Sitting down with Rob Apollo, Doug Addicts before Blueberry Hill performance

| Senior Cadenza Editor

Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room has seen many iconic acts over the years. On Saturday, March 30, Washington University sophomore Kendall Rob Hall, also known as Rob Apollo, will join the likes of Fitz and the Tantrums, Chuck Berry and The Lumineers.

But as iconic as the Blueberry Hill Duck Room is, Hall really doesn’t care about the venue. For him, the most important part of the show is the crowd. “I don’t give a care about the venue itself or where I play at,” Hall said, “to be honest, I like playing basement shows more than anything…If, the crowd energy is good, and the people around are genuine I could play it [the show] in my bedroom and it would be the exact thing.”

But that doesn’t mean that Hall isn’t excited for the legitimacy that Blueberry Hill will lend him. Hall hopes that the concert, a release show for his newest album “HADES”—released this past Wednesday, which was also Hall’s birthday—will introduce more people in the St. Louis area to his music.

Hall, who is from Detroit, spent his time in high school making music in a collective called Bleeding Hearts Club. While he also pursued solo work—he released his last solo album the summer before he went to college—leaving the collective forced him to begin making music on his own. In the beginning, though, Hall didn’t have any way to record music, so while he was still passionate about his art, he wasn’t creating in the same way.

“The day before I came to college was the first concert I ever threw with Bleeding Hearts Club. We thought we were going to get like 70, 80 people to come out. And then it was like 200. We completely over-packed the venue—people outside and everything. It was insane,” Hall said. “It was probably the best night of my life…And then I left all my best friends there. So it was really hard. Last year was tough.”

Rob Apollo opens for Laura Stevenson in the Gargoyle in September 2018. Rob Apollo will perform at Blueberry Hill this Saturday.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Rob Apollo opens for Laura Stevenson in the Gargoyle in September 2018. Rob Apollo will perform at Blueberry Hill this Saturday.

Hall has come a long way since his freshman year. He started out in Olin Business School but realized that it wasn’t for him. After initially considering dropping out of school, he decided to transfer into Sam Fox instead. Hall says the summer between his freshman and sophomore years was a turning point for him. He spent his summer in Detroit working with his friends in Bleeding Hearts Club and eventually got back into recording.

“When I was at college [freshman year], I didn’t have any recording equipment or means to record, so I just was not making music—which really sucked. I was not making music for a real long time. Then when I got back to Detroit in the summer I started doing group work again with Bleeding Hearts Club. We were doing lots of stuff together collaboratively because out of the 13 [members], I think like eight of us make music. So people were always trying to make art and music, literally every single day when people weren’t at work,” Hall said. “Then through that group work I started doing solo work again because I had to get back into the groove of things…At the end of summer, I started working on some solo songs that I thought were cohesive enough to start to work towards a project.”

That project, originally planned to be a short EP eventually evolved into “HADES.” Hall bought some recording equipment, moved into an off-campus apartment and threw himself into recording. He kept making more and more songs until he reached 50 total. Then he took the best 20 from demos to a studio production level—a Herculean task as Hall does all his mixing and mastering himself—before narrowing those down to the 11 songs now on the album.

His music, while all rap, is influenced by the likes of metal, rock, pop, R&B and more. While sonically his music has a lot of variety, he finds a common theme in how personal he makes his music.

“I think the only place I’m kind of consistent would be lyrically, I like to be specific in my songs…Whether I’m making a pop-rap song or like a rock-rap song, I’m trying to say something that I really feel rather than just something very surface level. I communicate myself through my art. I think my personality manifests through all my songs and my interests manifest through all my songs even if they sound different.”

But all this work has evidently paid off. “HADES” is a great album, and Hall’s passion for and dedication to his art clearly shines through. Possibly more impressively, Hall has made Rob Apollo a bigger name in St. Louis in just two years than it was in Detroit, and he is now very much involved in the St. Louis music scene.

