The classic rock band Suburban Smackdown throws a lot of different things at the listener. While drummer Lindsay Darling is a wildwoman behind the kit, smashing the cymbals ý la Keith Moon, and songwriter/guitarist Jeff Deno tries to channel a curious mix of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, lead singer Melissa Davis" smooth vocals evoke "70s sirens such as Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt. Bassist Rusty Rivercrest adds a dash of punk energy.
The result is a unique blending of styles and influences that is both interesting and experimental. You can hear it on songs such as "Feels Like," where the Moon-y drumming, a thrashing guitar and Davis" honey-sweet vocals all blend together. "Sorry" blends Beatles-type minor chord changes, syncopated beats and a Nicks-like vocal. Musicians with such disparate mindsets usually don"t work together, but Suburban Smackdown isn"t the usual band. Their diversity isn"t surprising, because three of the members had never met each other before coming together as a group. The band was formed in the fall of 2000 when songwriter/guitarist Jeff Deno began seeking collaborators. Davis answered an ad on a local-music Web site and asked her roommate, bassist Rusty Rivercrest, to join. Darling answered a mass e-mail sent by Deno and joined the band. Davis and Rivercrest, natives of Elkhart, came to Indianapolis via Muncie, where Davis attended Ball State University. Davis had recorded a demo project in Chicago and had considered moving there, but changed her mind after getting a taste of the Chicago music scene. "Something that I noticed in Chicago that really bothered me was how aggressive every musician was," she says. "They seemed almost rude and it was impossible to be a good musician there at that point. Here, it"s been really easy to do songs. It"s a good environment." What ultimately keeps the group together is its love for classic rock music. While Darling and Deno favor the Beatles, and Davis loves Fleetwood Mac, Rivercrest, in this as in many things with the group, is the wildcard. "I don"t even listen to music," he says. "I just watch movies, and whatever songs are in the movies I like. That"s what I like." When pressed, he admits an affection for Tom Waits. "The different styles, all the different influences seem to mesh together for us," he adds. While Deno and Davis write most of the group"s material, the other two members contribute songs to the process as well, keeping with the group"s democratic ways. Suburban Smackdown - their name comes from Suburban Street, on which Rivercrest and Davis lived - is beginning to emerge as a force on the local music scene after a rough start. Their first show, in February of this year, was an unmitigated disaster. "We played like a 15 minute set," Davis recalls, laughing. "We had like eight songs and just went through them really fast." "People just looked at us stunned, like, "What just happened?"" Darling says. "Everybody there but us was a screamer band." "I was scared to death and my hands were shaking so badly," Davis says. "You were like a statue onstage," Darling adds. The group played well at its next major show, a Battle of the Bands show at the Patio in April. But their performance was overshadowed by the near-legendary set put on by The Slurs, in their first big Broad Ripple gig. "We saw The Slurs and we thought, "We"re screwed,"" Davis says. ""We"re done for."" "We played a pretty good set, but we played first and all the other bands had such large followings," Darling says. "It was fun, though. What can you expect? We were a new band." "No one knew who we were. But it was good that we played that show," Davis notes. "It got us in front of a lot of people who never would otherwise have seen us. And we met some friends, like the group Northern Kind." They finished last that night but chalked it up to experience. "It showed us where we needed to go to become a bigger band," Davis says. Their live-music breakthrough came at the Bloomington all-ages club Rhino"s in June. "I wasn"t scared anymore," Davis says. Since then, they"ve played an IndianapolisMusic.net showcase at Birdy"s, another high-profile gig and at Verizon Wireless Music Center"s haunted house. "Everybody"s grown up a lot in the last few months," Darling observes. "Melissa is a lot more risky in her vocals. Jeff is taking more chances on guitar." "We"re still a fairly new band, so we still have a lot of room to grow," Davis says. "But our song quality is getting together." "I don"t think a band ever is done developing," Darling says. "It doesn"t work that way. If you do stop developing, that"s when you break up. It"s a constant learning experience. We"ll never get there but we"ll get better." Like Fleetwood Mac, there"s an intra-band romance going on. But unlike that group"s fabled doomed love affairs, the relationship between Rivercrest and Davis hasn"t caused major problems with the group. "It can be hard sometimes, because we"re playing music and living together," Davis acknowledges. "But it"s also an advantage." Rivercrest left the band in the summer to pursue a punk project. But, after playing one gig with a replacement bassist, the other three members missed Rivercrest"s attitude and skills. Lyrically, the group mostly deals in love-gone-wrong songs, as well as songs about adjustment. "When I graduated from school, I had no idea what I was going to do. You"re supposed to know everything at that point, but you really know nothing," Davis says. The group"s short-term goal is to expand its fan base, a task easier said than done. "In this town, I think it"s hard because a lot of kids don"t go to shows," Davis says. "Getting the word out to kids in high school and college is important to us. It"s such an untapped resource." They also say the support they get from other bands has helped them persevere as a group. Their other goal is to enter the studio sometime next year to record a full-length album. Suburban Smackdown will play at Tailgators, 373 S. Illinois St., on Saturday, Nov. 16, with Chuck Marten and Medicated Becky. They"ll also be playing on Monday, Nov. 18 at Birdy"s, with the group Brooklyn Shea. For more information on the band, visit www.suburbansmackdown.net.