Asking Seattle Music Commissioner Sharlese Metcalf for local music recommendations is a serious question. She has too many ideas to choose from, which is no wonder. Described by the Stranger as “one of the city’s strongest and most devoted advocates for local music,” Sharlese has worked on KEXP’s local music show Audioasis for the past ten years.
Sharlese has dabbled in lots of aspects of the music industry throughout her career. Her first radio experience was hosting Green River Community College’s Northwest music-focused show, Local Motion, on KGRG in 2001. “From there I just basically became really interested in kind of the background, logistics, development of music,” she explains. “I started trying a bunch of different things, so besides having a radio show, I started booking, and tried working at a venue as an intern, and started working at a label, Kill Rock Stars.”
Her career at KEXP began with an internship with Audioasis as an assistant to the host and booker. In 2009, she became an Audioasis producer and was promoted to host in 2012.
While Sharlese is passing the Audioasis DJ mantel on to Eva Walker of The Black Tones this week, she still wears many other professional hats. In addition to being a rotating host on KEXP’s Sunday evening Expansions show, Sharlese serves as the station’s Education Coordinator. Sharlese is a resident of Studio 4/4 and Depth Seattle and is also a member of the TUF collective, which works to uplift the voices of womxn of color, and marginalized communities in music and art. She additionally serves on the board of Northwest Film Forum and, of course, on the Music Commission.
Through her role on the Commission, Sharlese is passionate about tackling some of the biggest issues facing Seattle’s music industry, including the local debate surrounding the preservation of cultural spaces. As the ongoing effort to save the Showbox has demonstrated, Seattle is facing something of an identity crisis as the city continues to grow and change.
Sharlese points to organizations like the Vera Project, Hollow Earth Radio, and KEXP as hopeful examples of where the city could be heading, but she still sees a lot of work to be done. “I feel like we’re still working towards a goal of making sure there are affordable spaces for living, for practicing, that there are equitable opportunities to play and network, and that places are accessible so that people from all different types of backgrounds can enjoy art and music.”
Preserving a cultural space means much more than preserving the physical building, she says: “Saving a creative cultural space is all about making sure the neighborhood is livable, affordable.” If cultural spaces are preserved, but the artists who use those spaces and the staff who keep them running can’t afford to live in the area, then the space is only preserved for a privileged few. The Music Commission is one of the groups working on solutions that will meaningfully preserve the spaces that give Seattle its cultural character.
Whatever solutions the Commission can find, Sharlese is proud to contribute as one of the voices speaking up for the needs of artists in Seattle. Artists have a voice through their music and performances, but Commissioners can be active within the context of City government, making sure that those in power hear the priorities and needs of artists. “I think that’s the purpose that the Music Commission serves,” she says, “and these are the things I really care about.”
And, as for those music recommendations we asked Sharlese for, enjoy: