Friday, February 8, 2008
SPOTLIGHT: RTFO Bandwagon
With so much focus on the lo-fi revolution coming out of Columbus, OH. another bourgeoning scene has flown a bit under the radar. It's the steady, but gradual, progression of something more akin to Weird Pop. We're talking Terribly Empty Pockets, All Hail Records bands: Take No Damage, Paper Airplane, The Proper Nouns, Electric Grandmother, the always-on-hiatus Flotation Walls, The Lindsay, the brand new Super Desserts, The Black Canary, Church of the Red Museum, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some others.
So don't be such a lo-fi prude America, and look into these things. Several of these bands are working on new CDs, have new ones coming out, or are generally doing shows all over the Midwest.
One in particular I want to talk about right now: RTFO BANDWAGON.
Some have said it stands for "Rock the Fuck Out." But I like to think of it as standing for "Red T-shirts Feel Outstanding." But that kind of lacks the rock n' roll edge, so it's a slight possibility that I'm wrong.
Describing the music of the Bandwagon guides me toward their unique arrangements, lyrics, and instruments - which they use in combination toward creating a mystic pop feel. In fact, I think I enjoy the lyrics the most out of all of it, which is rare for me.
It's members are definitely not trying to recreate any genre and actually seem to have invented their own. Flutes come in and out, something that sounds like a squeeze box or harmonica rises and disappears, and then there are the girl/boy harmonies a-plenty.
Tunes like "Fingers," feel like a home spun back porch ditty, but things end up much grander than that.
The vocals often flow like Neutral Milk doing a Russian folk song.
When I compare them to the overall Midwestern indie rock scene, The Bandwagon would fit in really well with most Indiana bands. That state has more of the Midwest's answer to Freak Folk going on. (See Everything, Now!)(I also just noticed that the site Range Life just did an article today on a freak folk mix tape. Check it out.)
The song "Children are Expensive" comes across as a modern 60s San Fran psychedelia, with a spoken word feel and echoed harmonies that can make you think you've dropped down into some wormhole with Country Joe and the Fish.
RTFO Bandwagon singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Graham recently made some time for PWAH and here are the results:
PEOPLE WITH ANIMAL HEADS: How do you think people from outside our area perceive the Midwest music scene, and its music/identity? How do you perceive the Midwest music scene and it's identity?
ANDREW GRAHAM: From the outside in, I imagine it's a similar phenomenon to outsider art. There are a lot of musicians and bands who put incredible focus on their work, but don't tour or promote themselves as much as bands from the coasts. In other words, there's more of a focus on making the music for a small group of people instead of making something with universal appeal. As a result, even some of our best bands are veritable unknowns on the national stage. But, like outsider art, the few people who do find it think they've found some grotesque treasure. I heard about some guy who was visiting from Nebraska to see some bands because he thought that Columbus was THE place. And I hope that our city's relative obscurity lasts just a little while longer, so that people continue to pursue different visions with a certain degree of naiveté. We don't want everyone going out and trying to figure out how to write one kind of song, because the purveyors our most popular music a) don't sound all that much alike and b) do their things so damn well that we don't need spinoffs. But I say "just a little while longer" because Columbus is a first-rate scene and I think it deserves national attention as much as Memphis or Brooklyn or wherever. And also, as our music gains influence nationally, people will pick it up and in a couple of years maybe no one will remember that it came from here, so it will be up to each individual band to decide how aggressively they want to claim it as their own.
I've lived in Ohio my whole life, so I can't really tell you what I think of the midwestern scene as opposed to any other scene since I haven't experienced them. One thing I'm pretty sure about Columbus is that it's a great city for a songwriter to find out what "not" to do. Outside of the campus area and bars that have competitions and all of that stuff, you don't see "rock and roll moves" in Columbus. It stands out when an out-of-town band comes through and they're doing rock and roll moves and there's only 4 people in the bar. It's awkward for them and it's awkward for us. But there are songs you can play where there's 4 or 5 people on stage and only 1 person in the audience and it's not awkward. I am interested in writing and performing those songs, and I think there's a direct connection to stripping away affectation.
PWAH: There is definitely nothing worse I can think of than the eyeliner pop punk dude, trying to throw his mic stand around in front of four people at Carabar.
So, where did you grow up and how do you think that has influenced your music?
AG: Tom (our bass player) and I grew up in Jefferson, OH, population ~3,500. We listened to a lot of classic rock on the radio because there wasn't much variety. I used to take my guitar over to this house where my friends Marc and Kevin Fink lived and just play songs for the two of them. Because there were no live music venues within 20 miles, I couldn't even entertain the thought of playing for audiences, so I just played for them and tried to write songs that the three of us could get excited about. I think our sound sits in a space where city music and country music work together. When I moved to the city, I built a band with my close friends and it just sort of turned into a "real band." It's always come from hanging out. People have a lot of time to hang out in the Midwest. Jen says she doesn't think we could have happened in any other city. We truly appreciate being able to do whatever we feel like here, even if it doesn't always fit the sound.
There are many cultural narratives out there, each with a different degree of prevalance. In a way, our sound ends up telling the story of us hanging out. A five-piece rock band with stacks and a big drum kit tells an industrial story. It's easy to just accept the allure of rock and roll without looking at the economics of it. More people can make more money if musicians think they need to play the best gear and rock hard. Each musician might put a thousand dollars into their setup, so instrument retailers make money. And then the band is equipped to play at a volume that can cover a couple of hundred people in a bar, because when people drink alcohol they get loud. And then the bar owner makes money off of the alcohol. I love loud music so it's hard to reconcile. But when we started out, we practiced in a living room and we didn't need any amps and we felt really proud about that. And right now we're playing louder than we ever have before, but since we're using cheap amps and a broken drum set that's in the story, too. I'm not trying to make value judgments here, or to say "look how poor we are." I'm just trying to move away from the mentality where acoustic guitars are for the weak and metal is manly. Acoustic guitars can be heavy, too - if you choose the right notes. And I also want to point out then when we have gear that malfunctions we should think "maybe we should play without amps" just as much as "if only we had better gear." I've been thinking about creating the illusion of distortion without electricity - you just have to overtly play the overtones that the amplifier accentuates. But that's just on paper...
PWAH: What are some Midwestern bands unsigned/signed that you think people outside this region should know about?
AG:Marie Corbo, Nostra Nova, The Lindsay, Psychedelic Horseshit and so on and so forth. TNV puts on a great live show and they're good people, too.
PWAH: Do you have any upcoming shows or events you'd like to promote?
AG: We're playing on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) at Cafe Bourbon St., 2216 Summit St., Columbus OH.
It's with Shooting Spires from Parts and Labor's Cardboard records; our neighbors Black Phantom Thousands, who play for hours a day every day and should be in some pretty far-out territory here sooner or later; and Rich's friend Frankie P, who's doing a solo set. Also, our CD is going to be reprinted in a couple of weeks, so please check it out.
(Before posting of this article, Andrew also said that the band just found out that they'll be releasing a 7" on Dull Knife Records out of Houston Texas. This will probably happen in March.)