Sometimes it takes an outsider -- such as Boston transplant Bengt ("Ben") Alexsander -- to notice what we take for granted in the music scene. Alexsander moved to Bloomfield earlier this year with Point Breeze native and CAPA alumna Maura Jacob, with whom he forms the "dreampop-meets-darkwave" duo Action Camp.
"The bands always seemed friendly" when he visited Pittsburgh, says Alexsander. "Boston, where I grew up in punk bands and doing electronica, is really cutthroat and cliquey." He describes Boston as "a saturated market with not many venues and tons of bands," and finds Pittsburgh "the exact opposite -- there's only a couple dozen bands that are really active, but a ton of venues. Also, you have this weird phenomenon where you can play the South Side and Bloomfield two days apart and have totally different crowds. I've never seen people so reluctant to cross a river."
Once in town, Alexsander quickly took over as soundman at Howlers Coyote Café, where he'd previously recorded Action Camp's two "Live at Howlers" EPs. The duo now has a third "Live at Howlers" volume -- their first as 'Burgh residents -- available for sale.
Alexsander has also expanded on the venue's mission to showcase smaller bands, by recording their shows as well. "I'm mainly an audio engineer rather than just a sound guy -- live sound is pretty easy and slightly boring -- so I started to record all the bands and send their entire sets to them." So far, he's recorded nearly 150 bands.
The recordings led to the creation of the most extensive audio documentation available from any Pittsburgh venue: the Howlers Live blog (howlerslive.tumblr.com). So far, it features 66 tracks from both local and touring acts that have played the venue.
"Down the road, I want to get a hold of some of them and put out a big compilation, which would probably just be a big downloadable file on the blog," Alexsander says. As some of the highlights he'd include, he cites Columbus orchestral-popsters Flotation Walls, the New York old-timey folksters Two Man Gentleman Band, and Florida's '60s psych revivalists Strangers Family Band. (Some of the bands even wound up staying at his house.)
But "I don't think that far ahead," Alexsander says. "I'll keep it going until I can find a project I can do with the whole archive. Remember when you were at a show, and there weren't that many people in the room, but the band was really good? This is the kind of thing that preserves that moment in time."
Interested bands can contact Alexsander via firstname.lastname@example.org.