A quaint Laura Ingalls Wilder-style town in the middle of the woods serves as the perfect inspiration for novels of throbbing heartache and a Bon Iver album, but it’s not the ideal place for a break dancing 10-year-old to grow up. By the time the late ’90s rolled around, local musician and DJ Larry Gates knew that greener pastures were located far from the fields of Indiana.
As a kid, Gates escaped the covered wagon festivals of his Indiana hometown to revel in the hip hop haven of record stores. “It’s weird to think of getting into hip hop from such a small town,” he explains. “When we went to the city I went straight for the magazine racks and music.”
His brother owned a disheveled, out-of-tune guitar with broken strings, and Gates would sit in front of the radio trying to replay the music he heard. “I didn’t realize it wouldn’t actually play anything because it wasn’t tuned, but I tried anyway.”
He carried his fascinations with him to Lincoln Christian College, where he was a point guard for the basketball team and studied journalism. He was coaching fifth and sixth grade basketball and working a retail job in Danville when a few shipping guys changed things for him. They invited Gates to share a few brews around a bonfire and play music. He picked up his first real guitar at age 20. Since then he’s taught himself the craft, but to this day he doesn’t know how to read music.
His next life-changing moment came in the form of a vague classified ad. “I’d been searching the classifieds for a reason to come to Champaign-Urbana, and one day I saw this ambiguous ad for a ‘shipping clerk,’ ” Gates explains. He had finally made it. His current job with the 100-year-old American Oil Chemists’ Society seems like a far cry from hip hop, but it’s just another facet in Gates’ eclectic life. He balances local DJing by interviewing old oil chemists and “fish oil gurus.”
Gates formed the band Lorenzo Goetz in the winter of 2000 with Kevin Colravy, Josh Miethe and Mike Harper. They went through a revolving door of members, and ended up as a concrete four piece for their last two years with Gates, Miethe, Eric Fisher and Jesse Greenlee. After the band’s breakup in 2007, Gates began working on his continued solo project, Curb Service. Gates also snatched up an opportunity to DJ on Wednesday nights at Boltini after a few local DJs lefts town. DJing has been another self-taught skill, one which Gates admits can only be achieved through logged hours.
His work and confidence have gotten him where he is today, but he has often been criticized for his self-promotion. “When Lorenzo Goetz first started, we made these little flyers and put them everywhere around town,” Gates says. “People used to ask me why I was doing all this stuff, but I knew that if I didn’t do it no one else would.” He knew that even if people couldn’t pronounce the band’s name that it was important to get it out into the public.
How does he stay sane with the mayhem of DJing, solo shows, a full-time job and caring for his loveable offspring, Syd? “Am I sane?” he kids. “There are times when I get stressed, but never go insane. I love all the things I do, so it keeps me together.”
He’s traveled across the U.S. and seen and experienced a plethora of life experiences, but I bet if you put down some cardboard and a boombox Gates would snap right back into 1983.
Upon entering Gates’ musical chariot, I noticed a tiny figurine on the dashboard.
Me: Larry, who’s this little character over here?
Larry: Oh that’s just Elvis Jesus.
Larry: I have a friend who collects weird stuff, and when Lorenzo Goetz started touring he gave it to us to watch over the bus. We’ve never been pulled over with Elvis Jesus on board.
All hail the king of kings.