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When Scott Verrastro needed a name for his latest musical enterprise, he looked to the movies. The outfit’s moniker, Clavius Productions, comes from the name of the moon base where the second shrieking monolith was found in 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The name ties into everything that I am doing,” says the 28-year-old. “I wanted something that could convey the sound of that monolith—something alien, indescribable. Heavy philosophical stuff.”
Luckily for his neighbors, the noise emanating from Verrastro’s house shows—primarily free jazz, space rock, and folk music—is less piercing than the one in Kubrick’s film. That, Verrastro is quick to offer, was “a work by György Ligeti, the experimental Hungarian composer.”
His inaugural house show, however, did come pretty close to replicating a monolithic clamor. In February 2003, Verrastro was trying to find a venue for the Paul Flaherty–Chris Corsano duo. “I tried Now! Music and Black Cat, but no one wanted a free-jazz show,” says Verrastro. He ultimately decided to have the concert at his place, a three-story row house near U Street NW. Since that first time, Verrastro estimates, he has put on 26 house shows.
Despite his day job as an editor and proofreader, Verrastro continues to tirelessly promote shows at such local venues as the Warehouse Next Door and DC9. However, not every band gets the official Clavius Productions imprimatur. “About 75 percent of the shows are Clavius,” he says. “No offense to the nice guys of Say Hi to Your Mom, but that wasn’t a Clavius show.”
And it’s obvious that the house shows are particularly close to Verrastro’s heart; he’s created a venue for the fringe music he enjoys, where he and the musicians don’t have to deal with a middleman taking a cut of the “donation stocking” hung near the front door.
“You go to house shows and it’s always hardcore and punk,” he says. “People don’t do house shows for this kind of music.”Verrastro has hosted everyone from fingerpicking acoustic guitarists Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, and Max Ochs to Kiwi noisemakers Birchville Cat Motel and Vancouver garage-thrashers S.T.R.E.E.T.S. “One of the guys from S.T.R.E.E.T.S. actually skateboarded through the hall of the house during the show,” says Verrastro, “which makes sense since their name stands for ‘Skating Totally Rules Everything Else Totally Sucks.’”
Verrastro is inspired by the notorious acid tests of the ’60s. Perhaps the closest that he has come to re-creating that psychedelic hootenanny vibe is his Free Folk Phantasmagory festival, a daylong “celebration of folk, psych, and improv.”“It’s not as clichéd as it sounds,” he contends. “I try and avoid any cheesy hippie connotations.”
Verrastro’s own space-rock outfit, Kohoutek, was one of 11 acts that played the second Free Folk Phantasmagory this past September. The band, whose sound is reminiscent of krautrockers Popol Vuh, has a self-titled release that’s also under the Clavius Productions umbrella.But Verrastro isn’t sure that Clavius will turn into a full-time label: “Between booking, the day job, and a lack of funds, I can’t afford to put anyone’s fucking record out.”
Verrastro certainly isn’t getting rich with Clavius, and he’s more concerned with reaching people and turning them on to good, weird music. “We may be small and frustrated, but it’s beautiful,” he says. “I can’t do this forever and sometimes wish someone else would pick up the slack. But then I think, Who else is going to do these kinds of shows?”
So Verrastro will keep doing what he’s doing and, like the music he houses, will improvise along the way.“Who knows?Maybe next time, we’ll have a stand-up comic, a juggler, and a firebreather,” he says.“OK, maybe not the firebreather unless we put him out on the back porch.”—David Dunlap Jr.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Charles Steck.