Sharlese Metcalf is an auditory being. When she hears the sound of a song she likes, everything vanishes but the song; a state of radar envelops her and she becomes only ears. As host of KEXP's local show, Audioasis, Sharlese is a well-studied authority and a huge proponent of Northwest music. She knows what's happening musically in the region, and has since 2001, when she began DJing on Green River's KGRG Local Motion show. If you want to know Northwest music, get to know Sharlese Metcalf. See her in action DJing at Chop Suey on October 30 for Black Weirdo and on November 23 at Kremwerk for her cold-wave synth-pop night called False Prophet. On the video front, Metcalf and Bobby McHugh of World Famous have begun curating a quarterly Northwest music video showcase for KEXP and Northwest Film Forum called Videoasis. The October 22 presentation is Halloween themed.
I spoke with Metcalf at her Capitol Hill apartment, but I also had a cat psychologist named Jake meet me there. An extremely territorial Siamese cat named Sade lives with Metcalf—she hisses and attacks everyone but Metcalf. She wants her to herself. Metcalf had expressed interest in working on things with Sade, so I called Jake to see what could be done.
When you DJ, how do you pull sets together? How do you find the threads to make it work? What factors in to the songs you play next?
When I first started thinking about what a DJ actually does, I was at my friend Ramiro's house. He runs a crew and a record label called Uniting Souls. Ramiro let me watch him transition and work the mixer. I remember asking him, "How do you know what songs to pick? How do you know which ones work? How do you know what's cool?" Ramiro said, "It's the feeling that it gives to you." Every track he picks, he says, is personal. It's a public exhibition of you. You're hoping people get you. Every song I pick, I make sure it makes me feel something. It's kind of a naked thing a DJ does. You get up in front of people, or you're on the air, and you really hope people like what you're playing and give themselves back to you.
When you DJ a club, you read the dance floor. When you're on the air at KEXP, what do you read?
For the radio, every song has to be a jam. Every song has to show the band in the best light. Even if it's a band that I'm not so into, there's always a track that shines for them. I listen to the whole album. I study every song, because there could be that one track that works with other songs you're playing. I think that's the beauty of KEXP—the possibility of going seamlessly from a folk track into a hiphop track. You have to figure out the thread. Just like it's possible to go from heavier rock into a quiet acoustic song.
[Jake arrives and sits on the floor next to Sade's mega cat city. Sade hisses and swipes at him.]
What's a hiphop song that goes well into something heavier?
I love to mix Grayskul into Helms Alee. And Unwound into Grayskul is cool, too.
What works going from metal into quiet?
Helms Alee is just one of my favorite bands to mix and transition. I'd take it into something off of Shaprece's Molting EP. Those could grow into each other well. Then I'd go into Vox Mod. Or Lusine.
You're floating, swimming with Lusine there. Then into Ronnie James Dio's "Holy Diver." Right?
Don't know if we're ready for "Holy Diver" right there [laughs]. I keep lots of notes and rotation sheets. I write notes about what would go into what. It's my way of keeping track of things, because I want to make sure I listen to every band that exists. I could go from Lusine into Iska Dhaaf or Fly Moon Royalty. And out of Dio, I'd play UGLYFRANK.
[Jake studies Sade. Sade growls. Jake rolls a ball with a bell inside toward Sade. Sade does nothing.]
When was the first time you wanted to play songs for other people?
I used to listen to The End a lot. To Marco Collins. They had the best programming. I used to watch MTV like crazy. I'd videotape it in the middle of the night, when they were playing stuff that was beyond the mainstream stuff. I loved Guns N' Roses' "November Rain." I was living in Tukwila, and I felt so far removed. My only windows out were The End and MTV. Then I found out about the radio program at KGRG at Green River Community College. I was dating a guy, and he wanted to buy a house. I wanted to go to radio school. He didn't think that a feasible choice in life. He said, "You're never gonna make any money. You're never going to own a house on that kind of income." I told him I didn't care, we broke up, and I started going to Green River. Two weeks in, I found out that the host of the local show, Local Motion, was leaving. They needed someone to take it over, and I told them I could. I knew nothing about local music at all, so I did tons of research. My two favorite bands in the beginning were Death Cab and Pedro the Lion.
