1/23/2014: “Playing the Slinty note”
Waking up to hospitable coffee with a side of back problems for some of us, we find ourselves with the story in progress at Bill’s Bar. My old friend, who used to be known as Wild Bill in college, owns a bar up outside of Merrill, which seems sort of inevitable in retrospect. He let us sleep there after playing Wausau… great folks around, kind of a return to olden times. Makes me think back to when I was a skinny, introverted nerd in high school, instead of a… heywaitaminute. Some things don’t change.
People are starting to come in off their “sleds” (for the non-northerners, that would be what you colloquially call snowmobiles) as we wake up, coming in to grab some chili. They seem amused to see us there. We get delicious food (mmm potato soup) to rejuvenate from last night’s punishment at the Polack Inn, cooked by long-suffering northwoods bartender Doreen.
"Time to start a company making hammocks, we’ll call it Abrahammocks…"
We climb in the van and cut over back down 39 right by the unnamed fast food establishment that tortured me through high school. Seems like forever ago. Watching white on white roll by and sketching colors on it in my daydreams. Stopped in at Jerry’s Music to replace sticks and picks. I snapped a 1mm vinyl bass pick for the first time ever, on our last song last night. The set was powerful and the sound was crisp like the ten below winds coming in through the cracks to detune guitars. Once we really started tearing, it didn’t matter that the room started empty. Enough people came out in the cold that our attention and theirs fused. (Let’s just ignore the clumsy fact that in my lurching around off-stage during the first song, I partially knocked down a precariously balanced shelf of PA stuff and had to be saved by one of the dudes from Poney…)
After, Poney played to their hometown crowd, and they keep getting tighter and weirder. Ben kept announcing he only had one song left in his sticks, and then another, and then another. Guitar histrionics, gang vocals, and drums pivoting on a dime. Catchy, strange bass lines to make your head nod in confusion.
Thanks to Ben and Poney and Frank and the Polack Inn for havin’ us. Now we ride off the edge of the world in a dusting of snow, Jason in severe back pain so bad we have to ask if we should call it off and head home instead. But he says it won’t get any better there… so onward.
1/24/2014: “How do you get Dick out of Richard?”
I spent the van rides puttering with phone games, and digging my way through a great biography of Kurt Gödel. Thinking about the ways we understand the world and nerding out. Justificationism versus fallibilism. Mathematical realism.
Abstractions aside, Jason’s back was so bad he had to rock out sitting down last night at Cause in Minneapolis. It was a cool spot, friendly folks, really bad-ass art on the walls. There were a bunch of things I wanted to take with me, but had to settle for just appreciating ‘em.
We played first and tried to mesmerize our way out of a distant, numb zone. Before the show it felt like bees in a vacuum buzzed silently inside every solid surface around me. Everyone’s voices sounded like transformer hum, or maybe that was the echo in my mind from troubleshooting Jason’s creepy pedalboard buzz problem. Turned out, throwing an AC adapter into a snowy street does not make it rock more. I blame zipper failure.
Was surprised to see Low Forms was a two piece after hearing their Soundcloud; their big garage rock sound got people jumping around after we beat them into the floor or made them hide in the back.
American Cream set up next. Hypnotic krautrock riffing, jazzy sax and drums wrapping around synth looping and glitching, building into something that sounded unreal and alien, like Circle with late period Coltrane pulsing in sheets on top. I closed my eyes and swayed into supreme hypnosis. Not for everybody, but definitely for me.
Drunk Drivers closed the night with some catchy tunes, but I was so exhausted I just couldn’t handle all the big rock endings. Had to sit down. Probably how lots of people feel about our wall of noise sections.
We closed out the night deciding to live it up at a hotel, which was a genius maneuver. Showers are nice after you sweat through a collared shirt, you know. No offense intended to the lovely floor of Bill’s Bar, but sleeping in a bed is kinda great too.
1/25/2014: Cheetos and milk. Lost voice, lost tongue.
We spent a good chunk of the last day of the mini-tour puttering around Minneapolis since Eau Claire is so close. Hit a few record stores, Treehouse and Extreme Noise; Russell snags Coltrane + Ellington and The Age of Quarrel. I find Tropics and Meridians, Lowercase - Kill the Lights for $3 (!), and after agonizing, decide to grab the Rodan retrospective.
It was a fun surprise when we stopped at Twin Town Guitars and found AJ, who we’d met last night at the show, rocking our shirt behind the counter. Great store; I fixated on the entirely ridiculous rolling hills of glass cases filled with pedals. They had some of everything to drool over, from the standard EH and MXR and Boss lines to wacky boutique crafters I’d never heard of. As we hung there, still felt pretty bad for Jason as he leaned on his side on some stools, trying to not die from back pain still.
