For years, Muse Music in Provo has been the main focal point for the all-ages audience, and,to a degree, the BYU music social scene. --- Having provided a venue with its own quick-snack and sandwich menu, along with a recording studio next door, the place became the launching point for many a musician out of Utah County and a very appreciated spot for those wishing to see live music from around the city and state.
Last year, the venue hit a point of near silence within the music community with rarely booked shows and rarely seen ownership, followed by rumors that the area itself was up for sale, putting into question the venue's future. But two friends, Colin Hatch and Justin Hyatt, came in and purchased the place to help keep it as a venue and revitalize its presence. Today, we chat with both men about the venue and the work they've done since taking over, along with their thoughts on the local music scene.
Justin Hyatt & Colin Hatch
Gavin: Hey, guys. First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Colin: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and now I'm a media music major at BYU. I am headed toward a career in songwriting. Ever since I was a kid, I've loved music and really connected with it, so that really motivated me to make music my career and not just a hobby. I also enjoy yelling for fun and laughing super hard.
Justin: I was born in Provo, but grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I am now a year-round Provo resident, I follow local politics and support local businesses and events. I love to garden. [I'm a] BYU student double major, mechanical engineering and English. Good Friend of Colin Hatch, I ride my bike or the bus wherever I go, [I'm] vice president of BYU EcoResponse, the campus sustainability club. I also work for The RBL group, a Provo consulting firm, and [I'm a] LDS returned missionary and local music fan.
Gavin: What first got both of you interested in music, and what were some of your favorite acts growing up?
Justin: I listened to the radio a lot as a kid, but I didn't grow up in a music culture.
Colin: I don't remember first getting interested in music, but I do remember having all the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Off The Wall album memorized when I was six. I grew up listening to a healthy mix of The Beatles, Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and Raffi. In middle school, I went through a short metal phase. I still enjoy Mastadon. Then in high school, I got into Radiohead, Wilco and Sufjan Stevens.
Gavin: Both of you came from out of state to study at BYU. What made you both choose the Y, and how has it been for you both living in Provo?
Colin: I chose BYU because my brothers were out here studying and I was going into the same field as Aaron, my oldest brother. While it has its quirks and issues, I love living in Provo. I always quote my roommate when people ask about living in Provo for college: "In four years, you have enough time to establish a home for yourself." That's what I've done. I feel connected to the community, I support local business and I've lived in the same house since my sophomore year.
Justin: I have always been a BYU fan. My older brother was on the BYU football team years ago. BYU was an easy choice for me. I really enjoy Provo. I am not just a student living here; Provo is my home. I live here, I play here, I shop here, I work here, I vote here. It is my community.
Gavin: How did you each get involved with the local music scene? And what was your first experience with Muse Music Cafe like?
Justin: I started attending shows at Muse and Velour a couple of years ago when my friends would invite me to their shows. I love hearing local bands. I first remember coming into Muse during a Provo Downtown Gallery Stroll. Some guy was doing stand-up.
Colin: I was introduced to the local music scene through Maxfield, who have evolved into Fictionist, and Elizabethan Report -- what is now Eyes Lips Eyes. I started going to shows at Velour and eating at Muse, then my band Tighty Willis started playing shows on the 100 block. My first experience at Muse I was on a date. I got the turkey pesto, she got the ultimate grilled cheese, the conversation died fast and we never went out again.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about for the two of you to take over the place from its previous owners?
Colin: I heard a rumor from Jaxon, Tighty's lead guitarist, that Muse was up for sale. Wait, let me backtrack a little. Over a year ago, a big group of our friends started talking about what we'd like to do if we owned our own restaurant. We were so excited about the idea that we started meeting every week to write a business plan and see how far we could get. After a year of work, most of our group had moved away or moved on, leaving just a few of us. When I heard Muse was for sale, I grabbed the phone and called Justin. We set up an appointment with Jake and instantly started changing up our business plan and reworking our financial goals to make it happen.
Gavin: Was there any hesitation on your part to take over the venue, or did you dive in immediately?
Justin: We didn't hesitate at all. There was no way we were going to pass up this opportunity. The same week we found out that Muse might be up for sale, we took Jake to dinner and started negotiating.
Gavin: What was the transition like, switching ownership and taking over the venue, as a whole?
Justin: The transition was great! Jake Haws, the former owner, helped a ton. He showed us everything we needed and even came in to work some during the first week. We were able to stay open every day during the transition. We switched smoothly to the new Website and Jake continues to forward any calls or emails he gets about Muse.
Gavin: On the venue part, how was it transitioning over the live shows from previously booked material to your own choices? And were there any issues with the venue itself you've fixed or changed?
Colin: The transition with the venue was smooth because we took over the week of Muse's “Battle of the Bands” which Jake had already scheduled. Now, using all of our employees, we're able to book a variety of shows and each of us can focus on the best bands of our favorite genres. For example: Gilbert, our cafe guy, books his awesome Punk-O-Rama shows that I wouldn't even know where to start with.
