Gathered in a corner of the Lazy Daze Coffee House in Irvington, a bunch of unshaven white dudes (and one girl) in jeans and sweaters, some college-aged and others edging into their 30s, discuss merchandise, ticket sales, upcoming CD releases and a late-night freeform radio show appearance. It’s a bit of a tight fit for the members of the Independent Band Collective that have shown up on this unseasonably warm Tuesday night in December.
It wouldn’t appear to an outsider that anything was getting done: One guy holds a notebook, seemingly the leader only because he calls out questions every so often. This putative leader tonight is Chris Spurgin of the band Rebuilt, one of three founding members of the collective, with Dorsey’s Rob Glass and Little Voice’s Mike Rittenhouse.
At times musicians’ forum, support group, nonprofit promotion agency and advocate for community building in the music scene, the Independent Band Collective was created by musicians who had the sense that working together towards a common cause would be more effective than working individually, or only promoting your own band.
After months of planning, the IBC is embarking on its launch weekend: three concerts featuring collective bands and musicians, Dec. 20-22 at the Melody Inn, Radio Radio and Locals Only (see sidebar).
The growing pangs have been relatively few over the past months: The collective has expanded from a core group of five bands (Hey Hey Melodica, Dorsey, Little Voice, Rebuilt and Jeff Byrd and The Wingmen) to 12 and counting (the seven others are Amo Joy, Born Again Floozies, The Comrades, Eisenhower Field Day, The Language, someDay and Small Arms Fire). A pre-launch concert in October at Locals Only encouraged the collective: Bar and venue owners have been uniformly enthusiastic, and members are always on the lookout for new recruits.
Maybe it’s not a new concept to work together, to accomplish something as a group that would be harder to do individually, but it sure seems new and fresh in a scene where musicians feel that they have had to claw for every inch of territory, recognition and respect.
Case in point: After the collective is through discussing their plans for the upcoming weekend, the conversation turns to a recent battle of the bands. It’s easy to slam the battle of the bands concept, especially if you don’t win; after all, the majority of bands return home crushed by an unfriendly point-spread. And as Jeff Byrd, a founding member of the collective, is careful to point out, there’s no wrong way for a band to promote itself: His band was in the Battle of Birdy’s one year, and another band in the collective, Little Voice, also ventured out into that musical proving ground.
But the bands in the IBC are done with battles. Rebuilt’s Spurgin picks up Byrd’s thought: “I appreciate the idea behind a battle, because one band does win and it does help them, and all musicians need help, I don’t care who you are, you need help financially and making connections. But we’d like to do that on a grander scale: Instead of helping one band, and saying they’re the best, we’re saying that we’re all great bands.”
Another thing on the mind of collective members that night is the way that they’ve been received in other forums, namely those online message boards that facilitate show announcements and networking between musicians. The IBS has been called an exclusive clique on the IndianapolisMusic.net message boards, but the collective points to a couple members that have recently joined as proof against the charge: Kory Quinn of The Comrades and the band Eisenhower Field Day.
Quinn, the latest addition to the collective’s stable of artists, came to a meeting with Amo Joy’s Adam Gross, “weasel-ling” his way in, “hobo-style,” to hear Gross describe his friend’s approach. Spurgin can take the story from here, using Quinn’s crafty insinuation as an example of how the group should work.
“Our idea from the start was that we want people to work together that want to work, that want to put a little effort into it to help get each other’s names out. Basically what we do is we invite anybody to come to meetings, and when people start showing up, then we invite them to be a part of it, because obviously if they’re going to come to the meetings they’re showing the initiative. So it’s nice to have people like Kory that come and show that they actually want to be part of it.”
Noah Butler of Eisenhower Field Day might count as another success story. If the collective also functions as a support group, then this might be his testimonial, given from the edge of a couch at Lazy Daze: “My band has only been playing out for a year, and I didn’t feel when I first started playing out that there was a lot of welcoming of other bands; it was just like, ‘Well, thanks for playing,’ and nobody talked to each other. There were a few bands like Hey Hey Melodica and Dorsey that actually extended a hand and said, ‘Hey, how are you? Let’s do something.’ The same people that are here are also the same people that when we were starting off were also very welcoming and made it feel like a community.”