Humming on clean roads under a blue sky for a brief drive, pushed by some Sweep the Leg Johnny. Feel revitalized after JB’s recommendation of Campus Pizza for lunch. Charged up to finish this joint in style.
When we roll into Eau Claire we hang out with some of Jason’s family over dinner at a Mexican place and later at a wine bar near the venue. Jason tells hilarious, disgusting stories from the USoT European tour. I don’t feel like drinking, and I sit there hoping nobody thinks it’s too weird that I’m drinking water and smelling extremely out of place. Wine bars are not my scene.
We head back to see Low Forms open the show, bouncing their garage-pop songs out. Getting ready for our set, I remember that last night in Minneapolis, I snapped my nerdstrap into mostly irreparable pieces. Oh well. It was on its last ear-legs anyway. The options now are to tear out some hair by taping my glasses on, or choose not to rock as hard as humanly possible. We all know what the answer is there, so I revert to my duct-tape-around-the-head technique, wincing in anticipation.
When we finish our set, my hands are shaking the worst they ever have. My fretting hand usually doesn’t get this intense, it’s my picking hand that grips too tight, but now both my hands have squeezed the essence out of things and I have to collapse at the merch table for a while. Worn down and dying, yet healed by the catharsis. I think people can tell we left some emotional residue on the stage. I can barely hold my pen to take my usual dorky notes.
Talking to folks, we get the usual really strange comparisons; Godflesh? Mastodon? Someone compares Russell to Lindsay Buckingham? And one dude tells me we sounded like Explosions in the Sky crossed with Sebadoh. I’m confused but I nod my head and say thanks. People in Eau Claire dug us quite a bit; converting some new friends. Have to send huge thanks to Brent and House of Rock and Jono and Greg and the rest of Drunk Drivers and such for hosting us!
As the Drunk Drivers rock the end of their set, I step out into the snowy street, stone cold sober still and honestly a bit stressed about driving. I kick the snow around, trying to assess if we should head back now, or crash and have to wake up early. Screw it. I push for heading back, and drive through the blizzard because it’s fluffy enough to blow off the road, mostly. I grip the steering wheel until I get little marks in my fingers, fueled by soda, sugar, adrenaline from the show, and awful energy drinks. The scariest part of the trip is actually the idiots on the beltline when we get all the way back home to Madison.
Winter has been defeated, this time. I haven’t gotten much sleep the past few days, but I still only catch a few hours; now I have the itch to write even though I feel some evil virus creeping down my throat.
So thanks for everything, people of rock. Now I can remember it. We will return soon. — M. Guy
Saturday is bright melting snow and we roll on to Kansas City through sparse forests to the sounds of Red Sparowes.
Yesterday was Saraswati’s reunion show. Hellish snow on the roads had us all a bit on edge, and I especially don’t like being in a metal box hurtling through space and time when the roads are covered in sludge. We rolled in to the Melody Inn in Indianapolis, assaulted by chatterboxes and “hillbilly happy hour.” I was not feeling it, retreating inwards. One of those times where I’m just antsy to play, to scream out, and purge some of the inner poison that’s built up.
Openers Harley Poe kept up some Violent Femmes energy and it was nice of them to have us on their bill… but it took forever and a day for them to clear the stage. Was grumpy. Felt better once we were set up, but yet again, tiny stage means less space for antics and really getting into it. We blasted into an aggro one-two punch of Kabuki into K-Hole, and when the second jab was flying I felt good and it didn’t matter when most of the crowd left. I just hope we didn’t alienate any of Saraswati’s fans.
Saliva flying, opening jaws to bite at the black hole inside us and radiate it outward as cleansing fury. Only the real noise people were left, and we built our slower towers and I trumpeted at the lights. Music as therapy. Felt much more human again, after.
Saraswati played next for loyal, decade-old followers. They sounded like they never stopped and looked like they were having so much fun. I realized I had seen them once before, long ago, with Russell’s old band before I knew him, back when Union South used to have weird and awesome shows in the cafeteria. They have those weird chiming guitar overtones that mix with the vocals and make it sound like backup singers are hidden in the cymbals. I love that alchemic reaction.
Afterwards, ate way too much food and woke up in the morning with Matt’s giant lovable malamute Gromit towering over me, snuffling in curiosity. Many thanks go out to Matt and all the other folks who house and support us on the road. Can’t say thanks enough.
