Music as Image | Image as Music / by Steve Groves

You know, I've had a lot of opportunities to photograph some really amazing musicians. From James Houlik (who is one of the best classical saxophone players in the world, and is responsible for the commissioning of the majority of classical saxophone literature!) to Mike Tomaro (jazz saxophonist and one of the most prolific arrangers in the jazz idiom), my time at Duquesne has allowed me to hob-nob with the best of the best!

In addition to these guys (and many others), I've gotten to help out some of the local up-and-coming bands, and it's these guys that I want to talk about. It's one thing to have the opportunity to photograph the well-known established guys, but it's something completely different to be a part of a new band's development. Even if it's just a photo that is used in a random social post, that's something I contributed to the establishment of that group.

With that said, I have to talk about two of my favorite local artists—The Aris Paul Band and Heavy Chest. 

A couple years ago, I got a call from my buddy Jesse, who owns Red Caiman Media, a recording studio on the border between Downtown and Uptown Pittsburgh. He said that he had a client who was working on an EP and was in need of some photography for the album. This was my introduction to one of the best blues guitarists I've ever had the pleasure of knowing–Aris Paul. 

I met Aris and we decided that the Lawrenceville neighborhood was sort of the visual embodiment of the style of music being recorded, described by Aris as "rust belt" style rock. We did some work there, and in a couple other locations around the city, and his EP was released shortly thereafter.

Fast forward a few months, and Aris was now ready to work on his first full-length album, Drive All Night. Aris called me up and I got behind the camera again, this time to do a more complicated photoshoot involving his Jeep pickup truck and some light painting. That photo ended up being the cover shot for the album. I also got to try my hand at graphic design for this project, as well, designing all the art for the album.

It was around this time that I discovered that Aris also knew a couple other guys I had already become acquainted with, Zack Morgan (who works at Duquesne with me) and Keith Quinn (who works at Red Caiman with Jesse). At the release party for Drive All Night, I ran into Zack and Keith playing guitar and bass for Aris' opening act, Madeline Rae. Turns out that these two, along with the other two people in Madeleine's backing band, guitarist Justin Stag and drummer Aaron Wagner, were the four members of another local Pittsburgh band, Heavy Chest.

Heavy Chest is an "experimental rock group informed by electronic elements" and couldn't be more different stylistically to the Aris Paul Band. Where Aris is a down-and-dirty blues guitarist, Justin and Zach create a more ethereal and effect-driven sound with their guitars.

I couldn't have asked for a better band to photograph for my very first visit to Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale. Their show was well-produced, sounded amazing, and showcased the talent of all four band members.

These two bands have been a really big part of my development as a photographer, and it means a lot to me that they've let me have the opportunity to develop my skills as a photographer by photographing them!

Incidentally, as I write this, Pittsburgh's North Side is about to erupt with a huge music festival, the Deutschtown Music Festival, showcasing more than 325 bands on 30+ stages over two days. Both the Aris Paul Band and Heavy Chest are among the bands performing. If you've got time, you should do yourself a favor and check them out!