All the way from Muncie: on their debut album Savages the up-and-coming Indiana rockers make good on the Midwest dream.
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s the Bonesetters, from the Indianapolis area (technically, Muncie, Indiana). This makes our 21st BKS selection since commencing the program of spotlighting new and under-the-radar artists back in 2008.
The group is described in its bio thusly: “They don’t necessarily sound like a lot of bands but they fit well in the Midwestern construct of talented groups crafting a complex sound out of relatively simple ingredients. Sparse guitar melodies, both plugged and unplugged, are appointed with spartan rhythmatism, unexpected instrumental counterpoints (mariachi trumpet, keening violin, gentle vibes, wheezing harmonium) and a quiet sense of Indie Rock urgency on Savages, Bonesetters’ full-length debut from late last year. It’s easy to understand why Muncie loves Bonesetters, it’s harder to understand why they don’t play here all the bloody time.”
The young band, spearheaded by Dan Snodgrass, got started in 2009 and have been steadily amassing a regional following, particularly following the December ’11 release of Savages. When they popped up in our Sonicbids folio, we quickly gravitated to their earthy-yet-atmospheric sound, which in addition to the above-referenced vibe, brings to mind such BLURT faves as My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Lord Huron, Tame Impala and the Avett Brothers. Yes, if that sounds like a mashup of roots-rockin’ Americana and shoegaze-tinged dreampop, run with it. Pardon the unsolicited hype, but what the hell: the more we listen to these guys, the more smitten we become.
According to an email from Snodgrass, “We are doing a 7″ this spring and a split EP in the fall with our buds Hotfox. In between we’ll be working on the follow up to Savages.”
Below, read the email interview we conducted with the band recently, and also check out their official website or Facebook page for additional details as well as song samples. They’re one of the good ‘uns, trust us. (Bands, go to www.sonicbids.com/blurtonline to submit and have us review your materials for feature consideration.)
Dan Snodgrass – Singer/Songwriter, Guitar; Vocals
Sam Shafer – Trumpet, Songwriter, Vocals/Keys/Guitar
Cody Davis – Drums
Drew Mallott – Bass, Backing vocalist
Joe Fawcett – Vocals, keys, Violin
(Below: “Savages” and “Bruises” at Do317.com Lounge)
BLURT: First of all, what is the origin of and/or meaning behind the band name? Any doctors or orthopedists in the band?
SAM SHAFER: The band name was already set before I was around but I’ve always liked it. I explain it as a bonesetter being a predecessor to a modern doctor or chiropractor – so a healer. I have always found music to be especially healing. I think of our music in that way and I hope others do as well.
DAN SNODGRASS: I just really liked the name. I did a stint as a solo dude for a few months and went on the road for a week. The backing band needed a name so I figured that’d be a good one. That was a completely different project, but the name stuck with me. I like the idea of healing, especially through sound which is the closest form of touch. No one in the band has mended any ligaments that I know of, but I’m sure if there was a dire need for it we could give it a good shot.
Tell me a little about when and how the band came together – what are some of the members’ previous musical endeavors, backgrounds, influences, etc.? And for Dan specifically, as the principal songwriter, what inspires you, and what do you think makes this band unique?
SAM: I first saw Dan play with the first incarnation of the Bonesetters at The Village Green Record Store in Muncie. There was a mandolin, a saw, a drum kit and of course Dan on acoustic. I immediately was struck by Dan’s vocal delivery, it has so much presence. We met afterwards and had some beers at Moe’s Tavern that night. I suggested that trumpet would be a welcome addition. We became fast friends and working with Dan is almost effortless. Many times I’ve gone to Dan with some chords and within minutes we have a song worked out for it. I still have my demo of “Savages” which was only the intro/verse, upon bringing it to the band we had a song hammered out in a half-hour.
The members in this band have become my best friends and in many ways, family. Dan, Cody, and I live together. Drew lives about a 5 minute walk away and Joe lives a block away which is where we practice. In the studio last month, while others were tracking, Drew and I discovered that we are both are at the same level of mastery of GoldenEye on Nintendo 64, which to me is almost as unique as a fingerprint. Cody and Joe are both amazing cooks, I was joking the other day that, “if this doesn’t work out we could have a killer restaurant” and I was serious. Dan has this strange obsession with comic books and showed me this one called “King City” and it’s an absolute gem. I can’t imagine not being with these people, there’s nothing we couldn’t do.