So now through gray cables and sleeting semis we ride!
Walking into the upstairs in Kansas City on Saturday, the old wood floor looks like it’s taken hundreds of years worth of a beating. We haul most stuff up the flights of worn stone stairs because the elevator is a sketchy situation.
Lots of old and new friends, great atmosphere and such. We’re early, so I put a few bucks into the half-broken Tommy pinball machine.
I was trying to describe how Coward affects me after their set, because it’s weird. Some of their complex, all-instrumental songs sound like one of those bands that covers chiptunes, but their version of the sound is orchestral almost, with that driving beat and actual emotion. Basically, they rocked faces in an intricate, subtle, and frenetic fashion. Friendly dudes to boot.
New Tongues played second, pedalboards stocked with strangeness and samples between songs. Noise rock, but with strange tinges of blurry colors. Like furious psychedelia. As a lazy and weak bass player, I can’t imagine hauling that old SVT around to get that tone. Thing is heavier than 16 bowling balls, I carried it 10 feet from the elevator and almost lost an arm.
We were told we’d have to cut down to 30 minutes, but once things were clicking it didn’t seem to matter so we did the whole thing. I don’t honestly know how much time passes when we’re playing, so if we’re ever jerks and take too long, someone should say something. There was space to thrash around, a small but very appreciative crowd, and it sounded great where I was bouncing around. I’m told a party bus stopped in with a bunch of Christmas revelers on a scavenger hunt in the middle of our set, but to be honest, I didn’t see a single one of them while I was flailing around like a live cable in a puddle. By the time we got to Victory Will Defeat You at the end, I was banging my head too hard and losing the beat slightly. I didn’t even care any more. Carried away in the catharsis.
We stopped on our “liar”, exhausted and sweaty, and tried to get out of the way as fast as possible for Bummer, a trio of local kids. (I think I can say “kids” legitimately, because they were half my age… right? Is that how getting old works?). They set up quick and burst into some insanely heavy noise rock, like they’d been listening to old AmRep stuff but thought it wasn’t intense enough. Near the end of their set they blasted into Seasick by the good ol’ Jesus Lizard and the crowd shouted along. I CAN’T SWIM. If they manage to stay together through all the youth and whatnot, they are a serious force to be reckoned with.
Crashed with Nathan from Coward, whose hospitality was unending and included some of the tastiest rye I have ever used to set my mouth on fire. Worked great as a replacement pillow since I forgot mine. THANKS NATHAN and thank you Kansas City!
Returning home, I feel like gnarled driftwood that’s been propped up as a post to mend a fence. We’re all pretty exhausted from the driving, but happy returning; it feels like we put our best rock out there. The blue sky pushes us from behind. If I am a fence, who knows what I’m keeping in or out.
END TRANSMISSION — M. Guy
Vinyl is done.
Thanks to everyone who ordered. Wanted to give a quick update about what is happening. The pre-order shirts and remix CDs are done. Vinyl has shipped from the pressing plant. Jerry at Phratry will be sending out the majority of the orders and we’ll be hand-delivering many of the local orders. Either way you should have your records soon… Very soon.
“Five-oh? Is Russell a *cop*? You know you have to tell me if he is, right?”
We celebrated Russell’s birthday at Quarter’s Rock and Roll Palace, screeching our heads off. Frendly folks, free PBR. Christine’s cupcakes to mark the occasion. Volunteer stacked up first, sliding little intricate melodic pieces into a sludgy soup of raw rock. The joy of workmanship.
Stage so small, I refused to stand like a trapped mannequin in one of those freakish animatronic windows, so I set up on the floor. Clear a path with my headstock, except nobody is ever rowdy at our shows. You all stand rooted to the floor. Get up, rise inside. Maybe if I scream loud enough to get through?
Russell throws up a profane gesture I shan’t mention when I announce how old he is, makes a terrible threat. We can feel our new songs congealing into surfacing monsters now.
Next, our lovely hosts, Body Futures, pogo about and strum their xylophones (?!?) in twisted rhythms. Somehow they shout and sing in harmonies with no monitors, shoving their songs back into my head. We eat pancakes and whatnot at an all-night diner, and go crash with Dixie and DJ. I find out later she played the show sick, and that’s crazy, because I couldn’t tell. (Thanks guys. Come to Madison soon.)
On the way to South Bend now, rolling through Chicago traffic, wondering about the provenance of “fish nibblers” which you can purchase in “sack” form at White Castle. Pretty sure I don’t want to know how they make chicken rings.
