Q&A: Charles Leo Gebhardt IV: Swing Kid

OK, stop staring.

In the only known photograph of him that still exists, from some unknown date in the 19th century, Charles Leo Gebhardt is standing next to a horse wearing his Connecticut militia uniform. Charles Leo Gebhardt, Jr., was a salesman who traded in Dobbs hats and Pendleton sweaters. The third was in the Air Force, and later worked as the head of military special projects at Boeing. The fourth, and most recent, incarnation of Charles Leo Gebhardt attended Mercer Island High School until 2000, went on the road with punk bands instead of attending college, and just released Begin Again, this year's lo-fi summer pop record to beat, on Seattle's GGNZLA records. When I caught up with Gebhardt for coffee recently, the salesman (who works at Ballard's Blackbird department store) was wearing a Pendleton shirt and a clean shave, eager to talk about why he doesn't need to be the center of the room, even if he's onstage. Gebhardt: You know that show on Saturday nights on NPR? Amanda Wilde hosts it. SW: The Swing Years. I love that [swing music]. It's written for people to dance to. The music was designed in this entirely different way, which is to support dancing. Once it became about seeing Frank Sinatra sing the song that you've heard a million times, and you're sitting in an audience, it's boring to me. It's actually something that really interests me—going to see a show in Seattle, you just sit there looking at the band onstage. We're so used to looking at television. It made sense when it was John Coltrane and every show was different because he was improvising. Today, especially in rock circles in this town, most people are just trying to replicate their record. I always think about it at a show: Why are we just looking at this band playing? Why should I find this engaging? I oftentimes don't. Not to put down anybody. I don't necessarily know if I would find my performance engaging, 'cause I'm doing exactly what you're saying. Which is why I would like to try to focus on recording songs with just an acoustic guitar, and just stripping things down ever more. How can we play the same songs that we've been playing for a year, with a different set of percussion, with different guitars? Do you get offended if people aren't watching you? No, not at all. That's the thing. You go into a bar and a band starts playing, it's like, boom, there goes the atmosphere. I don't need to be the focus of the entire room. I think a lot of musicians don't think of their audience as much as they think of themselves. I saw J. Tillman play a show—really light acoustic stuff—and people were settling into their seats and talking. It was boring. And he started mocking them. That's exactly what I'm talking about. These people fucking paid money to come be in this room to watch you. If you're not engaging them and they're talking, they have every right to do that. You're not on television. They can't turn you off, but they can engage with the person next to them. ckornelis@seattleweekly.com

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