Part V: Our modern love
by Kyle Melton with W.C. Ruffnel
As the Dayton indie music scene rolled into the end of the 2000s, numerous changes taking place set the stage for a minor resurgence in its vitality. With the once vibrant Elbo’s club closed and the might Guided By Voices closing shop, the scene seemed to lack a central point on which people could center their attention. However, on a more micro-level, Dayton continued to churn out bands that seemed to capture a smaller degree of attention: The Story Changes, Lab Partners, Captain of Industry. As these bands toured feverishly across the country, they continued, unabashedly, to wave the flag for their hometown. In early 2008, however, a new crop of young talent would emerge and breathe new life into the scene, providing a fresh rallying point for a new era in the Gem City’s indie music scene.
In 2007, Kettering-native Tony Gilbert parlayed his years of experience working for indie labels Net 31 and Anticon into a new imprint, Squids Eye Records (SER). While his previous endeavors saw him working with national acts, his new venture focused on promoting the work of his longtime friends in Dayton in an attempt to provide wider exposure to the burgeoning talent in his hometown. With flagship acts Yakuza Heart Attack, Grizzzy Bear, the Sailing, and, a little later, Toads & Mice, Gilbert and SER quickly rejuvenated a stagnating Dayton indie scene, releasing some of the most exhilarating work to ever come out of the Gem City. In a 2008 interview, Gilbert explained his motivation for SER: “The frustration I had releasing music from people who I had no personal relationship with and in which the only conversations we had were business related led to the formation of
Squids Eye Records. All those guys [on SER] that just make music in their bedrooms, that’s why Squids Eye started. I just love that lo-fi sound. They’re still doing it.”
Seemingly starting symbiotically with SER, the Buddha Den blog quickly became the place where Dayton music fans went to look for upcoming events, interviews with local groups, and links to music, videos and much more. “I noticed what was going on with Squid’s Eye,” said Kyle Melton, Buddha Den founder. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why isn’t anyone covering this?’”
Starting out rather modestly, the Buddha Den insisted on ‘fresh content daily,’ and many in Dayton and beyond began to take notice of the burgeoning indie rock scene in Dayton. Groups like Grizzzy Bear, Andrew & the Pretty Punchers, and Toads & Mice quickly became fan favorites and released albums to initial acclaim on the blog.
“Kyle was good at recognizing and supporting new talent,” said Keith Rankin, member of Yakuza Heart Attack and frequent contributor to SER releases, doing art, web and many other things involved with the label. “He’s always been supportive.”
Other blogs soon took notice and Dayton artists began to make their rounds online. Melton began covering more artists on both the regional and national scale. Because of this wider spread acclaim, there began to be Buddha Den sponsored events (a large banner proclaiming this was hung from many stages in Dayton) and the weekly NTRO/XPO series, which gave up and coming locals as well as established acts a chance to showcase their music. Many groups have taken advantage of this, including at times the Buffalo Killer’s Andy Gabbard, Kelley Deal’s R. Ring, as well as many others.
Shaine Sullivan, owner of South Park Tavern, knew right away that he needed for the venue to showcase music, as he was an avid music fan and musician himself (Sullivan later joined the Smug Brothers), and asked Melton to begin handling all booking duties for the venue after the initial weekday success of the NTRO/XPO series. “There are very few booking dudes that care half as much as Kyle, especially on a national level,” said Christian Roerig of Grizzzy Bear/Astro Fang. “We’re lucky to have people like he at South Park and Brandon Hawk at Blind Bob’s.”
During the last quarter of 2008, the Nite Owl, the long-standing jazz club turned dive-bar mecca of the Oregon District closed down. Fans and bands alike suffered through this period, though the gap was filled by Canal Street Tavern, the Pearl Niteclub as well as the Oregon Express and many house-turned-show-venue parties. Enter Blind Bob’s and the Mendenhalls, (Bob and Lisa, with their son Nate) bought the building and began renovations. When it opened, bands were surprised to find an accommodating staff full of local musicians, a bigger stage and an ace P.A. system.
“Bob’s has been a very important piece to the local music puzzle since they opened,” said Mark McMillon of the Story Changes. Lisa has commented in many interviews that without the support of the Oregon District and the music scene, Bob’s wouldn’t have made it through the first year.
As more and more Dayton indie bands sought to expand their audiences, they found an ally on the airwaves in Juliet Fromholt, host of the WYSO program Kaleidoscope. While WYSO DJs Rev. Cool Jim Carter and Niki Dakota had long been supportive of local acts, this new program further expanded opportunities for locals by focusing more on indie programming and affording bands to perform live on-air. Starting in early 2009, the program quickly found its audience, both from musicians and fans of local music.
“What I didn’t expect is how quickly it would take off,” said Fromholt. “I thought that I’d interview a band here and there and eventually work up to making it a weekly feature.
However, after the second interview I did in early spring of 2009, I was getting tons of questions from musicians about how they could be interviewed on the show. Before I knew it, I had a guest booked every week.”
Captain of Industry (COI), one of Dayton’s most popular and beloved bands, started 2009 strong with the much awaited album The Bronze, and undertook a national tour to promote it, earning a spot on the College Music Journal Top 200 and was highly lauded in blogs and print alike. However, guitarist Kevin Oldfield’s departure to Portland shortly after left the band’s future in doubt.