DAN: This band has had many incarnations and many members kind of coming and going. We started mainly as a folk outfit, then slowly turned toward more rock sensibilities. Right now we have a pretty tight outfit. Drew (our bassist) has played in several bands from Muncie and Indy in the past, as has Joe (our violinist). This is the first band Cody has played drums for.
Everyone works to write the songs and we all work so well together, so I don’t know if “primary songwriter” is a mantle I hold. Sam and/or I will come up with a chord progression, generally, but Cody has come up with some things for vocals or lyrics. We all are represented by our parts, and unified in our sound. It’s a mixed bag that I think works really well as a musical statement. E PLURIBUS UNUM, and all that. Each part inspires some other part in the band and that shapes what we do, where we go, and where we are capable of going.
How about the making of your Savages album – where did you create that, and how did it evolve?
SAM: Savages was an exciting time for us all. I was just about to graduate. We lived together in a house on Main St in Muncie just blocks from our favorite watering hole “Savages.” In many ways it is an homage to that time in our lives and the hops (I mean hopes) and fears of the future. It was recorded in Frank Reber’s basement studio by our dear friend Jayson Homyak in about a week. Mixed by the ears of Tyler Watkins and mastered to sweet warm tape by Sean McConnell.
DAN: It was very interesting. I’d worked on recordings for other people in studios, but this was my first time with material for a band I wrote for. We did live tracking for beds and overdubbed sooo much of the record, each day there were new ideas for little parts that could coast into others or create a wall. I love wall-of-sound style records like All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, or Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Just throw everything at the wall and see what picture it creates.
The studio is really where I feel most comfortable. The songs that we recorded for the first record had been around for over a year, and the amount of creativity that happened in the studio was probably the peak we had for those songs in that entire time. The initial strikes are great but, when you can build something more out of what you had, you can make it so much better! Or I guess that can go the other way, too, and polish a turd. God, I hope they weren’t turds. Haha!
Who the heck is Shaun Gannon, and why are you singing about him? (The song “You Are Shaun Gannon” is one of the highlights of Savages.) Are we talking the street fighter or the culture blogger/author/poet?
SAM: Shaun Gannon is a poet friend of ours. To me his style would have been perfectly at home with the beat poets. He has a poem entitled “I am Shaun Gannon” in which he shouts “I am Shaun Gannon” followed by prose over and over. i.e. “I am Shaun Gannon and my heart is a pile of needles left out in the sun.” (There is a YouTube video of this here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWKbro_fzoY.) Our song is titled “You Are Shaun Gannon.” We considering calling the first album “You are lore, you are free.” From Dan’s line “O Shaun Gannon were you shot from a cannon? you are lore, you are free.”
DAN: He’s really a great guy, and a great friend of our old bassist, Ryan Rader. They were in a poetry group with Dan Bailey, Jeremy Bauer (our old saw player) and Joe McHugh called “Death March”. I wrote this about the time I met Shaun and the imagery is inspired by the greatly odd and profound representation of himself he has in his poem. He is a lightning bolt that strikes wherever he happens to be that day.
One thing that struck me listening to the tunes on your Sonicbids EPK was how they had such a seamless blend of ‘70s-tilting powerpop and contemporary dreampop. But I’m curious to know where YOU feel you fit in, and how useful are these kinds of pigeonholing efforts to a young band in the larger context?
SAM: When asked, I usually say “rock and roll.” We have heard many comparisons to music that we do listen to and stuff we’ve never heard of. For example, of the bands you mentioned I have only heard of Tame Impala and Calexico. I think the biggest things we have tried to accomplish are: 1. Trying to make music that will stand the test of time and 2. What we want to hear. Obviously people have a need to categorize music – especially in print or conversation. As for us, we are still growing musically every day.
DAN: I agree that we’re firmly footed in rock and roll, now. We get compared to some great acts, and that’s always flattering. Really, Sam hit it on the head, we’re making music we’d like to hear and perform. If that’s music other people would like to listen to, as well, that’s fantastic! We’ve been called some far out stuff by fans and blogs, though, too. It’s funny, because one week we sound like “rock fused with folk” the next we’re “post-rock”. We must be a hard pony to pin down.
Describe the band live. How do audiences respond to you?
SAM: I think Muncie/Indy is still our real fanbase and we usually have a great turnout here. Everywhere else is kind of up to the night. Sometimes we play to 10 people (counting bar staff), sometimes it’s a full house. What has really struck me is the generational accessibility. I have had people much older be so gracious about our music to me. Also we had a young girl with her mom at the Murat come up to have us autograph her album after the show. Autographing an album is an awesome feeling, but very strange – we are modest guys.
