When The Why Store play their first show in Indy in two years Thursday at the Vogue, they will be doing something that many say they shouldn"t. There are no new songs, no album, no compelling call for a reunion from their fans. Furthermore, the fans and band members themselves have been successfully pursuing new musical projects and personal projects. Don"t tell me nothing, "cause nothing ever changes.
Don"t tell me nothing, "cause nothing ever changes Around here. -"Don"t Tell Me Nothing," The Why Store (1993)
Yeah, one day it"s going to take me away from here. One day it"s going to kill me. But I keep doing it anyway. -"Dying pt.2," Shaffer Street (2002)
A brief history
Sometime at the dawn of the "90s, lead vocalist Chris Shaffer, guitarist Mike Smith and bassist Greg Gardner got together at Ball State University and decided to move to Indianapolis and take their musical ideas to the people. They picked up Charlie Bushor, and started a Wednesday night gig at Chubby"s Club Lasalle during the month of January.
Bucking the glut of cover bands that dominated the city"s top clubs at the time, The Why Store continued to play and, eventually, on the strength of Shaffer"s sparkling original compositions and their eccentric and electric live performances, they were packing numerous clubs in the city.
After a couple of well-received self-released albums, Welcome to The Why Store and Inside The Why Store, the band signed with Way Cool/MCA and put out two more albums, The Why Store and Two Beasts. Touring, steak and champagne, groupies and debauchery, million-dollar videos with name directors and, soon, burnout followed.
By the time the label realized it didn"t know how to sell the band, The Why Store were effectively out of business. They released two more albums, the obligatory live chronicle Live at Midnight and the wretched, final album, Life on Planet Six Ball, and promptly broke up.
Talking to Charlie Bushor, Chris Shaffer and Michael David Smith today, there continues to be a lingering sense of bittersweet sadness that comes from the demise of the band.
"I never wanted to stop," Shaffer tells me. "But some of the guys had bills to pay and families to raise and in the end we just decided to stop it. I had even drawn up a last ditch business plan but at that point not everybody had it in them to keep going. It left me in a deep, dark depression, fueled by drugs and alcohol that I"m just now beginning to come out of."
He goes on to say, "The Why Store went through the whole rock and roll clichÈ of record label nightmares. Every single negative thing that could be done to a band by a label happened to us and we faced it, and either overcame it, became it or succumbed to it ... But, now, I believe there is nothing that can cross the table that we aren"t prepared to deal with."
Indeed, Shaffer"s post-Why Store band, Shaffer Street, has been gelling into a formidable presence on the Indianapolis music scene. No Way Back, their most recent album, is probably the strongest local album released this year. With the combo of Paul Mahern"s production, Shaffer"s impeccable songcraft and a band including Chris" wife, Heather, on vocals, drummer Gonzo Dies, guitarist Keith Skooglund and, now, Charlie Bushor on bass, Shaffer Street are looking down a bright road.
Guitarist Mike Smith has taken a more laid-back approach to his life since the breakup, forming Lost in Lodi to play once-a-month gigs and releasing a so-so debut. He has left any notions about rock stardom behind in order to take care of his family by any means necessary, including painting houses and working construction.
"We had built up such a big machine," Smith recalls. "It took so much effort to keep that machine rolling. So much effort, people to please, families to feed. It was just very tiring. Coming off the road, I thought was going to be relaxing. But within a week I was working hard, I did physical labor for a year and a half to make a living.
"I guess there"s something to be said about clearing your head, but I missed the guys. Last Sunday we got together and played for a long time and then after we got done playing we stood outside and talked for an hour and a half. It made me realize how long it had been and how communication had broken down on the road, where we were so tired and worn out from our experiences with the label that we just didn"t sit down and talk anymore. Now we have this opportunity again."
It was Charlie, the same Charlie Bushor whose powerful drum kit propelled and kept The Why Store from limp frat-rockdom, who got The Why Store back together. "I think that in the end, everybody was just tired," Bushor says. "When we broke up, I made the mistake - not that I didn"t enjoy playing with Gene - of playing with Gene Deer that next weekend. So I never really got a break. I played with Gene for about a year, until it got to the point where I said screw music and then I went and worked on race cars for a year."
However, Bushor recently got the music bug, and, after a gig with Shaffer Street, he was on the wire getting everybody together to play Why Store music. A Sunday jam session quickly led to the decision to see if there was any interest, and the next day The Why Store had gigs booked and were back in business. To hear Bushor tell it, it was a noble quest to reassemble the band ý la The Blues Brothers, with a loftier reason behind it.
"I didn"t keep track of any of my friends from high school," he explains, "and I haven"t kept track of anyone I grew up with. So The Why Store is kinda like my hometown, as it were. These are my buddies that I basically grew up with. I mean, I joined the band in my early 20s, and these are my homies, the guys from my hometown. We know each other way too well. All five of us can finish each other"s sentences. So, that brotherhood is just the best thing that I"ve gotten from The Why Store."
The other guys in the group have similar feelings. Smith explains, "We play things at the same time that we didn"t talk about; there are dynamics that happened that weren"t planned ... We seem to have a subliminal communication that is there that you can"t make happen, you can"t formulate or hire people to make it happen. You can"t even describe it."
Some way back, after all
Shaffer seems to have the least to gain from the reunion. He"s currently negotiating a personal management deal with Monterey Peninsula artists to represent him and his songs. Shaffer Street also haven"t really slowed down any of their bookings either, moving full steam ahead with a full plate in support of No Way Back.
But, according to Shaffer, "For me it was really magical, because I have continued to play Why Store songs with my own band, and I"ve allowed the guys in Shaffer Street to basically have their way with them. Then when we do them they sound far differently then the way The Why Store plays them. So to go back and do these songs with the guys, it just felt like home. Nothing against Shaffer Street, but we worked really hard on these songs, we arranged them and we really dedicated our lives to these songs. It just really is the way these songs should be played; I"ve learned that from this experience. These songs have a home and it"s definitely with The Why Store."
Whether this is just a one-time thing or a full-fledged post re-hab Aerosmith-esque comeback remains to be seen. For right now, the band is just taking it day by day, step by step. Treading turbulent waters with utmost care.
"Well, what I"m looking forward to is when we go into an improvisational section where we start jamming," Bushor says. "Everybody"s been playing with different musical outlets getting different musical information in their heads, so when we go into an improv there are new ideas flying around.
"Back in the day, we had improv sections, but we kinda had them hashed out, we kinda knew where we were going with them day after day. Now we can"t do that because we can"t remember them. So the improv"s going to be completely new. And that was the funnest thing about this band was the feeling of "Here we go!""
Bushor pauses for a moment, musing. "Where are we going? I don"t know, but here we go anyway."