“I told myself, ‘If you really want to do it, then you have to do it. You can’t skip out on anything.’ Anytime I see another musician, I reach out. I like building relationships; I genuinely enjoy it. I like other art. I go to other people’s shows. I support other people’s art. I reach out to people who look like they have connections and venues, et cetera,” Hall said. “It’s just what I need to do, but it requires a lot of hours. It’s even more than the average person would assume…It’s easy to conceptualize a person putting really hard hours into mixing a song, but in terms of building relationships with people and reaching out, those are hours that are hard to quantify”

In a way, Hall is majoring in Rob Apollo. His music is by far his biggest commitment, both in passion and time, and he hopes to make music for a living for some time after he leaves school. Not only does Hall write, record, mix and master his music; he also books his own shows. While Hall does do so much on his own, his connections and support systems are also incredibly important to him.

“I met this guy in Sam Fox who’s in a [KWUR] band, [senior] Sang-Jin Lee. I love Sang-Jin…He really liked my music, so he showed this other guy in KWUR, Jordan Weinstock. Jordan put me on my first show in St. Louis, which was at Foam on Cherokee Street. And then I started meeting people through there, and I picked up a few other shows over the course of the year…It was hard last [freshman] year, but then once I started getting involved with KWUR and going to KWUR shows, that’s when I started really meeting people. And it’s nice, and it’s a supportive group. Everybody supports and listens to each other for the most part.”

While KWUR was Hall’s introduction to the St. Louis music scene, Hall now has found a home in the wider world of music in St. Louis.

“I didn’t really start getting involved with the greater St. Louis scene until this year. I would say it’s different in the sense; the greater St. Louis scene that I mostly interact with is predominantly black. Almost everybody that I know in St Louis who does art and music is black, but then at Wash. U. it’s mostly white; which makes sense, demographics-wise. But it’s just a different experience, like most people in St. Louis that I know are making rap and R&B, but a lot of people here are in rock bands or alternative bands. So it’s just [genre-wise] and demographically different, but both groups are definitely very supportive. Everybody always wants to support the next person and is down to collaborate and work with each other, which is cool.

Performing with Hall at Blueberry Hill are student band Doug Addicts, Y. Samuel + Ricky Wolfe and other local acts. Hall wanted a rock band to open for him as he wants a variety of genres at his shows to reflect the many influences on his music.

Hall and the members of Doug Addicts are fairly connected: Half the members of Doug Addicts are in KWUR. Hall and the Addicts’ namesake, sophomore Doug Roth—the band’s lead vocalist, who also plays guitar and keys—were on the same freshman floor. Hall also wrote a rock song for a class project with sophomore Cole Makuch, the band’s bassist.

Doug Addicts is very excited to play Blueberry Hill alongside Rob Apollo. According to sophomore Jack Goldberg, Doug Addicts’ drummer, “this is actually, other than [in] Cole’s apartment, our first time playing a non-Wash. U. sponsored event, or at least something that’s outside of Wash. U. I think we’re really, really excited for that.” Sophomore Jason Oberstein, Doug Addicts’ lead guitarist, went on to say that the show will be “kind of be a victory lap from WUStock the previous night.” (Doug Addicts will be opening for Bad Suns this Friday at WUStock, Congress of the South 40’s annual concert on the Swamp.)

The members of Doug Addicts are all optimistic about the journey they’re on together. Having a professional setup with a sound technician at both WUStock and Blueberry Hill will be a significant improvement over what they’ve become used to at the venues they usually play.

Goldberg hopes “for [the show] to be the gateway into the greater St. Louis scene. I think we could play gigs at other places and spread our name. I think [our band’s] name is relatively known throughout Wash. U., but getting it to St. Louis [is important], because we’re all sophomores. This semester would be our halfway point. I have to think that for the second half of our existence as Doug Addicts…getting out into the real world before the second half comes up is a really good precursor to what’s to come.”

In addition to playing more shows outside of the Wash. U. bubble before the semester ends, Doug Addicts hopes to record more music and put out an album in the near future. According to Oberstein, “We’re looking to record a bit more. We were doing a lot of that last semester and we were going to continue this semester, but it was cut short because we just randomly had so many gigs lined up. You just need to practice and prepare. After this semester, I’m hoping either next semester or senior year when we actually have a lot of time, then we’ll get back into that. Hopefully [we’ll] get an LP out.”

