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Time of the Season 

Giving out 'slaps' with the hosts of the Hustle Season podcast.

click to enlarge James Seretis, Kelli Strawbridge, and Reggie Pace are all highly regarded working musicians in the Richmond scene, which is part of what makes their lively podcast, The Hustle Season, so entertaining.

Lauren Serpa

James Seretis, Kelli Strawbridge, and Reggie Pace are all highly regarded working musicians in the Richmond scene, which is part of what makes their lively podcast, The Hustle Season, so entertaining.

It's very easy to start a music podcast, says trombonist Reggie Pace, co-host of The Hustle Season, soon set to mark its 250th installment. "There are a thousand podcasts with 14 episodes. And there are two thousand with 50 episodes. People start to run into the 'why' factor. 'Why am I doing this?'"

Pace, the leader of No BS! Brass Band, and his co-hosts, guitarist James Seretis and drummer Kelli Strawbridge, know why they are committed to doing this over the long haul. They'd be doing it anyway, arguing about and discussing the world of popular culture, especially music. "Why not tape it?" says Strawbridge. "And why not build an actual band around it, too? "

"This is no different from us just getting together after a gig and talking and arguing about music," says Seretis, who builds custom audio equipment and serves as a soundman for numerous venues. "We've all known each other a long time, since 2000 or 2001, running around in the VCU jazz circles."

Each Friday, the trio drops a new episode of its occasionally serious but more often irreverent look at the world of popular music -- with industry news, the latest releases, obituaries, shout-outs, raspberries, and a popular feature where "slaps" are awarded to the freshest new sounds. Diversions are the expected norm -- such as Strawbridge's five minute exploration of what Paul McCartney's funkiest song might be -- or Pace's hilarious recounting of being forced to listen to five hours of Billy Joel music, punctuated by his masterful one-mouth-recreation of a Joel "Broadway" showtune.

Seretis recently went on a spirited tirade about the collaboration between Eminem and Cee-Lo Green slated for Baz Luhrmann's new Elvis Presley biopic. "What in the hell are Eminem and Cee-Lo doing in an Elvis movie?" he spewed forth as his co-hosts laughed on. "What's wrong with the Elvis we got?"

What sets this group of opinionated knuckleheads apart from the rest of the music nerd podosphere is that they are actually working, touring, recording musicians. So, yes, you'll hear a discussion of Beyonce's just-dropped single, or Johnny Depp's oddball "You're So Vain" cover with Marlyn Manson, or the new George Michael and Wham documentary -- Strawbridge diversion: Did Andrew Ridgely ever play anything? But you might also get an insider's view of how artists deal with streaming services or what it's like to work in an uncooperative venue, or how cool it is to run sound for Method Man.

click to enlarge Seretis, Strawberry and Pace might sound like a '70s yacht rock supergroup, but they often like to discuss current music on the Hustle Season, available on Spotify, iTunes and Apple podcasts. - LAUREN SERPA
  • Lauren Serpa
  • Seretis, Strawberry and Pace might sound like a '70s yacht rock supergroup, but they often like to discuss current music on the Hustle Season, available on Spotify, iTunes and Apple podcasts.

"I really don't listen to other music podcasts," says Seretis, the veteran soundman and guitarist who engineers each Tuesday night taping (and for the YouTube channel, filming) in a space in his Northside home not much bigger than your Uncle Joe's tool shed. "What we do here is different, I think, and the cool stuff happens spontaneously." The room is dominated by a wide computer screen, where the trio click on song tracks, do commentary for video clips and trigger necessary sound effects during the show's live taping.

What keeps the conversation lively, they all say, is the different perspectives. "I'm the drummer, I hold the bottom down," explains Strawbridge, who performs in his own jazz trio and with the band Prabir (he's also logged stints with Mikrowaves, the Big Payback and Mekong Xpress). "Reggie is a horn player and a bandleader and James is a guitarist and a sound engineer, so we're all musicians but we come at it from different places."

The rate-a-record portion of the show, where current releases are judged based on their ability to "slap," is the standout of most episodes. Here, the trio sample fresh new releases -- from household names like Van Morrison (whose "Latest Record Project, Volume 1" is hilariously eviscerated) to cult band The Mars Volta's new "Blacklight Shine" (which is compared to early Genesis and highly praised). Their latest episode samples everything from Cardi B to Lil Durk to Iggy Pop, and listeners can access a special "Does it Slap?" playlist -- the bad and the good -- on Spotify. "What is a slap?" Pace muses. "It's whether or not I would ever want to listen to it again."

The trio own up to being tough on veteran musicmakers - classic rockers, icons, supergroups. "That's because they should know better," says Strawbridge. The band Chicago was only the most recent dinosaur act to get fileted by the group. "They may have done good stuff in the past but ["If This is Goodbye"] is a horrible song," says Seretis, who adds that a selection can be good but not "slap." "It's very subjective. You can have something that will lightly slap, or not slap but be a song you think is respectable, just not your thing.”

click to enlarge The trio engaged in a lively mime debate in its homegrown podcast studio. - LAUREN SERPA
  • Lauren Serpa
  • The trio engaged in a lively mime debate in its homegrown podcast studio.

"I like to talk about people that influenced music that folks don't really know about," says Strawbridge, who is responsible for compiling much of the music judged for slaps. "And I definitely show up to say, do we have to listen to the same 15 artists all the time," counters Pace, who has toured the world with national indie-rockers, Bon Iver. "If you are a music person, you can end up in this bubble of talking about the same things, the same celebrities, all the time. But I want to talk about the new music out there."

Reaching the 30,000-download level has been an evolution. The Hustle Season was originally started in 2015 by Strawbridge with RVA Magazine founder R. Anthony Harris and had an interview format. Pace had also started the Pacecast, where he featured interviews with fellow players. "But everybody does that," he says. "It was a good exercise, though, in seeing what it's like to do it on my own."

Two years in, Strawbridge asked Pace, Seretis and former co-host Gabriel Santamaria -- who originally met Seretis while he was co-hosting a podcast called "Cut the Cord" -- to join him in a freewheeling discussion on music. "Things got interesting," says Strawbridge. "We liked to play around with the form and innovate."

Of course, it was only natural that they would form a real band. During the COVID lockdown, they recorded "Vol. One," a full-length album with one of the standout tracks, "Flavor Quest," serving as the podcast's theme song (Santamaria is still the bassist in the band). "We did do a couple of live shows, more of a curated thing with themes," Strawbridge recalls. "We did a crime-themed show with crime TV show music at the Firehouse, and we did film music at Gallery5. We'd like to do more of that now that things are getting back to normal."

In the end, there are moments in music history that the hosts call "Hustle Season worthy," like when Sophia Urista, the lead singer of the band, Brass Against, urinated onstage at a Florida festival last November. "It was made for us," says Seretis. "A brass band with a peeing girl, are you kidding me?"

"They upped the brass band game," quips Pace. "I mean, it's amazing. They're doing watersports on stage. I talked to my brass band about it and they said no and I told them, 'You're just scared of making money."

And the band laughed on....

The Hustle Season is available through Spotify, ITunes and Apple Podcasts. Additional content, including unreleased Hustle Season music, can be found on via the podcast's Patreon page at patreon.com/thehustleseason

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