Gavin: On the cafe part, what was it like taking over and adjusting the menu for the patrons, as well as taking over the small music store inside?
Justin: The cafe transition was great! Gilbert Cisneros had been working there for a couple years and he showed us how things had been running and helped us transition. We added The Chocofection and the Pearisian, two of my favorite sandwiches, but we kept on the Muse classics. Now we make sure to have the cafe open every night even if there isn't a show at Muse.
Gavin: Many don't seem to remember at times, but Muse Music also has its own recording studio. How was it for you taking over that aspect and working with musicians to record their material?
Colin: I've been recording music since high school and it was a dream of mine to own a recording studio. Besides some equipment that I would have never invested in, it's been really fun to start being professional about my recordings and having a space to spread out and create great music. We've also lowered our rates significantly to help provide more bands with this great resource. We now charge $20/hour.
Gavin: How have things gone for you both since the change, and what's been the reaction from the public to the changes and music selection?
Justin: For the first week, I was here all day every day. It took us a while to to figure out how to balance our lives. Some people were worried that we would totally change up the feel and the scene at Muse. Honestly, it's hard for us to see a change 'cause it's right under our nose every day. We are working to improve and bring more fans to more bands, but we don't want to ruin a great thing.
Gavin: Considering the area you're in, with Velour and The Deathstar next door and Black Pyramid around the corner, what has your interaction been like with the other venues and studios, and do you view them as competition or comrades?
Colin: There's a lot of respect between us and the other businesses that we interact with. We've gotten help and advice from them. There's a real sense that we're all in this together, especially between Velour and Muse. We even named a sandwich on our menu after Corey Fox. We've also done cross-promotion with Velour, where people with a Velour stamp get a dollar off our sandwiches.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand beyond what you're doing now, or are you staying with what works?
Justin: We are working to expand the menu at the cafe. We want to make it a diner destination in Provo. MuseMusicCafe.com has expanded a ton. We now provide everyone in Utah valley a complete selection of all upcoming shows and music-related events. Hopefully, soon bands will be emailing us to post about their house shows and fans will come to our site to sample the newest EP's.
Gavin: Going statewide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Colin: I love the Utah Valley music scene for its diversity and for the insane amount of musicians and bands there are. Because of how many artists there are, however, it's hard for bands to break through and get heard. More and more, musicians have to be innovative in how they promote themselves. Focusing a little closer to home, there is a huge disconnect in the Provo music scene. There are bands that get big on BYU campus that have never heard of the 100 block, or whose fans have never been this south of campus except to get to the I-15 on ramp. At the same time, it's really hard for bands to play on BYU's campus because of all of the hurdles you have to jump through -- bands have to register, lyrics have to be approved, a club has to sponsor an event, etc. That's really unfortunate.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Colin: Fork Fest really nails it on the head. People who don't know about the music scene are never going to pay to find out. Free concerts, free downloads, and high-quality production are going to draw people to the local scene. After we finished recording the Tighty Willis album, I showed it to a friend who hadn't heard local music before. They were shocked that we sounded like other CDs they had heard and that we had an orchestra on the record. People need to experience it to believe that local music is just as good as the national scene.
Gavin: Who are your favorite acts in the scene right now, from any genre?
Colin: Right now, I'm excited about Book On Tapeworm, The Moth & The Flame, Fatigi, Holy Water Buffalo and Back Chat, Cody Rigby's new band. Fictionist puts on a great show. Also, there's an extremely young girl band, The Blue Aces. They're super fun and catchy.
Gavin: What do you think about local labels and the role they play with helping musicians?
Colin: My only experience with local labels is with Northplatte. As long as a label actually helps their artist out, which Northplatte does, then I think they're important. I've seen a couple of mini Provo labels spring up, but I'm not sure they actually offer something a band couldn't do for themselves since they don't have the resources.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how its affects local musicians?
Colin: I love community radio when it exists. I wish KRCL played a little more Provo music, but maybe that's just because I'm surrounded by the Provo scene.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourselves and Muse Music over the rest of this year?
Justin: Muse is going to be great this year! We are going to produce an album of the best songs from local bands in 2011. We are taking nominations via email at SongNominations@MuseMusicCafe.com. We want to unite and showcase Utah Valley's awesome music scene. We are planing to start a podcast or live stream from our studio that will broadcast songs from local bands. We are creating a network to connect bands to all the resources they need to reach out to fans. If bands want to make T-shirts or stickers or record a demo or shoot a music video, we want to help them. We also have a huge collection of albums from local bands over the last decade. We are working to document all of it and make it available online.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Colin: Besides music, we're starting to book other events. Our Storytelling Night focuses on a single theme with prepared stories by local students/citizens. It's a great community-oriented event and very entertaining. It also breaks away from the "4 bands play random songs all night" mentality because it's a well thought out show from start to finish.
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