As they practice more and more together, Doug Addicts is seeing improvement. When the band writes a song, Roth brings an outline to the rest of the band and they play around with that until something comes together.

The members of Doug Addicts lounge on a floor together. The band, which formed at the beginning of last year, will open for Rob Apollo at Blueberry Hill this coming Saturday, March 30.

The members of Doug Addicts lounge on a floor together. The band, which formed at the beginning of last year, will open for Rob Apollo at Blueberry Hill this coming Saturday, March 30.

To describe the process, Goldberg explained that “essentially what happens is that Doug comes to us with this, like, Neil Young-esque sound. It sounds really good and we’re all like, all right, let’s make this cool. Then we had a bunch of stuff to it and it becomes this giant monster.”

Their songwriting process takes a lot of trust and synergy between band members. As they spend more time together, those two things will continue to grow. With decades of music experience between them and their varied personal music tastes, each member brings something different to the band.

Right now Doug Addicts is in the process of changing as a band. It’s moving away from harder rock music and more toward a jam band sound. Two of the members, Goldberg and Oberstein, are in a jazz band together and most of the members have taken music theory classes at Washington University.

When they first started college Goldberg hadn’t used a drum kit in some time and Makuch had rarely played bass. Now, after two years of practice, Doug Addicts is now really coming into its own.

“Battle of the Jams was our first gig last year. We didn’t even place last year. We won it this year,” Makuch said. “At one point, we sat down and we watched last year’s video and this [year’s] video and it was night and day difference. Like, I’m not going to say we sounded horrible—we did not. There have definitely been a lot of developments and we sounded like an actual band this year. It was really one of the most gratifying experiences of my entire life actually being on that stage and be like, ‘I’m proud of this music.’ We’ve come so far, and it meant a lot.”

Doug Addicts is incredibly proud of the progress it has made since freshman year and is excited for the future. The members have grown close together and have grown musically together.

Makuch talked about his first time listening to a Doug Addicts recording. “One time after our first recording session, I was listening back through the recording. None of [us] were in time and [the songs] sound terrible—well, they don’t sound terrible, but they definitely aren’t complete publishable products. But the first time I played one of our songs when it was mixed and everything, I actually started crying because it was the first time in my entire life I’ve made music that I was genuinely proud of.

All the members of Doug Addicts have had an amazing time together. As Roth put it, “I came to college very much so with the intent of ‘I’m gonna start a band and I’m going to be singing, writing songs and playing guitar.’ I did it first semester freshman year and it was like probably the best decision I’ve made in my life. The last two years I’ve had so much fun, week in, week out in practice and writing the songs, sharing new stuff, collaborating, hanging out outside of practice.”

Oberstein echoed Roth’s sentiments, “I have so much fun playing with these guys. I have learned so much about music, about myself, about these three gentlemen, about guitar playing. I’ve gotten a lot better at just music in general. It’s been an amazing experience for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Doug Addicts and Rob Apollo will head to Blueberry Hill together on March 30. While Rob Apollo is more established in the St. Louis scene than Doug Addicts, both acts are very much in the beginning of their careers. Both see this show as an opportunity to grow their followings significantly. Blueberry Hill’s legacy is a storied one with many iconic acts, and the legitimacy that the venue has is valuable to two acts still in the process of coming into their own. Both acts have put an incredible amount of time and effort into reaching the place they are now and await what the future holds with excitement and enthusiasm.

“Support your friends who make art even if they suck. You don’t have to lie and say they’re good, but a simple ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ or ‘Oh, I saw some stuff that you put out today,’” Hall said. “What a person creates especially on their own time means so much to them. So I’m all about supporting them, and if people suck, they get better over time. I used to be terrible and if I didn’t have friends to support me when I was terrible, I wouldn’t be where I am: headlining Blueberry Hill.”

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