DAN: I’d say the band live is pretty tight and uniform, we know each other very well and I think it shows. My favorite reaction was in Cleveland when we were playing at Brite Winter Festival last month, and this older gentleman was gyrating in his chair to the music while his little grandson danced. That was pretty funny, and I think an illustration of what Sam said.
Biggest milestone(s) or successes to date? Biggest disappointment(s)?
SAM: The free Indianapolis weekly alternative newspaper called NUVO gave our record a glowing 5 star review IN PRINT! I saved about 20 copies for myself and family….
Biggest disappointment for me personally was forgetting my keyboard when we opened the main stage at Midpoint Music Festival last year. I could just feel something was wrong the whole drive there. We changed the set-list to accommodate my huge mistake and it wasn’t too obvious. Though I did play one of our songs “Day of the Dead” on guitar for the first time on that stage.
DAN: Man, so many for me. Opening the Main Stage at Midpoint was amazing, as was Brite Winter Fest this year with nearly a full venue to play to. We’ve gotten to work with some amazing people and do some pretty great things over the past few years. I’ve been disappointed sometimes, but only if I forget lyrics or something. Even then I laugh it off. If you see me laughing on stage that means I just did or said something wrong, haha!
Tell us a little about the Indianapolis/Muncie area music scene. Is it supportive and nurturing of original independent music? Can a working musician make a living being based out of Indianapolis?
SAM: Indy is an awesome place to be musically. There is a great pool of musicians and bands as well as a culture that is really serious about live music. As for the infrastructure, I sometimes miss Muncie dearly. Ball State was very nourishing of arts and music, we played on campus many times. In Muncie, you can bike anywhere in ten minutes or less whereas everything in Indy is about 25 minutes away by car. We are fortunate to live in Fountain Square just next to downtown which is a very cheap place to live and therefore attracts a lot of musicians and young professionals. Sometimes we make a little money at shows but not for the bills. All band money stays with the band for equipment and booking on Sonicbids. We’re saving for a van right now. We all have day jobs.
DAN: MOKB, Cataracts, A-Squared and a whole bunch of other promoters bring some amazing acts through town, too. Indy is growing so fast when it comes to the arts. I went to college (briefly) in Indy, and I disliked it because everything is so commute driven. Everything seemed gray to me. Moving back to the city some years later, I feel like the community has greatly improved for the arts and everyone is lifting everyone else up. It’s a good time to be in Indianapolis right now!
Lastly, what’s on the horizon for the band?
SAM: The horizon looks bright for us. We’ve been talking about serious national touring when our lease is up in August. We recently did a weekend in Ohio hitting Cinci, Columbus and Cleveland which was a blast and my first real experience on the road. We met some really great people and stayed with bands we played with on the way. We stayed in a beautiful old German church in Cinci with a full pipe organ and were able to practice in the sanctuary. In Columbus I was blown away by the bands we played with, “Cliffs” and “Comrade Question” and we are trying to work out some shows with them in Indy. In Cleveland (after a drive through the worst snow/ice/crap storm I’ve ever driven through in my life) we played Brite Winter Festival in a double-shotgun style art gallery. It was an ingenious setup with one band playing one side while the other loaded in and sound-checked. To top it off they put us up in the Hilton Gardens! We fully stocked the mini-fridge with beers from Great Lakes Brewing Company. We hung with our pals “The Bears of Blue River” and stayed up until the pool reopened at like 5 or 6 to swim in our underwear! We’re now booking a week tour to NYC and back for May.
Our new recordings will be finished in a few weeks though I’m not exactly sure on the format. I still like the idea of a split 7″ with “Hotfox” – those guys are immensely talented and close friends. We have 6 solid songs down and at least 2 dozen in the works to cull from for our next full-length. My car is down to the radio so I listen to demos at work while making pizzas.
DAN: Recording wise, I think we are going to put out these latest recordings with Rhed Rholl Recordings out of Nashville – not sure exactly which format for that right now, as an E.P. I’m booking shows like crazy right now for us, and working on new songs to hopefully record this summer for a full length release sometime next year. I’m constantly busy with details on our projects, so that’s good! Hopefully, when our lease is up in August we can become vagabonds of sound, but currently with no van it may be safe just to save up over the next year, and tour every chance we get on weekends or one week trips.