“We never actually sat down and said ‘this is done,’” said Nathan Peters, frontman and pianist. “I know we all want to play again.”
Within a year of the low-key hiatus, COI reunited for a reunion show at Gilly’s Jazz club in 2010 and brought with them new local powerhouse Roley Yuma, Boston’s Pretty & Nice (who have many ties to Dayton themselves) and ex-Daytonites the Receiver. The band again went semi-dormant, but not before playing a few out of town shows and releasing a b-sides collection. Peters remains optimistic that even with COI’s casual and infrequent returns to the stage, Dayton has the talent to carry the torch into the national focus.
Although COI withdrew from active duty, a number of other Dayton acts continued to wave the flag for the Gem City across the country on tour. While long-running acts such as the Story Changes and Lab Partners continued to tour and release albums, newcomers Vanity Theft emerged seemingly overnight as a formidable all-female indie rock quartet. Punk upstarts Rad Company likewise toured feverishly and issued a number of 7” releases. Additionally, locally-based record labels continued to present new material from local acts. In addition to the cutting edge releases from the aforementioned Squids Eye Records, Consumer Value Deluxe emerged as a home to gritty releases from Dirty Socialites, the Professors, and My Latex Brain. For those seeking heartfelt indie tune, Poptek Records delivered new releases from Reutschle, XL427 and wunderkind Wake Up Mordecai.
At the beginning of 2010, Dayton lost one of its most treasured local music resources as Gem City Records closed its doors in the Oregon District. For more than 25 years, the store had served not only as a premier outlet in one of the city’s most active neighborhoods, but had long been an outlet for local bands to offer their music to record buyers. In an interview with longtime store manager and local musician Dale Walton at the time, he explained the economic circumstances, which led to the store’s closing: “We were certainly affected by downloading and the general economy. The labels with high list prices on music made it much easier for our customers to buy on line or at the big box stores (Walmart, Best Buy) where you could buy music cheaper than what our cost was. The store was profitable but sometimes that is not enough.” By the end of the year, however, Omega Records, operated by the late Gary Staiger on North Main Street in the Santa Clara district, relocated to the former Gem City spot in the Oregon District and has since continued to provide Daytonians with an excellent array of new, vintage, and local releases.
Serving as an annual barometer of the state of Dayton’s indie scene, the Dayton Music Fest provided an excellent outlet for Daytonians to submerge themselves in Dayton’s burgeoning underground scene. Founded in 2005 by Dan Clayton, Andy Ingram and Shawn Johnson, the fall event expanded to include more venues and bands, at its height including nine venues and hosting high-profile Daytonians such as Robert Pollard with his band Boston Spaceships in 2008.
In a 2009 interview, Johnson said: “I don’t know if the festival has made an impact on the Dayton scene, but I do know that people look forward to the festival. Our goal was to have a night dedicated to featuring bands from the Dayton area, which we have accomplished.”
In 2010, local music writers Kyle Melton (Dayton City Paper) and Don Thrasher (Dayton Daily News) took over the reins of the Dayton Music Fest, continuing the event’s traditions.
While Dayton’s indie new guard continued to forge ahead, some of its more seasoned practitioners continued to forge ahead with new projects. After disbanding his Guided By Voices in 2005, Robert Pollard proceeded with a solo career that saw him releasing several new albums under his own name and with new projects such as Boston Spaceships. In 2010, however, a request from former label Matador Records to play at their 21st birthday show in Las Vegas found the prodigious talent reforming his mid-90s lineup of Guided By Voices to perform. What was initially a one-off performance soon turned into a full-blown reunion tour with the group playing to sold-out audiences across the country. After nearly six years of silence, the Breeders returned in 2008 with a new album, Mountain Battles. The following year, the Deal sisters issued a new EP, Fate to Fatal. In 2011, Kelley Deal emerged with a new project, R. Ring, and collaborated with fellow Daytonians Motel Beds for a track on their latest album, Tango Boys.
In early 2011, local promoters Louie Wood, Jr. and Jay Madewell collaborated to create an event that celebrated Dayton’s rich musical legacy while affording newer acts to showcase their more current contributions. Held over two nights at Canal Street Tavern with attendance of nearly 400 over two nights, Dayton Does Dayton served as a reminder of the threads that have tied Dayton’s underground music scene together for over three decades.
”Rich [Reuter of Nine False Suns] asked if I ever thought of doing a local tribute in Dayton,” Wood said. “I told him I have not, and thought it was an interesting idea for Dayton. I it took about a month or so for me to call Rich and Jay about this idea. Eventually when I did, I had about 20 bands interested in at least, even before we said we were going to do the show. Jay, Rich, and I sat down at Jimmie’s Cornerstone Bar with my band notebook to discuss the project. I showed them the list of bands, and they both seemed pretty pleased with it.”
Without a doubt, the legacy of Dayton’s indie scene casts a long shadow across its present landscape. However, rather than mere imitation, Dayton’s current crop continue to find new ways to voice their inherent Midwestern malaise. As several new bands seem poised to break out into the larger indie playground, there remain traces of its storied past, but the drive to innovate in the Gem City seems likely to remain a key motivating force within its music scene.
Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com and read his blog at thebuddhaden.net.
Reach DCP writer W.C. Ruffnel at WCRuffnel@DaytonCityPaper.com.