Local Music Check-In: Ross Schiller of Yearbook Taco

Posted on January 28, 2015 by

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Yearbook Taco has drawn locals through its doors with the promise of delicious tacos and good tunes. Yes, tunes, and a variety of tunes at that. Depending on the night of the week, you can find a DJ spinning vinyl, playing 90s hits, hip hop, or house/EDM, or a troupe of singer/songwriters sharing their songs at an open mic night. According to Ross Schiller, Yearbook Taco manager turned talent scout, the restaurant never intended to offer music; it’s been a happy (and successful) accident.

We recently sat down with Schiller to scope out the details on the restaurant’s various musical offerings, what’s fresh now, and what we can look forward to in the future.

Ross Schiller

Photo credit Linnea WhiteWhen and how did you come by the job of general manager/ DJ booking agent for Yearbook Taco?

[It was] sheer luck! I was originally working over at Blue Light Grill as a server and bartender, and a buddy of mine caught wind of this job [and asked if I wanted to talk to the owner]. I wasn’t really looking for anything, but it was a good opportunity, so I took the job.

As far as booking goes, that was also something we fell into. We weren’t even planning on having music or DJs originally. I have a couple of friends in Harrisonburg, and their regular venue shut down, so they were looking for a gig, and it was right around the time we were trying to figure out ways to increase our sales. I called Matt and Neil up and brought them down, and that was a huge night for us. We decided we’d do that twice a month, and I’d bring back Matt and Neil every other week, first and third Fridays.

But the owner has a lot of DJs that he uses for his restaurants in Richmond, so he started sending them over, and it’s become a staple here. I’m starting to book for April now! 

When did you start the DJ series (does it have a name yet)? Tell us a little about that.

In November 2014, with Fayo and Barkley [Matt and Neil’s DJ names]. I’ve known those guys for close to ten years now, so they did it as a small favor to me and because they love to DJ. They’re our resident DJs. Now, I’m starting an all-vinyl music night on Thursdays. I think vinyl is a lost art. It’s awesome to watch and awesome to hear.

It sounds like you’re sharing some duties with Sam Cregger—what sort of events will he be planning for Yearbook Taco? Between the two of you, it sounds like you’ll offer music to suit a variety of tastes. Was that intentional?

Charlottesville is a pretty talented town, and there are a of a lot of different people doing a lot of different things, so I want to give people a place to go where they feel like they can showcase themselves and hear something they’ve never heard before, and if nothing else, feel like they’re a part of something. I’ve put Sam in charge of our open mic night (Wednesdays)… that’s a whole different thing from what I’m doing with electronic and house DJs and all that. We weren’t thinking about getting into music at all [when Yearbook Taco first opened], but it seems to fuel a good vibe here.

What are the most challenging things about the task at hand? What are the most rewarding things?

With the DJs I’ve been bringing in, these are super talented people who are so good at what they do. I think that taking someone else’s music and mashing it up into something new, or to have it give you that nostalgic feeling—like you’re at the seventh grade dance, and that girl you had a crush on asks you, “Will you dance with me?,”—I want to cultivate those feelings and give everyone a good time.

The music scene in Charlottesville can be a little expected—you go to one place to hear singer/songwriters, another place to hear soul, another place for country. But it sounds like this is a place where all of that comes together.

I don’t want us to be known for doing “that one thing.” We don’t want to get pigeonholed; there’s no way for us to grow if we keep doing the same thing.

You’re bringing in a mix of local (Thomas Dean) and out-of-town (Bobby Labeat and Long Jawns) acts to spin. How do you find and bring in such talented artists?

I’ve been working with the [Yearbook Taco] owner, who knows people from Richmond. He’ll send up people and is constantly giving me the names of other DJs he uses, so he’s been great. I’ve also been talking to my DJs, saying, “Hey, if you know anyone else that DJs that would be interested in coming here and spinning, give them my contact info and we can talk.” I don’t even know how it’s been happening, but I’ve been approached by a lot of people, saying “Hey, I’ve heard about Yearbook Taco. I’ve heard good things and want to spin for you.” That’s been pretty awesome.

What is your criteria for an act?

With the level of DJing that I’ve had here already, I’m being very particular. I am willing to give people a shot, but I have to hear what they do first. I listen via SoundCloud or Dropbox, and sometimes I vet people—if I hear that they’re playing somewhere, I’ll go sit in the back with my drink the old school way. There’s a finesse to seeing the crowd and playing to the crowd—these people have practiced for hours and hours, and [they have good taste in music].

What has been the most surprising act that you’ve booked at Yearbook Taco thus far? Why?

I would say… the biggest surprise was probably DJ Hoody. He’s… this tiny little kid, super nice, who came in, set up, had a little dinner, started spinning, and he was just talking to the crowd, playing everything that everyone wanted to hear. He didn’t take any requests, but he didn’t have to. I was behind the bar, having a good time [like everyone else] and noticing his transitions were seamless. Out of all the out-of-towners, he’s been the biggest surprise.

What is your vision for Yearbook Taco and its relationship to the music scene in Charlottesville?

When I got the DJ program here, I was taking notes off of what my buddies from Harrisonburg were doing—playing songs to the crowd, getting the crowd to trust them to play the right music. Eventually, I would like to get Yearbook Taco to that point, where people know they can come here, not only for good food—we serve tacos ‘til late!—and drinks, but to hear reliably good music.

What’s next for Yearbook Taco? Anything exciting in the works for upcoming shows or events?

I think everyone likes something that’s new, and variety is the spice of life. That’s why I’m always trying to bring in someone new.

We’re small, so I don’t know how we can [physically] grow. I do want to be on people’s radar; I don’t want us to be that late-night spot, but I do want to be “on the list.” I want people to say, “We have to go to Yearbook Taco, and then maybe we’ll go to Blue Light.” It’s probably not going to happen that way, but I want to be on people’s radar as a destination they have to go to when they go out.

Keep tabs on Yearbook Taco’s DJ series, vinyl nights and open mic events via the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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