Cincinnati’s Frontier Folk Nebraska comes to Canal Public House
By Rusty Pate
Rock ‘n’ roll has become such a bastardized term. While modern culture has absorbed it, allowing any hack to don leather pants, grab a Gibson Flying V and flash a sign of the horns with their tongue sticking out, it once carried a somewhat negative connotation. It once was dangerous and an immediate signifier of counterculture. Then it became little more than a classification – a genre in the bloated music industry it was created and recreated to destroy.
However, below the surface of the corporate BS and poseur fashion, there have always been bands that fight the good fight. They care much more about a great melody and a killer hook than they do about fourth-quarter earnings or product synergy. A rock ‘n’ roll band has no time for such frivolous endeavors. They are too busy writing songs on their own terms.
Frontier Folk Nebraska is most definitely a rock ‘n’ roll band.
Guitarist Travis Talbert said the band’s definition of that label has always been loose and open to interpretation.
“When you say rock ‘n’ roll and what that means to us is to encompass all these things that are inherently American music,” Talbert said. “We don’t have conversations where we go; ‘Does this sound like a Frontier song?’ If we like it, that’s the only criteria. That’s what we’re in it for. We’re just trying to go for things we feel like we can do authentically.”
The band has two full-length efforts under their belt and released a holiday single on both digital and vinyl in late 2013. They also recently wrapped up recording on their third LP, which they plan to release later this year. New songs pepper their current set lists and a downloadable single offers fans a peek into their new direction.
While not a radical departure, they’ve certainly honed their craft. Singles rarely provide a summation of what an album will be, but “Coward in Skin” immediately strikes a much more accessible and poppy atheistic. While 2011’s eponymous sophomore release delved into more lo-fi or even jam-type spaces, this go around saw a concerted effort for more polish.
“I feel like on the last record, we had the songs more as sketches,” Talbert said. “When we actually went to record them is when we whittled them down and structured them. These were much more structured before we started. We felt like the two things that we wanted to do was to have Tom Petty kind of song length, like those early records that are big, poppy rock ‘n’ roll songs, but we wanted Dinosaur Jr. guitars on them.”
Those influences might seem diametrically opposed, but the sign of a band’s maturation process always lies in the ability to incorporate new ideas. Artists must continue to grow and move or their art cannot survive and remain viable. FFN’s change in approach might seem to be more tweaking than seismic shifts, but it takes some balls to strive for a Tom Petty sound when living in a hipster-heavy scene such as Cincinnati.
While the band has strong ties to that city – their Facebook page is peppered with shout outs and hyping up their friend’s bands and Talbert now works at perhaps the capitol of Cincinnati’s music culture, Shake It Records, they rank Dayton as one of their favorite places to play.
One of Talbert’s first gigs with FFN was at the venue currently known as Canal Public House. He said the place was virtually empty as the set time neared.
“It didn’t seem like there was anybody there and all of a sudden, 30 or 40 people just walked in,” Talbert said. “We always end up playing with cool bands, too. I always think it’s a really great place to play.”
Admittedly, they are far from road hounds. While they would love to hit the road for longer stretches, Talbert said they currently tend to play shorter runs with shows constantly schedule. Part of that stems from the fact that the life of a touring band is impossibly tough. Long days and short pay make it tough on groups trying to carve out their own path.
Above everything else, FFN makes their music on their own terms. They record albums in singer Michael Hensley’s basement, and they book their own shows.
“We don’t have anyone else to blame, because if you’re going to do it yourself, you assume the responsibility of what you get out of it,” Talbert said. “I think that’s a more rewarding feeling in a lot of ways. It’s not like we are anti-help, it just needs to be a specific kind of help.”
Frontier Folk Nebraska will play on Friday, May 30 at Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. Also on the bill is Noah & the Rescue Radio. Doors at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit frontierfolknebraska.bandcamp.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.