If we're being exact, it was right around midnight on November 22 of last year when four local music legends first took the stage together. Due to a last minute change in plans (uncommon at the scheduled-to-the-minute Tonic) the four-piece - Rusty Redenbacher on vocals, Vess Ruhtenberg on guitar, David "Tufty" Clough on bass and Devon Ashley on drums - took the place of Bigger Than Elvis that night on Radio Radio's Tom Petty stage.
Breaking the rules of the typical Tonic format, the group quickly got their one Tom Petty cover out of the way before blasting into a set of "flames-licking-the-palace-walls" punk, featuring covers of LCD Soundsystem's "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House," The Pretenders' "Precious," The Ramones' "Cretin Hop" and Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown." The four Indiana music veterans found themselves on a rampage, with no intention of turning back. Last IV was born on that stage.
"There was an instant familiarity, and it sounded good right off the bat," Ashley says to me, some months later. We were gathered around a table with the rest of his bandmates inside a dimly lit Radio Radio at a group practice earlier this week. "You don't always get that when you play with people. It takes a little longer sometimes to kind of dial it in, but we sounded good as soon as we started playing."
Each member of the band has plenty to show for their years of dedicated work in the Indiana music community. On top of his solo success, Redenbacher has been part of a diverse collection of acts, including the Birdmen of Alcatraz, Mudkids and Lazarus. Tufty (Toxic Reasons, Bigger Than Elvis) and Ruhtenberg (United States Three, JOT, Action Strasse) both played together in Indiana's most recognized punk group, The Zero Boys. And similarly, Ruhtenberg found himself playing alongside Ashley (Mab Lab, The Lemonheads, F.U.Z.Z, Those Young Lions) when he fronted The Pieces.
With these long-lasting rock and roll ties to one another, Last IV really has been a longtime in the making - decades in fact.
"That's kind of what it is: the last four guys that haven't been in a band together," Ruhtenberg pointed out, laughing.
According to Redenbacher, the Tonic Ball show was really the initial "kick in the ass," prompting the band to wholeheartedly pursue this new combo. While the four had remained active with their many other music pursuits throughout this time, Ruhtenberg ultimately explained, "I think we all missed being in a high octane band. Tufty and I hadn't been playing in the Zero Boys for a while - none of us had been charging through the gates."
In the months of preparation leading up to Tonic Ball, the band quickly discovered its raw, in-your-face edge.
"We're all about as subtle as a heart attack, so it's likely to be a little bit of a boisterous band," Ruhtenberg said. "We're all capable of doing all sorts of music, but when we get together, it just ends up being that way."
At their practice Wednesday afternoon, the band ran through a number of rip-roaring covers, including several from The Stooges. During our chat beforehand, the gang of four had not been shy about their Iggy affinity. Fantastic covers spanning the punk god's discography prove this point. In fact, the band hopes to eventually play one full show of Iggy covers down the road, said Tufty.
While The Last IV admits that playing these punk gems from their past is surely exhilarating, they like to channel the energy from these covers to write brand new material, "creating a vibe" for what they churn out.
"It gives us a bunch of great songs to do that maybe you haven't even heard by an artist you might even love," Ruhtenberg said. "It gives us something to play, it gives you something to discover and we get informed in our musical way on the way. It's really kind of a win for everybody."
The Last IV currently has five or six original tracks written, all of which have been a product of "spontaneous moments" of song crafting. The group looks to release an EP of these songs in the near future.
For Redenbacher, this team approach to writing songs has been totally refreshing, considering the fact that much of his hip-hop output is entirely reliant upon his own efforts.
"I just produced two albums completely by myself at home - produced, wrote, played all the instruments and all this other shit," he said. "To be able to do that with three really great dudes that are super, super good at what they do makes my life a blessing."
With their first official show coming this Sunday at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, Last IV's raw power will undoubtedly be on display, as this gang of Indiana music pros gives the city its first non-Tonic taste of their combined prowess.
"Whether it's a song we wrote, an old punk rock song, a funk song, a song from one of our former bands or anything, it's totally just a vehicle to entertain, to have fun and to show off what this band can do more than anything," Ruhtenberg said. "This band is one of those bands that has a real sound already, and us doing stuff has a certain panache that I really enjoy, so hopefully people will like it too."