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June 25, 2014

The Trophy Mules: Alternative country band is stubborn about good music

Corey Saathoff likes to mix work with pleasure.

Saathoff, 38, of Columbia, is the editor of the Waterloo Republic Times and the front man, lead singer and primary songwriter of The Trophy Mules, an alternative country band.

In his music, he draws from his experiences covering Monroe County as a journalist.

"You always need to be writing in one form or the other to develop a craft. Music is more of a creative outlet for me. At work I have to write: "On Monday night, the Waterloo City Council blah blah blah blah," Saathoff said. "When I write a song, it can be whatever I want it to be. It doesn't have to be so rigid. It can be abstract. They both help each other. My songwriting helps my news writing and vice versa."

An example of this is the song "Valmeyer," which documents the flood of 1993 and impact on the town and its residents.

"I was graduating high school in Highland. It (Valmeyer flooding) was always on the news. Over these years getting to know the community and covering events down there, it took on extra meaning, especially since last year was the 20th anniversary," Staahoff said. "Valmeyer has a place in my heart. Izzy Cummings, from Highland, had this song, almost a campfire song called "Valmeyer." I asked his permission and rearranged the lyrics to make it fit to today."

I went down to old Valmeyer,

came away so inspired

Little town, lots of desire

Fate denied, rebuilding higher

The song has raised over $100 via for the Valmeyer Museum that will house artifacts from Old Valmeyer.

Getting together

The Trophy Mules formed after Saathoff met guitarist and mandolin player Larry Rosenhoffer through a classified ad on Craigslist in 2008.

Saathoff has been involved in the local music scene for 15 years. His previous bands include the twangy rock-sounding Jerkwater Junction and the indie rock-sounding Brain Regiment.

"I felt like in Brain Regiment I was stretching by boundaries a little bit in terms of songwriting and live music wise," Saathoff said. "I kind of wanted to get back to my roots, which was more country/folk sounding material from my first band."

Rosenhoffer, 50, of Webster Groves, has been involved in the St. Louis music scene since the '80s and has played in alternative and hard rock bands such as Plaid Hotel, Bad Art and Welding Teacher.

The Trophy Mules lineup includes Dan Huffman, 39, of Columbia, on bass; Scott Swartz, 48, of St. Louis, on pedal steel guitar and fiddle; and Dave Clark, 34, of St. Louis, on drums.

The Trophy Mules' music runs from the country pedal steel guitar licks on "Lone Hearts Bound" to the up-tempo rock of "Drag U Around." Their most recent album "Sorry Motel" was released in 2012.

Creative collaboration

While Saathoff is the main songwriter, he feels The Trophy Mules' music is a collaborative process, a sentiment that is shared by Rosenhoffer.

"When you add four other personalities to that song ("Valmeyer"), you get that interplay between five creative people, the end product is completely different," Rosenhoffer said. "'Marigold Life' was one of those songs. It really became something that none of us expected."

"Marigold Life" also caught the ear of KDHX deejay Pat Wolfe, who is a fan of their music.

"Sometimes you hear a song and it galvanizes you." said Wolfe, who hosts a weekly show on Fridays called "The Interstate." "The entire album 'Sorry Motel' is terrific, and I must admit it was a close call between 'Marigold Life' and 'Desert of Sin,' but the vocal harmonies and pedal steel guitar on Marigold are sensational. When Corey sings, 'But when the sun shines / the flowers will remind / we have wings to fly,' It makes me feel at peace."

The Trophy Mules play regularly in the metro-east and St. Louis area, but they don't have any aspirations of becoming a big national touring act. Day jobs and other commitments keep them from touring nationally.

Huffman works for Lighting Associates; Clark is a professional musician and music teacher; Swartz is an electrical engineer.

"Because we're older, we have realistic expectations about what we can achieve," said Rosenhoffer, who is also a graphic designer with Southern Graphics. "When you're in your teens and early twenties, you expect lightning to strike. By the time you hit your mid-thirties or early forties, you're not waiting for that lightning to strike anymore. You get on with what you enjoy."

The band is working on material for a follow up to "Sorry Motel."

"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing and keep making good music together," Saathoff said. "We want to play to as many people as we can. In order to do that we have to keep writing quality songs and perform well and try to develop a following. It's all about the songs and the music."

Upcoming gigs

* 10:30 p.m. Saturday at Mangia Italiano, 3145 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis

* July 25 at FOAM Coffee & Beer, 3359 S. Jefferson, St. Louis

* Aug. 2 at Hidden Lake Winery in Aviston.

* Aug. 22 at the TOCO Music Festival in Eureka, Mo.

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