Cecelia Erholtz on the Podium's past, TABAH's tomorrow

Cecelia Erholtz of Tabah in The Current's studio
Cecelia Erholtz of Tabah in The Current's studio (Nate Ryan/MPR)

As May 2017 drew to a close, The Podium — a landmark guitar shop in Minneapolis with a history that stretches back to 1959 — quietly, and permanently, closed its doors.

Cecelia Erholtz, frontperson of the band TABAH, was a longtime employee of the now-shuttered Podium. But as the Podium closed its doors, TABAH are enjoying an upward trajectory, with more tour dates scheduled and new videos on the way.

Erholtz recently took time to talk with us about the Podium's closing and about what's next for TABAH.

You've worked at the Podium for a while. How long had you actually worked there?

I had the true blessing of being hired at the Podium at the later age of 18 turning into 19. Currently, I've spent a few years on and off; as the shop moved locations, I was fortunate enough to be hired back, and that allowed me to be there for the remaining years.

So you were actually there when it changed location and moved under the aegis of Guitar Rodeo. Was it that Guitar Rodeo took over and assumed the name of the Podium? How did that work?

Yeah, Jim Tordoff had been running a shop called Guitar Rodeo, which was in the location the Podium moved into. He also took the name over — and the company. He combined Guitar Rodeo and the Podium to try and create both communities to come together. Soon after, we just went by the Podium's name, and it worked very well, I think.

That's cool. But when the Podium closed permanently, and it seemed like it happened kind of quickly. Did you foresee that coming? Were there indications? Was Jim retiring?

Yeah, Jim did retire. There was, I'd say, a lot of sentimentality to the community base that we had been providing a platform for — not me personally, but the Podium — for 50-plus years. Jim wanted to retire, and they graciously had told me about the potential of closing the Podium a little bit before TABAH went out on tour. It was not quite decided at the time; they just wanted to communicate, as we were very close there. It's a small shop with very few people working there.

But overall, it just was time to move forward, I think. There's a sea change in the guitar market, in some ways. And in others, I think it was just time for Jim. He wanted to retire and just close the door in not a big-bang sort of way. That's why it was quiet, I believe. [We] just let the community know as they came in.

sign in window at The Podium
Sign posted in the window at The Podium alerting customers to the store's closure. (Luke Taylor | MPR)

That makes sense. You suggested a sea change in the guitar market, and interestingly, one of Jim's blog posts recently hinted at some sort of change in the guitar market. What sorts of changes are you seeing?

After working at the Podium for five years or so, noticing a change in the clientele and perhaps even just the desire for a higher-end acoustic guitar did not expand into the younger demographic the way that we would have thought. Or that I, perhaps, would have thought, being someone that really enjoys playing acoustic. I think we're just seeing a change in what exists in musical songwriting elements, and the aesthetics, and the choices of instruments that play into songwriting.

With things like Reverb.com and ways to buy musical instruments much more person-to-person, if you will, it was just a more unique market to try and maintain. Especially after leaving a location that had a withstanding of many decades.

[The Podium] was a landmark place, and with what it had built over time, you have to have had some pretty nice memories of working there. Maybe even interacting with interesting or illustrious clientele. Do you have any memories like that to share?

Absolutely. I'd say my memories run more personal to the people I interacted with. We certainly had quite a community of regulars at both locations that came in daily or weekly to say hello and let us know about themselves as well as check in with us. We would talk socially and politically, and it was a way to engage with your community.n

Memories of musicians who are coming to town:nI've heard plenty of stories of names that I personally didn't witness. Anyone from Ray LaMontagne making a phone call to order a guitar, to Vince Gill coming in and my boss not recognizing that's who that was. It was a feet-on-the-ground element with whoever entered the shop.

I'd say my best memories are with my dear friends, Frank, Kevin, and David Roos, at the old shop, hanging out. It was truly just a moment in the Minneapolis community that I think has quite a historical presence in longevity.

Thanks for sharing that. I'm sorry to hear about the closure, especially for a place that provided such meaningful employment to you. I know that's not easy.

I really appreciate you taking the time to remark on the shop. It meant a lot to me. It was somewhat of a temple: a place that furthered my musical development within the Twin Cities. It gave me a foothold to believe that I could step out and go and talk to some of these people, because I had the opportunities to talk with people at the shop. It was a segue towards what I'm doing, and I really appreciate you commentating on what it did for the community. So thank you.

You're welcome. And let's talk about that stepping out, these next steps in your life. TABAH — you guys have been enjoying a fairly busy tour schedule lately, and you recently released this amazing mini-documentary. But you went to South By; you visited Toronto and Chicago. Do you have a couple of highlights to share from those dates, either in Austin or in Toronto?

Yeah, we had a great time on our initial tour down south. We went, as you could imagine, right down 35 through Oklahoma into Austin, where we spent the week in South By Southwest, experiencing not only South By Southwest events, but also the underground or the offhand events. There's just a lot going on.

We had a chance to play the HandleBar rooftop twice that week, and I've just never had the experience to have my music blast out onto the streets of a downtown city and have it well-received! [laughs]

Also, in Toronto, we had the lovely chance of getting a slot at the Horseshoe Tavern, a 70-year-old club in Toronto. We got to play a set, and we met the bar staff and made friends, and we came back every night during Canadian Music Week to see the other bands that were playing. That was a really interesting turn of events. Had we not met one of the people that work at the establishment, we would not have probably had such a placeholder, if you will, for that week. So that was really fun.

