Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf
More Gotta Start Somewhere
No matter how successful entertainers become, they’ll inevitably always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or absurdly strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to retell the story of the first time they ever graced a stage. In this edition, The A.V. Club caught up with Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf before the band’s show Nov. 20 at the Cactus Club.
Alex Schaaf: The first time I performed onstage was in high school. I mean, I performed with choirs and band and stuff, but the first time playing on my own was at this high school talent show, I think my junior year. I probably did some Ben Folds covers, because that’s what I was in to doing at the time. It wasn’t until then that I sang in front of people. I just did a couple songs, but I think it went well, at least from what I remember. It could have been terrible. [Laughs.]
The A.V. Club: Why did you decide to perform in the talent show?
AS: It was around that time that I started to write my own songs, so I think I was like, “Well, someday I’d like to perform my own songs, so I should get some practice.” My own songs probably sucked, so I wanted to do covers. But yeah, it was in high school, so it was really frightening. But it worked out in the end.
AVC: When did you start performing your own songs?
AS: I had a band in high school, the next year after [the talent show]. I made this band that was just piano, bass, and drums. We did a lot of Ben Folds. [Laughs.] I was really into Ben Folds because I grew up playing piano with lessons—but, after hearing Ben Folds Five, I realized that you could play piano and still be in a rock band. We did do a few originals, though, that I wrote in amongst the Ben Folds covers. So that was my senior year in high school. We just played a bunch of shows around my town, which wasn’t anything huge, so it was good testing grounds.
AVC: Did you get a positive response in your town?
AS: Back then?
AVC: Yeah, when you were in high school.
AS: Yeah, I think so. In hindsight, it was mostly my friends and family hearing it, so no one said anything negative. That came much later. [Laughs.] It didn’t beat me down too much; I mean I’m still doing it, so it must have been okay.
AVC: How did the first Yellow Ostrich performance come about?
AS: Well, I did a show in Chicago a couple years ago that was technically Yellow Ostrich, but the first real one was when I was in school at Appleton and I had another full band who did a lot of shows, but then this band Bishop Allen came to my school. They were a big band in my mind, and I was on the booking committee and we needed an opener, so I volunteered my services. I had been recording stuff as this Yellow Ostrich thing, but I was thinking more about doing it live, so that was my chance to try it. Actually the drummer for Bishop Allen, Michael [Tapper], is now the drummer for Yellow Ostrich. I met him at that show, and he liked the stuff, so we kept in touch until I moved to New York where he was. All in all it was a pretty productive first show.