The summer of 2002 has been a very, very good one for local rockers America Owns The Moon.
Through just a handful of live dates, and passionate word-of-mouth publicity, the deliciously indescribable four-piece band has gone from playing parties to headlining club dates.
'We went from obscurity to being those dudes you see out all the time,' says AOTM's Ben Messer.
Alternating hard rock with twisted pop with a hint of classic rock and everything else thrown in, America Owns The Moon has leap-frogged other bands and is already among the local elite groups.
But getting a handle on America Owns The Moon (a title taken from a TV show) is difficult to do. Are they pop? Are they neo-New Wave, a la the Attractions?
And the band itself isn't very helpful, either. In their MP3.com page, the band answers the routine questions in their own style. In the blank for 'artist description,' the band says, 'If a bicycle had an engine.' Their musical influences? 'Swimming pools,' they answer. Band members? 'None as yet.'
'We don't really have a bio,' Messer says. 'But, we thought, do we need a bio?'
And although they're tough to describe, their witty, surprisingly complex songs such as 'Prozac City' and 'Let's Pretend We're Retarded' are obviously the products of devoted musicians.
The band is so free-form, in fact, that the group's members occasionally switch instruments mid-performance. They're not bound by customs or traditions, just following their own muses.
'We're listening to lots of different music and giving everything a chance,' member Tony Beemer says. 'We decide for ourselves whether it has something for us.'
What does the band sound like? 'Gospel,' Messer jokes.
'Someone called it 'post-rock,' which I guess means what happens after the show,' Beemer says.
Because of the band's intense lyrics and stage attitude, people sometimes mistake America Owns The Moon as being an emo band, something they all dislike.
'Whenever someone says there's an emo band, I say that band fucking sucks,' Beemer says. 'They're all crybabies.'
'I think we sound like CCR,' Messer says. 'If you take CCR and put them in a blender -'
'But you can't put CCR in a blender,' another member says. 'John Fogerty wouldn't have it.'
'Nursery rhymes and Roger and Zapp,' member Christian Taylor says.
'We've thrown around the Replacements, but we don't really sound like the Replacements,' Messer says. 'We don't get together to sound like any other band.'
Despite the enigmatic nature of the music, or maybe because of it, the band's rapid ascent began earlier this year.
They played together for a year before debuting their live act at Punk Rock Night at the Melody. 'We kind of lied to them,' Beemer says. 'They called us up and we said, 'Oh yeah, we're punk rock as fuck.' We didn't play that well, so I guess we were punk rock.'
'Those guys really accepted us as being punk,' Messer says. 'After we played our first show, the shows started flying in. I only booked two or three shows, but the offers kept coming in and we haven't turned any down. I've never been in a band that's moved this fast.'
The band is taking a month off to rest, regroup and prepare to record a full-length album, with Jim Kuczkowski of The Slurs producing, America Owns The Moon will re-emerge Sept. 7 at the IndianapolisMusic.net Showcase at Birdy's.
'We're trying not to run ourselves too ragged,' Messer says. The group wants time where it can afford not to have to keep practicing for live dates.
With Kuczkowski's involvement, one could think of America Owns The Moon almost as an offshoot of The Slurs, with some degree of accuracy.
And although America Owns The Moon's sound is almost nothing like the furious garage-style punk of The Slurs, the two bands do overlap. Messer's brother, Kris, is The Slurs' bass player, and Ben Messer was in The Slurs long enough to help record the band's sole recording to date.
Other group members were in Slurs lead singer Justin Allen's old band, the notorious Sicko and the Abnormals. Despite that punk pedigree, America Owns The Moon is a much more eclectic outfit than any of their ancestors.
Part of that stems from the band's long gestation period in rehearsal. 'We took so much time playing our songs and trying to be good, rather than saying to get together songs to play live,' Messer says.
The band now has a repertoire of more than 30 songs, 20 of which have never been publicly performed before. And they're writing new material all of the time.
The group's songwriting process is an organic one, hashed out during long hours in rehearsal.
'We started all the way over,' Taylor says. 'We just turned the amps all the way down and just started from there. We all used to have horrible sounds, you know, and we didn't complement each other. Now, when we play with each other, it's much different.
'When you take three chords and a straight beat, you can take the three dumbest chords and the dumbest beat and it'll turn into the most complicated sound melodically. But it takes a few hours before it's a song, but after that it's better. We have songs that change every few months.'
'When you get four people together who want to be in a band, and who want the same thing from the band - we all want to be good - then I think it works,' Messer says.
The band recently recorded and released a limited-edition CD lasting eight minutes, but most of the copies are gone now. 'I knew we could make 100 CDs for under a hundred bucks so that's why we did it,' Messer says.
The band's new material is more thought-out and not as fast, Messer says, and a taste of the new songs in rehearsal bears that out. It's funkier, more laidback and without a furious edge.
Taylor's big influence is Tom Waits, and even that shows up in the band's music. 'Anything could end up in one of our songs,' he says. They've even experimented with the blues.
'The new stuff works because it has that combination of us being able to be loose and yet still have areas where we connect together,' Messer says.
Of course, ask them to describe the new material and they goof off. Heart is one description given. 'It just sounds more like us,' Messer says.