GIVING 300% Times New Viking

With the
hardest-working band in indie rock – Guided By Voices – as a guiding light, who
wouldn’t be willing to go the distance?

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“We’re all about keeping it simple,” says Adam Elliott, singer and
drummer for Times New Viking, the art-informed, punk-driven band at the center
of Ohio’s
late 2000s lo-fi scene. “Minimalism is a big thing that we’re into. Doing as
much as we can with as little. We like the idea that pop songs are based off
simple structures, yet they’re endless.”

 

To create these songs, Times New Viking practices a democratic
creative process that its members call 300%. That is, each of the three members
have 100% control over what they do – from the lyrics Elliott sings over his
drum kit, to the keyboard lines Beth Murphy plays, to the guitar riffs that
Jared Phillips creates for their songs.

 

“We all have our own snippets that we bring to the table, and we’ve
got to paste them together in various ways,” says Murphy. “But we want to keep
it so everyone has complete control over what they are bringing, over their
vocal part or their music part. No one arranges everything and tells everyone
what to do. That’s one of our principles; we call it 300% writer’s control, in
that we all have 100%.”

 

That collaborative process has now yielded five full-length albums for
Times New Viking. Their latest, Dancer
Equired
, released on Merge in April, delivers the band’s anarchic energy in
the most accessible, cleanly recorded and pop-friendly form yet. Dancer Equired is the first Times New
Viking album to be demo’d before recording and recorded in a professional
studio. You can hear the words easily for the first time in the band’s history,
and appreciate the catchy melodies formerly buried in a layer of fuzz.

 

“With all the other records, we were learning as we went,” says
Elliott. “We were really adamant about doing it ourselves, recording as quickly
as possible. I don’t think we ever let the songs really develop as much as they
could have. We liked the constant working idea, of letting this song help you
write the next song.”

 

“For Dancer Equired, we made
it a choice. Just to switch it up a little bit, we went to a studio,” he added.
 

 

Beginnings in
conceptual art

Times New Viking started in the early ‘00s when Elliott, Jared
Phillips and Beth Murphy met at the Columbus School of Art and Design and
bonded over a shared love of outsider art, Dada and Fluxus. As they neared
graduation, all three of them realized that a career in the visual arts –
“sending out slides and sucking up to gallery owners” as Elliott describes it –
was unappealing.

 

“It was a really conservative art school, and we were three of the few
people that liked absurdist or conceptual art – art that was less about style
and form and more about the thought behind it,” Murphy explains.

 

The Fluxus artists’ insistence on controlling every element of their
work also struck a chord. “We think about every aspect of our creative process,
and that includes record covers and flyers and that kind of thing,” says Murphy.
“So that obviously came from having the same kind of aesthetic.”

 

“Fluxus was like a scene,” adds Elliott. “In this day and age, those
artists would all start a band.”

 

And anyway, being in a band sounded like fun, according to Elliott.

 

“We always would prefer to go to rock shows and be drunk at a bar and
talk philosophy. So we thought of a band name and decided we should try to do
this.”

 

The Beatles and
the Who in your basement

The band’s main influences, early on, were the Fall and Guided by
Voices. “We liked the singularity of Mark E. Smith, his attitude and his
lyrics,” says Elliott. “We liked the repetition and the minimalism.”

 

But for Elliott, who comes from north of Dayton,
the patron saint of Ohio
DIY was Robert Pollard.  Although barely
a teenager when Bee Thousand came
out, he remembers thinking, “This is what music sounds like. ” His older
brother was involved in Dayton’s
music scene and knew Pollard.

 

More than that, Pollard seemed to speak for anyone in the heartland
with an artistic inclination, saying that you didn’t have to go to New York or London or Los Angeles; that great pop music could be made anywhere,
even rural Ohio.

 

“Guided By Voices is like our generation’s Beatles and the Who,” says
Murphy. “If you’re about my age, from Ohio,
you know all the lyrics. The songs are pretty much timeless pop songs, they’re
anthemic.”

