Behind the scenes and in front, Shelley Salant helps local music scene thrive
From behind the counter at Encore Records to behind the mic at WCBN-FM’s "Local Music Show," to behind live shows happening anywhere from house parties to the Blind Pig to the Neutral Zone, Salant is a one-woman cheering section for local music and the people who play it.
“I guess you could just say that that’s my community and I want to be involved in my community,” the musician and concert promoter said. “I just really believe we have something special here and I want to do everything I can to support it and keep it going.”
It’s hard to think of a facet of the local music scene that Salant isn’t involved in. She works at Encore Recordings and co-hosts WCBN-FM’s long-running "Local Music Show" (9 p.m. Wednesdays, 88.3-FM). She books show at such divergent venues as house parties, the Blind Pig and the Neutral Zone teen center. She plays in various bands, including drums in the delightful local “supergroup” Swimsuit.
She even has her own label, Ginckgo Records,” which recently released a 7-inch by one of her favorite bands, Bad Indians.
You might call Salant the den mother to the Ann Arbor music scene, even though she’s just 22 years old.
“I started going to a lot of all-ages shows when I was 14 or so and I just realized that music is something I really, really love,” Salant said during a recent conversation over cups of tea at the Peoples’ Food Co-op. “So I started booking show on my own when I was 17 and it’s just kind of taken off from there, I guess.”
From there, Salant’s involvement on the scene mushroomed, providing her with a secondary education of sorts on all aspects of the music business.
Before long, she was working at Encore and “interning” at Fred Thomas’ Ypsilanti Records label.
Even thought she didn’t really play keyboards, she started gigging regularly with Charlie Slick as his keyboard player. And even though she’d never really played bass or drums before (guitar is her primary instrument), she went out on tour with punk upstarts Tyvek, alternating as their bassist and drummer.
Last year, she connected with Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me), Amber Fellows (Damned Dogs) and Dina Bankole (Secret Twins) to form Swimsuit—in which she’s also the drummer and carrries an equal share of songwriting duties. The band has toured around the country and released its eponymous LP, which was our favorite new record of 2011.
She’s even been playing some solo shows lately, showcasing her psychedelic instrumental guitar tunes.
“I’m always working on my own stuff,” she said with characteristic modesty. “And I’ve been surprised to see that people actually seem to be into it.”
Yet for all her musical activities, Salant may be best known for her behind-the-scenes work promoting shows and advancing the local scene over the WCBN airwaves.
Each Wednesday, as it has for more than a decade, the "Local Music Show" showcases local bands and performers, usually featuring live, in-studio guests. For local bands, performing on the "Local Music Show" is a sign that they’ve unofficially “arrived” on the scene.
“I kind of just knew I was the perfect person for it,” she said of being recruited to take over the show’s microphone last year.
Meanwhile, she’s been promoting tons of shows, including a recent set by local psych-folk band Wiccans at the State Theater and smaller shows at Name Brand Tattoo, The Bar in Braun Court, and countless house parties.
For Salant, it’s simple.
“I just kind of tried to figure it out as I went along,” she said. “And now, I guess I sort of know what I’m doing, but I still learn something new each time I put on a show."
Salant said she never set out to assume a position of prominence on the local music landscape. If that’s what’s happened, it’s simply been the result of her hard work and Zelig-like omnipresence.
Thomas, her bandmate and erstwhile mentor, said Salant is a key fixture on the local scene.
“Shelley accomplishes so much by the surprisingly rare merit of just being herself,” he said. “It sounds kind of corny, but the truth is there's really nobody like her that I've ever met, and certainly not many people around town working so altruistically and giving so much of their own time and energy to make things more fun and exciting for everyone.
“Shelley's work is all-inclusive and tireless.”
In fact, Salant said she’d love to see more people doing exactly what she’s doing now to help pull the local scene out of what she views as a bit of a temporary slump.
“I always just encourage people to participate,” she said. “Anyone who wants to do something—start a band, put on a show, release a record, whatever—they should just do it.”