When you hear music you like, what happens to you?
I guess it's the happiest place I can be. It's an endorphin bubble. Same thing I think if I'm interviewing a band I love. I can't even begin to express how exciting all that is for me. For Decibel, I went to a Shameless late-night breakfast party. I walked in and there was a DJ from Vancouver called KAFKA playing the best techno you could possibly imagine. I was freaking out over it. Sometimes maybe I get too excited. I couldn't do anything else but stand there and listen. With Audioasis, I want people to hear this music our region is making. There's so much good music coming out of here, it's ridiculous. It's a constant musical discovery. [This year's] Macefield Festival was so great.
[Jake offers his hand to Sade. Sade furiously swats it away and begins to emit the sound of a sustained groan/air-raid siren from her stomach.]
What Northwest bands are you into right now?
Cabana. I fuckin' love Cabana. I hate top 10 lists. I like too much. I have a wide range of what I enjoy. There's Fruit Juice from Olympia. Haunted Horses. Dude York. Naomi Punk. Criminal Code from Tacoma, they're so cool. I like Stickers. Avatar Darko. Key Nyata. Cock and Swan. And Mega Bog.
What Seattle DJs are you liking?
DJ Kate, my False Prophet partner. She lays it down. Joey Webb, the house music man, he's really skilled. I didn't know I could feel house music until Joey Webb. And the Expansions DJs, they cover everything. They're intelligent. They're encouraging. I love them so much. I've absorbed their sounds for so long. They're such staples of the city. Lucky to have these people close to me. They make me musically fulfilled.
People hear your voice on KEXP. You sound calm, graceful, and in control. Have you ever dropped an entire bowl of chicken teriyaki noodles on the console while you were on the air?
One time I played the U-Men's "Gila" for a full minute on the wrong speed, too slow. On the radio! I was heartbroken. And made a formal apology to the city of Seattle about it. It's a seminal song. I would much rather have dumped noodles on my head [laughs]. That was originally on Bruce Pavitt's Bombshelter Records. It's good '80s Seattle rock, like 3 Swimmers and X-15's "Vaporized." Listen to that when you get a chance.
What are some bands whose videos are being shown at the NWFF Videoasis?
We'll be showing videos by Psychic Rites, King Dude, Chastity Belt, Ubu Roi, Grave Babies, Haunted Horses, Constant Lovers, and UGLYFRANK. I'm looking forward to seeing all these local videos played at once in a movie theater. It's going to be so neat.
How often do people call into KEXP requesting "Holy Diver"?
If you're calling into Audioasis requesting "Holy Diver," I don't think you're listening to the show. You're tripping.
Jake speaks: Has Sade ever been injured?
She lived with an animal hoarder. She wouldn't pee in her litter box there. They declawed her, then got rid of her. When she came to my house, she was like, "What is this?" She pooped in my shoe. She'll hiss and growl. She got on my bed and considered it her territory. At first I was like, "She's out. I don't know who she thinks she is." But then I talked to her about it. I told her, "We have to share this place. I pay the rent."
Jake: And you got her the multilevel cat domicile. You also have a large, high-definition picture of Sade on the wall in a frame, which is nice. What else have you tried to massage the situation?
Dangly toys. Lasers. She has every cat toy ever made. She's my baby. I'd just like to be able to have people over. The cat city didn't help. She still wants to kick people's asses. Declawing cats is a mean thing to do to them. It puts them in a bad postion. She knows I love her. And she wants me to know she loves her.
[Sade continues the satanic air-raid sound, and hissing, and swatting at Jake.]
What's your prognosis for Sharlese and Sade?
Jake: Sade's prior situation was difficult, probably. She's declawed and feels unable to defend herself. One of the most important things for cats is territorial identification. I think it will take some time. I'm pretty new at this. I haven't really studied too much, my friends just say I'm good with cats, so I started a business. Right now, I'd say Sade doesn't want anyone else to be here except for Sharlese.