Ampline plugs in at Blind Bob’s
By Gary Spencer
Photo: [l to r] Kevin Schmidt, Rick McCarty and Mike Montgomery; photo: Keith Klenowski
The art of the power trio seems to have fallen by the wayside in rock music in the 21st century. There is a special kind of magic that presents itself when just one guitarist, one bassist and one drummer put their skills together and create music that sounds and feels larger than the sum of their parts. One band that seems to have harnessed this rare sonic energy is Ampline.
Hailing from Cincinnati, Ampline consists of Mike Montgomery (guitar, vocals), Kevin Schmidt (bass) and Rick McCarty (drums), and the band has had plenty of time to hone its sound.
“I think having a band that lasts 17 years is a milestone,” Schmidt said. “It seems most bands come and go after one record. We’re like wine – we get better with age.”
Judging by the considerable evidence from the band’s back catalog, there seems to be a great deal of truth to that sentiment. Ampline’s sound, while rooted in post-punk and more intricate-yet-heavy ’90s indie/rock fare, sounds amazingly fresh, modern and forward-thinking. With the band leaving most of the talking to their instruments, they don’t present much in the way of vocals and lyrics, which allows listeners to really focus on the myriad melodic progressions crammed into any given song. In fact, Ampline began as a purely instrumental ensemble, but the group felt limited by such a self-imposed restriction.
“We initially loved the freedom of instrumental songwriting – songs could flow outside the confines of song structure,” Schmidt said, “but it seems we began to feel limited by being a solely instrumental band. So we made a change, and it opened up some options for the songwriting process. They were our rules and we decided to break them.”
“We were probably high and wanted to make a ‘concept album’ like every other self-indulgent asshole,” joked guitarist Mike Montgomery. “We figured it would need some words if we were going to effectively steer a listener’s thoughts, so we started singing. We sing about God as the dark specter that haunts our species, love, being buried alive, industry, progress, Man’s eternal question of, ‘What the fuck is going on and what am I doing here?’ [are] common themes.”
Even then, it seems Ampline puts the emphasis on their playing and the chemistry the three musicians have when they start to put a composition together. Citing musical influences such as Black Flag, Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, Lungfish and Fugazi, most of the band’s compositions chug along like a steam engine with sturdy rhythms propelling each note out of their amps and deep into your psyche. This chemistry has been honed to the point where it almost sounds like an innate psychic language amongst the three members, whether recording in the studio or performing live. In fact, rocking out live is just the way Ampline prefers to do things.
“We are a very loud, tight band with good tones,” Schmidt said. “We gel on stage. We definitely don’t hold back live. As far as our sound goes, we record all of our tracks live, so I think we sound just like our recordings if you turn your stereo up to 11, [but] I think our stage column makes us more raw live than our recordings.”
“I think with our very most recent batch of recordings I’m finally figuring out how to capture on tape what we hope it sounds like in the room,” Montgomery added. “I do all the recording, so I really only have myself to blame all these years!”
While Ampline hasn’t released a new full length album since 2010, the band has just unleashed a split 7” with the surf rock menace known as Daikaiju on Phratry Records and will soon be recording a brand new album slated for release to the public later this year. With all that downtime, the band has stockpiled a jaw-dropping amount of material.
“We have been very busy touring, recording and writing,” Schmidt said. “We have written about 70 songs since our 2010 release. Our songwriting process isn’t complicated, but we do not rush the songs. We are whittling down those 70 tracks to 12 or so for our next full-length album this year.”
In the meantime, Ampline will be doing what they do best – plugging in at gigs, both in the Ohio region and anywhere else they can rock out, including a gig Thursday night at Blind Bob’s in downtown Dayton. The Gem City is no stranger to Ampline, and the band looks forward to gracing us with their presence.
“We have played Dayton dozens of times,” Schmidt said. “We love playing Dayton because Dayton has great bands. It reminds me a lot of Cincinnati.”
Beyond Dayton and Cincinnati, Ampline is returning to perform in Europe, as well as planning a full-scale tour of the U.S. Given what is on the horizon, the members of Ampline see no expiration date on their brotherhood in music.
“I think Ampline will exist ‘til one of us dies, kinda like a marriage,” Schmidt said.
“I imagine we will continue to play music together for a long time,” Montgomery said. “We’ve already squandered the majority of our formative years smashing notes off the walls – why stop now?”
Ampline performs Thursday, Feb. 27, at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth St. Lab Partners, Me and Mountains and Dear Fawn are also on the bill. The show begins at 9 p.m. and admission is $5 for patrons 21 and older. For more information, please visit ampline.net.