Local musicians Cory Schwartz and Cameron Johnson first crossed paths about 10 years ago, when they ended up playing bass in the same rock band, Forty Floz. But in 2013, when Schwartz opened a James Island sandwich shop called Cory’s Grilled Cheese, which doubled as an underground music venue, Johnson came on board and started booking shows.
“It’s why we are doing what we’re doing now,” Johnson said of Cory’s Grilled Cheese, which has since morphed into the online streaming Grilled Cheese Show, a variety show that, in 2020, stacked up 18 episodes worth of skits and musical performances on YouTube from Charleston acts of every genre.
“The original idea was to interview bands and feed them grilled cheese, and they play a set and [Cory] was going to host,” Johnson said. Yet the Grilled Cheese Show has taken on a few forms as Schwartz, a videographer, and Johnson, an audio engineer, responded to the twists and turns of the pandemic.
Grilled Cheese has also been functioning as a video production service for artists, creating short overviews or in-depth coverage for concerts, as well as producing live studio sessions.
“Here in Charleston, there’s not a lot of music industry, so we figured we could fill a void,” said Schwartz, who is inspired by Rick Rubin’s journey from making hip-hop in his dorm room to forming Def Jam Records. “We’ve got the gear, and we’ve got the drive,” he said.
For The Grilled Cheese Show, it’s all about helping up-and-coming musicians.
“Artists are empowered now to DIY their own publicity, and we like being a part of that,” Schwartz said. “We’d like to put Charleston somewhat on the map.”
He and Johnson aim to become a more comprehensive resource for those looking to discover or hire local musicians. They’re also interested in expanding their coverage of live music and toying with the idea of accepting public submissions of footage to post concert recaps.
“I would say, 2020 and 2021, as of right now — we’ve documented it,” Johnson said of their collection of footage.
And when it comes down to it, that’s what Grilled Cheese does: documents Charleston music. And as if they aren’t already doing all the things, Schwartz and Johnson have thought about scaling-up their efforts to create a documentary for submission to film festivals.
Schwartz recalls watching the documentary concert film Last Waltz on VHS back around 2001.
“That’s the kind of direction creatively that I would like to go for,” he said. “I really like that they were documenting music in a way that was pleasurable to listen to music but also in a way that was engaging with the audience informationally.”
Despite 2020 being what Johnson called a “non-year,” The Grilled Cheese Show has had a five-year plan since before everything hit the fan. And no matter what shape the concept has taken so far, Schwartz and Johnson have maintained the vision to launch a record label and full-service studio. All the cards are on the table as they secure a location and get the operation off the ground.
“We’ve been trying to see where it fits and how to make it happen, and now, it feels like we are at a moment to actually make it happen,” Johnson said. “We have the gear to produce everything for artists: music videos, live visual EPs, pictures, audio.”
To Schwartz, the free-form style of The Grilled Cheese Show doesn’t face the same burdens as larger production companies when it comes to output.
“We can get more done in less time for less money,” Schwartz said. “As a video guy, I run and gun. I like to hit record.”