Meeting Chris Riemenschneider from the Star Tribune that week in Austin — he showed up, and we were finally able to meet in person in Austin, Texas, which was great.

Last but not least, Charlie [Bruber], our bass player, went to an award ceremony at Canadian Music Week and had the chance to walk up and say hello to Alex Lifeson of Rush, and we all thought that was pretty interesting. [laughs]

You mention Canadian Music Week. Canada, nationally, is very supportive of its music scene, and it's not easy for a U.S.-based group to get into something like that. Do you guys have ties to Canada? Is there a Canadian member in TABAH?

No, and that's funny you say that. They love their community and their music scene. It's beautiful, and Toronto is a really great city.

We got an email from Canadian Music Week asking us to come and play, and we immediately got back with a "yes." A capital yes. And [we] decided we'd just go out there to play the set and meet people, and that's what we did. Because of meeting someone at the Horseshoe Tavern, we were able to get another set booked. So it was really a unique experience. We did not have any ties to Canada besides the fact that we are big fans of the country and the people and look forward to coming back, which we will be doing in August.

It sounds like you're really gaining a foothold in these other communities around the continent. Do you feel a cultivation of fans and followers for TABAH beyond Minnesota?

You know, we really hope within this year, as we continue to spread our musical expressions around, that we are able to cultivate listeners and friends. As we go to these cities and hang out at the places we're playing, it seems we do find a smiling face that we're able to talk to at the end of the night. Someone that feels as if we connected with them in ways that they feel and want to express. And that's what matters to us. As long as we can continue to do that — in other cities of the United States, perhaps, and even in Toronto and through Canada — we'll slowly be able to connect with people.

We really look forward to getting out nationally. We have a three-week tour booked in August, highlighting some spots like Toronto, New York, D.C., and Nashville. Just wanting to immerse ourselves — throw ourselves in there — so we can continue to circle back and keep saying hello. Keep bringing new content and new messages.

You mentioned Nashville, and that's a perfect segue into the next question. On the 21st of May, you guys published a new mini-documentary about the recording of your album in Nashville. It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look. It illustrates not only the hard work and inventiveness and playfulness of recording, but also the professionalism of the band. Can you tell me more about how that documentary came to be and what you hope to see happen with that?

Absolutely. We've been friends and admirers of a small Duluth group called Black Feather Creative and continued to use them consistently for videos. So when we went to Nashville to record, it made sense to propose the question that they might meet us during our time there for whatever they could allow within their schedules and budget. Come down, and let's try and capture what we're doing, so that even if only for our mothers and fathers, our dear family members, we'd have a way to share a bit about why we're in a studio for this time. Why we're so adamantly preparing for this. All of our friends and family witnessed us hermit up and prepare.

So to get into the studio and have our friends show up to meet the engineer, Chris, and to hang out comfortably and film, and to know that perhaps we could put this into the LP as a download … maybe not only our family and friends but even some of our listeners would be interested in seeing a bit about how we are in the studio.

We had only watched other documentaries done in the studio. We had never thought to do this for ourselves. You make the mention of being "professional," and that means a lot to me. It means a lot because what we wanted to do was share a video, and maybe if you haven't heard of us and just happened to see this documentary, you might want to listen to the music. But then on top of it, if you had already listened to the music, maybe you were able to watch the documentary and gain in-depth insight into what we're doing and how we're doing it.

And speaking of videos, you guys released a really cool video not too long ago, for "Lucid State." Do you have other music videos, specifically, slated for release? Or are you able to talk about that just yet?

Absolutely. We'll be working with Black Feather. We have two more videos that are underway; one will have a little bit of dancing, perhaps, and [for] the other we're working on different visual effects. Those will be released early fall, and perhaps, if we're lucky, late this summer. But we have "Lucid State" and "Noble" as two more creative takes on some of our album songs with Black Feather. Those were a lot of work, a lot of fun? I say "fun" with a question because there are so many other words I could use, I suppose, to describe taking your song and trying to put it into a video form. But it's been a really great creative experience for all of us, and it's exciting to help them grow and they help us grow.

With "Lucid State," that's the one where the man is hiking through the woods and sets fire to a bunch of stuff. How much input do you have to Black Feather? Was the concept all theirs? Or do you say, "Okay, I imagine a guy lighting up all this stuff"?

Yeah! Yes. I've talked to a few other companies in town and out of town, and they want [to create] a lot of the pitch. I get that. You have a vision. You have an idea of how it's created. But [with] Black Feather, being that they are our dear friends and people we have known since probably the beginning of this group, it allows us to sit in a room, look at each other, and start openly brainstorming creative words and visions.

[With] "Lucid State," we'd all listened to that song and had thoughts coming into that discussion. But it really is exciting when we can get the workflow going and grow from each other and go, "Oh, that sounds great! What about this now?" With the fire, I mean, you get a bunch of gasoline, and you find some property that's not going to be touched that you own. We had to think about we could burn and what we didn't really want to burn, but — you know, you look at those details. Realistically, we're not working in a green-screen studio built for cinematography magic, but we still try and make that happen within our means.

TABAH next perform at the Turf Club in St. Paul on May 26, and at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis on May 27.


TABAH - official site

The Podium / Guitar Rodeo

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