 

“Robert Pollard took all of his influences and then went down into the
basement. He was able to be the Who and the Beatles in his basement,” says Elliott.
“And to me, growing up, I idolized him because he came from where I came from. He
was able to be a rock star, but he was still who he was.”

 

A leg up from two
legendary figures

The Guided By Voices connection continued as the three members of
Times New Viking began playing together and made a demo recording for a
friend’s birthday. Somehow Mike “Rep” Hummell, a Columbus area fixture known for his 1974
proto-punk classic Stupor Hiatus as
well as producing Guided By Voices, got a copy of the recording. “Mike heard
our demo and then right away he came to us and says he wanted to work with us,”
Elliott remembered. “He felt like a kindred spirit to us. And he took our CD
and fucked with it and ever since then, he’s been one of our best friends.”

 

Rep also passed Times New Viking’s demo along to Tom Lax of Siltbreeze
Records. (Siltbreeze had reissued Stupor
Hiatus
in 1992.)  Siltbreeze had had
a legendary run through the late 1980s and 1990s, releasing challenging,
noise-infested, now-classic albums from artists including Halo of Flies, the
Dead C, Harry Pussy, Bardo Pond, Charalambides, as well as one-offs from more
mainstream bands like Guided By Voices and Sebadoh. The label had been dormant,
but when Lax heard Times New Viking’s recording, he opened up shop again. The
demo became Times New Viking’s debut, Dig
Yourself
.

 

Since then Times New Viking has put out about an album a year, toured
consistently and gradually upped the recording quality, even as the band became
lumped in with a Midwestern “shitgaze” scene that included Psychedelic
Horseshit and Eat Skull. When a deal with Matador expired after 2009’s Born Again Revisited, they began
considering new label affiliations – first Wichita
in the U.K. and Europe,
because of a long-time relationship with the label head, then Merge in the U.S.  

 

“We knew we wanted to have our sound evolve a little more and get
fresh ears and brains on us,” recalls Murphy. “We thought it might be better to
explore our options. Maybe it would be better to break up the markets. Instead
of having Universal/Matador, maybe just try to pursue labels in each section,
like Australia and Japan and Europe and then one specifically for
the U.S.
Just to get more going on all of those sections, and get more of a fresh
start.”

 

It didn’t hurt that Merge was run by two of the founders of Superchunk,
a band that Times New Viking is often compared to, or that their roster
included much-admired bands like the Rock-A-Teens and Butterglory. “It’s
awesome to be on Merge,” says Elliott. “Mac and Laura knew about our band for a
long time. We had recorded our new record and kind of shopped it around – and
they really liked it.”  

 

Familiar yet new

With a new record in stores and a European tour in the near future,
Times New Viking is working hard, harder, perhaps, than casual fans give them
credit for. Asked what people don’t understand about the band, Phillips says,
“I think a lot of people like to think that we don’t give a shit, but we care
about things. They think that we put no effort into what we do, but we actually
put total effort into it.”

 

Murphy adds, “Also, we know we can’t really play our instruments and
sing really well. It blows my mind when people say that, because bands have
been getting away with that forever.  It’s
called punk rock.  It’s called the Velvet
Underground.

 

“If you’re the kind of person who wants to hear beautiful harmonies,
or really good musicianship, then we’re not the band for you. “

 

Yet if you’re the kind of person who wants to hear really catchy
songs, mired sometimes in feedback but undeniably hummable, Times New Viking
might just be your new favorite.  

 

“A great song is a song you remember after you listen to it,” says
Elliott. “If you can instantly hear it on a record or a live show. I think a
great song is familiar and conjures up feelings, but at the same time, feels
new.”   

 

Times New Viking
is currently on tour in Europe. Their North
American tour stars May 26 in Boston
– dates can be found here.

 

[Photo Credit: Jo McCaughey]

 

Times New Viking from Merge Records on Vimeo.

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