Refineries in Gary burning into the gray clouds. Pumpkin driveins and salt drivethroughs.
I feel like an old tree that has a huge bite ripped out of its side, like I’m missing something obvious. Anxious to play with two of my favorite bands tonight.
Blank white tanks and thin red drainage lines
Brown grass shadowed under rusted power trusses
Bent by a wind that gave up years ago
Empty cement towers stripped of old glass soul
Stand unsmiling behind indistinct graffiti masks
Stare straight through my artificial lungs
Buildings fade into forested dusk, yellow borne night
No workers needed except to sleep under the hills
Steel crops tilled under crumbling hopes
A disclaimer should lead off this section of the journal. I am, personally, a giant GIANT fan of The Rutabega.
So, yeah, anyway. South Bend area. We roll through a bunch of Notre Dame sportsball fans all parking the night before a game for a two-day bender. The address of Garth’s place, who hosts us so graciously, is wrong, and we stand on a porch confused, staring at a cross and tiny lawn cherubs. Later, I devour a chicken pile and break their toilet. Feel like an ass.
We shoot stories with Josh and Garth before the show, after overhearing them practice new stuff. (Oh, man.) Bonding over broken things and slow healing. As we drive back through Gary’s industrial wasteland, last night’s show feels even more like a dream.
CCR and cheap beer. Smoke in the bars feels alien now. I watch Josh set up their merch, and actual ritual with a candle and incense. Garth sets up his PA as we try to help the folks from The Paver drag gear around. Garth, man… he’s a sound man hero, his spine is made of dedication to music.
Openers 1001 play their first show ever, masked synth and guitar squeal noise terrorism, drums played with the angry precision of a pissed robot. Then we get to see The Paver rip it open again. They are in fine form, just like last week but I can hear them all better. They have a frightening, hollowing effect, and my stomach drops out during Trapped in a Meat Locker…
Then it’s our turn to set up, gearing together and locking the teeth. Howl until you’re an empty shell. Most folks back away slowly, but that’s okay. We grab a few people. I can never tell when we’re playing, it seems like everyone is just silently stewing, but maybe they’re meditation, hypnosis?
Here comes the sappy part. When The Rutabega cracks into Big Brother, I shout “No radio can drown it out” along and tears fly out onto the inside of my glasses. Emo headbanging. I feel the joy and the sorrow welling up in my skull, through my gums, behind my eyes and dragging back down my throat. I can’t describe it. You had to BE there. So now, today, I feel rebuilt. That’s all I have to say.
We’re crawling through traffic and I have no idea what tonight holds. Hopefully the Chicago curse on us can hold off and no gear breaks. The Ghost of the Tube Blower is still out there.
So much love.
Sunshine flickers under overpasses
No filter for the pride of falling leaves
Pull the ivy from your ribs
Dry the brown tangles
Leap and take the unbound bait
In the shining waters, ripples out
Before the frost forms over
Wrinkling into sheets
Stamp now, trample the slowing snow
Expose the roots and green glowing arrows
Point the way to healing paths
On hidden interstates
Blue graffiti birds on white. Livewire was fun, but kind of harrowing last night. After loading in, I stood around the corner from the place, having a sadly broken cell conversation with my distant sweetie. The moon battles the dingy lights of Chicago for air. I don’t know the right things to say or the right things to write.
First up at the show, Jap Herron slugged it out, big pummelling goofy riffs, to begin the varied insanity. Then we wound up and crunched the metal teeth together. I played with my eyes closed some, a strobing hot light six inches from my face, warming and blinding. Then the damned curse struck, and JB’s floor tom kicked it. But that wasn’t the ghost’s evil purpose; as Rich heroically leapt up onstage to help, the unattached stage front tipped backward and he slammed to the floor. But that didn’t stop him from wending through the chaos and fixing the tom. As we finished the set with The American Dream is a Lie, I jumped down into the crowd to scream in our friends’ faces. Then I only remember sitting empty for a while, drained and overheated.
Knife the Symphony set up, label friends. Jerry’s crazed, happy face makes me smile as he tries to turn his drums into dust. The dudes are even more precise and delightful dissonant shards than I remember. Mayor for Life wraps up the night, shooting pretty noise in melodic arcs, and ending their set with an energized cover of Scarlette from the last Unwound album. Rich still flings himself around the stage, legs like rubberbands, so people are shocked after when he rolls up his pants and shows a huge growing scraped bruise dripping blood down his shin from when he saved our set. Everyone tries to take the blame, and we all feel terrible as we go to sleep later, hoping it’s not fractured or broken.
