the sound system over again in the next six months. There are so many clubs opening and closing in the first year, that now that we’ve been open for a while we want to be on the radar of bigger shows that might not come through town. Columbus used to have that in the ’90s with Stache’s. It was a small place, but people were bummed if they didn’t get to play there. It would be awesome to be a place that people were disappointed they didn’t get to play. •

Catch Skeletonwitch, She Bears, Way Yes, Cliffs, Strangers in Daylight, and many more this month at Ace of Cups (2619 N High St.). For more visit, www.aceofcupsbar.com.

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas

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Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff

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HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox

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Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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