Billy Mays III presents his Mouth Council

The local experimental musician uses his project to elevate spoken word into soulful musical synergy

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Billy Mays III conducts his Mouth Council. - Brian Mahar
Brian Mahar
Billy Mays III conducts his Mouth Council.

In the upcoming Music Issue, we’ll be spotlighting local artists that are poised to break out of the local scene – those with the potential to be discovered, drum up a buzz, and get some meaningful national exposure (and/or label support). We'll be featuring a different local artist here in the weeks leading up to the issue, with the rest revealed when it hits stands July 14. We kick off with an experimental musician who’s been active more than seven years with his ambient loop-and-effects guitar project, Infinite Third. His most recent creative venture is Mouth Council.

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When Mouth Council convenes, anyone can perform, and Billy Mays III serves as conductor.

Started three years ago with a simple effects pedal, his cheekily-named project brings a “spontaneous interactive vocal looping experience” to the masses.

“I literally show up at a place with a briefcase and speaker,” Mays said.

Using a single microphone and a five-channel mixing machine that can record and play sounds back on a repetitive loop, Mays whips up tracks on the spot with the simplest of ingredients, mostly provided by the audience.

Over time, Mouth Council has grown into a popular exercise in improvisation and creativity, with applications in everything from therapy to team building. Plus, it's fun. Mays sets up at concerts, festivals and workshops — everywhere from the Blueberry Patch open mic to Tampa Bay Start-Up Week — and people move in, cautious or curious, awaiting their turn on the mic.

Billy Mays III presents his Mouth Council Some rap, sing a verse, utter sounds or just single words. Someone might lay down a beat box. And Mays mingles it all into rhythmically trance-inducing audio loops, otherworldly music of a moment. “You can’t do anything wrong in the circle — whatever you do with the mic is going to work and you just have to trust it,” Mays said.

A musician, artist, and director based in St. Petersburg, Mays also composes guitar-based “cathartic ambient music” through his group Infinite Third, and curates the digital channel/art collective, Remember You Are Dreaming. His site BillyMays.org pays tribute to his late father, infomercial pitchman Billy Mays Jr. of OxiClean fame, with a digital museum and more.

Mays describes the Mouth Council experience as being "as much about listening as it is about vocalizing."

“It’s about finding your voice and trusting your voice” he said. “In my ideal session it’s just as silly as it is serious or musical.”

He occasionally saves snippets of this “sacred silliness” to mix into other songs or episodes (a YouTube documentary series is in pre-production), but most often Mouth Council exists only in the moment it is created.

“The principle of it is that I leave it behind afterward,” Mays said. Participants are invited into a Mouth Council Family group on Facebook (in addition to the publicly viewable Mouth Council Facebook page), where they can follow the project as it travels.

Working with area musicians and poets such as Jun Bustamante, Mona Bethke, and Justin Hagerty, Mays brings Mouth Council to First Stop Poetry at Sly Bar, Final Fridays at the Loft, has traveled further out to Maddox Ranch in Lakeland, and the Three Days of Light gathering in North Carolina.

Hagerty, the Reader's Pick for Best Local Spoken Word Artist in CL’s 2015 Best of the Bay, was one of the first to loop with Mays, and is credited for dreaming up the Mouth Council moniker.

Hagerty said he loves helping non-musical people get into the spontaneity of it all during performances.

“The thing that I cherish most is when those people hear their sound, and it becomes a hook in the track — there’s this immediate light that turns on in their head,” Hagerty said. “It brings them into this crazy experience they’ve never seen before, and they’re connecting musically in a way they never thought they could.”

For practicing musicians, Mouth Council strips away instruments and "really allows people to turn the soil creatively,” Hagerty said. “It can force them into a new place to hopefully stimulate creative juices. It’s a great exercise to shake them up and get them out of their comfort zone.”

He sees the project having diverse applications for all ages. “It’s bringing people together,” Hagerty said. “It really does put everyone in this moment of excitement, and destroys the line between spectator and participant.” 

Mouth Council sessions occur every final Friday of the month, and the next one is this Fri., June 24, 9 p.m., at The Loft, 2036 Central Ave., Studio A, St. Petersburg. Support from Veiny Hands, Studio #9 and Mo' Booty. Facebook invite page here

Mouth Council also performs Sat., June 25, at The Venture Compound, as part of a Benefit for Pulse event; also on the bill are LILITH, Derridada, Young Egypt, BaySir, Jeremy Gloff, Achilles the Conqueror, Mighty Jai, Betty Dawl, DEA + Saint, Rising Down + others. More info on that event here.

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