In the morning, JB says the grapevine reports it’s not broken after all, but it was an awful thing, and we salute you, Rich. Rock star in so many ways, especially in that literal self-sacrifice. Let’s hope we can all dredge that strength up ourselves when it’s needed.
Headed home, we pass a long line of cherry pickers in a field. Forty of ‘em maybe, all raised up to the sky like fists of defiance. They’ll all rust, but for now… — M. Guy
The gray skies remind us of who we’ve been. Duluth drifts behind us and my brain feels whole, finally, after we cracked it the fuck open during our set on the tiny stage in Minneapolis. Elbow to elbow. Guitars banging into each other, brotherly freakout slaps of affection.
Dubuque was cool stone basement, emotional riffs traded between friends. Ryan Werner’s chapbooks give me weird stories to ponder later on the drive, and Young Indian’s riffs reverb around my head. Actual love in between guitar histrionics. It’s only wanking if you’re the only one enjoying it. Young Indian love.
Minneapolis, more heat and sweaty crowd. When I shouted into the dark, I could feel the veins on either side of my head like icepicks, drilling for pain between pulses. We followed the sharded angry noise of Buildings with our own builds of noise, and Russell ended the set draped over the drum monitor, falling over, mashing elbows and cracking up. As I tried to force my head back together, Self Evident blew minds with telepathic bubbling prisms between ‘em, splinters of pop riffs sparkling with fury. But the excited kind.
Last night, trying to sleep sober with a splitting headache was made difficult by Jason gulping snores like air was going outta style. I dragged my shit into the basement.
"I just shut it down. You’re gonna hit some dead spots." Shit, my butt doesn’t like these seats after about four hours.
Rolling toward JB’s hometown, through drizzle and turning trees. “I ate too many potato oles.” We’ve been feeding an unhealthy Taco John’s obsession for three days in a row, and hopefully my head and gut are okay with it at the early show. Lake Superior stretches out the window, vast and grey.
Sorry about the swears, ma. It’s not your fault I turned out so uncouth. I’ll do my calculus now. Tryin’ta get educated.
“Oh, so I’m eating YOUR taco!”
“Well, this is awkward.”
Lots of kids at the Women’s Federated Clubhouse. Before the show, chairs around the edge of a big funeral parlor room, complete with well-worn pink roses on green field carpet. Whispered giggling and hushed conversation.
The promoter opens, intricate guitar and then sampler hiphop with double-time verses we can’t catch. The Redettes next, and Jesse’s smile and joy are all contagious. I pogo and grin. They do this thing where the song falls apart, he’s intentionally dropping the sticks and fumbling his way around the kit like he’s blinded, and then BAM they click back in with a fury. It’s a great magician/musician trick, makes me grin even bigger.
We’re up, I string my pedals together on the roses, not sure if we’ll seem too loud or out of place. But we feel welcome, I flip out in the extra spaces, and our summoning just feels right. Bang my head so hard my glasses strap flies half off, then the rest, then the frames as I lurch and scream out past the arrayed faces. Afterwards, beer and avoiding a shitty cover band.
I head back to where we crash (thanks Nick), leaving the rest of the band to get up to no good in the bars, and end up chatting with Jesse and the loafers until late. Old moments, what makes a show really click. If it’s possible for a punk rock band to be TOO loud. (A: Yes.) We’re all excited for the second Thundersnow.
Glorious weather for the trip home, colors just starting. Crash a diner for eggs. “I got to hold a chicken last night.” Clink of ice water. “Yeah, man, that chicken was freakin’ me out.”
All the stories feel like tangled hair. The corrugated shoulder goes “heyyyy,” we’re already headed home, barely enough time to really start missing it. Goes in waves. Fuck, it’s time for calculus again. But I just want to sit and stare out the window. Wonder where all the drivers are going, like always.
We stop at a gas station and there’s a big plywood box spray painted hunter orange. Stenciled on it: “DEER HIDES FOR THE HANDICAPPED.” Russell says there’s one inside, uncured. Rotting. Flies. I don’t look. Maybe I can will us home faster. — M. Guy
Let It Come From Whom It May is the 7-song 40-minute debut record to be released on Cincinnati’s Phratry Records.
This is an opportunity for to be order the record ahead of time and get it as soon as it’s done. As an incentive to order now, we’re offering some cool things that will only be available during the pre-order: an exclusive T-shirt design, a remix CD-EP, and original signed artwork.
We’ll send you a download code as soon as you pre-order. The LPs will ship as soon as they are available, likely late-October.