Aside from the launch weekend, the collective is working on a CD sampler that will be available at local music stores, and exploring possible film projects: A documentary about the collective and a soundtrack by IBC bands to a short film are on the table. Collective members are unpretentious about their long-term plans — after all, they say, this isn’t a new idea, only one that was absent from a somewhat alienated music scene, in a sprawling city where it’s not hard to feel alienated. However, Spurgin isn’t afraid to make big plans when appropriate, and he gave this closing thought on the state of the collective: “For me, our goal would be to create something that, when people within the city or even without the city think about Indianapolis, they think about the Independent Band Collective. They think that these are guys that we can go to, and we know they’re gonna have good bands. If you’re not from here, you know that we’re the one’s that you can contact to find a good place to play, and that we want to help. To me, that would be one of the greatest goals that we could have: to not only create this great community, but for people to acknowledge it.”
Leave it to Little Voice’s Rittenhouse to cap Spurgin’s impassioned words with a satiric riff in the key of political demagoguery: “Indianapolis is sick, and we’ve got the cure."
What: Kory Quinn, Frank Lloyd Wrong, The Endies, Songwriter Showcase (performances by members of Born Again Floozies, Dorsey, Eisenhower Field Day, Amo Joy, Hey Hey Melodica, Little Voice, Rebuilt, The Language)
Where: Locals Only
When: Thursday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m., $5, 21+
What: Eisenhower Field Day, The Language, Hey Hey Melodica, Small Arms Fire, Jeff Byrd and The Wingmen
Where: The Melody Inn
When: Friday, Dec. 21, 9 p.m., $5, 21+
What: Dorsey, Rebuilt, Little Voice, Joe and Ben from Born Again Floozies
Where: Radio Radio
When: Saturday, Dec. 22, 9 p.m., $5, 21+
Presale wristband good for all three shows available for $5 through Thursday, Dec. 20 at Indy CD and Vinyl. Get a wristband for $5 on Thursday, Dec. 20 at the show or $7 on Friday, Dec. 21.
Amo Joy: If you like kazoos, you’ll love Amo Joy. This four-piece out of Butler might be described as circus indie-rock, and finds antecedents in the kitchen-sink aesthetics of the Athens, Ga., collective Elephant 6 and the ecstatic psychedelica of the Polyphonic Spree.
Born Again Floozies: The bar band for that juke joint that was paved over about 80 years ago, the Floozies usher tuba, trombone and tap dancers back on the nightclub stage, fronted by a chanteuse who, even after that religious conversion, still knows how to swing.
The Comrades: Borrowing a few members from Amo Joy, songwriter Kory Quinn and his Comrades find influences in the ’60s folk movement, and those blues and Appalachian sources that those kids in the ’60s were listening to. More harmonica here than in any other group in the collective.
Dorsey: Dorsey can move from intimate and confessional to full-on screaming in a single tune (“Radiobuzz”), and successfully experiment with production and instrumentation (kettle drums and vibraphone, to name a couple) in a way reminiscent of Wilco’s post-Being There work.
Eisenhower Field Day: A power-pop three-piece with impressive musicianship whose tight sound is, as Wayne Bertsch nicely put it in this publication, “a musical time machine on a one way trip to a smoky ’90s dorm room.”
Hey Hey Melodica: Yeah there’s a melodica in this six-piece, as well as a violin and all the traditional rock trappings. Artful, subtle and harmonious arrangements build around songwriter Anthony Scroggin’s mellow vocals and acoustic guitar.
Jeff Byrd and The Wingmen: “Story driven rock ’n’ roll” is how Byrd describes his project, and that sounds about right. His ballads, set to alt-country backing, shepherd a narrative, and his tune “Punk By Numbers” is an educated and satirical guide to punk that illustrates his familiarity with various rock subgenres.
The Language: Tuneful, acoustic rock with catchy lyrics sometimes accentuated by bells and hand-claps, this four-piece (five with trumpet) has been around since 2004, and sound a bit like fellow collective member Hey, Hey Melodica.
Little Voice: Two girls and a guy make up this trio. Erika Thomas’ lovely and unadorned lead vocals are a nice contrast in a rock scene that still has a preponderance of dudes, and are nicely showcased on the memorable ballad “She Dreams of Elvis.”
Rebuilt: Three songwriters make for a varied sound in this four-piece that’s versatile enough to incorporate all those ingredients into a consistent sound.
someDay: Sounding like Steely Dan and other ’70s AM rock at its best, someDay has a tight bunch of well-crafted tunes with big tasty riffs, and draw on more mainstream rock and jam band influences than some of their compatriots in the collective.
Small Arms Fire: This trio seems on the verge of implosion at any minute with nervous and taut vocals, loud and insistent guitars, and a battered drum set. They even talk about stuff burning on one of their tunes, “Detroit Street.”