On the Record
I mostly ordered records from Subpop and Dischord, since I knew I liked the Afghan Whigs and I knew I liked Jawbox (although I’d first heard both bands on major labels). Seven inch records cost between two and three dollars, which wasn’t much of an investment to try out a band I’d never heard of. I stuck some money in an envelope, stuck the envelope in the mail, and a few weeks later I had some vinyl goodness.
Once I discovered that Jawbox had their own label, DeSoto Records, I got a little crazy. I don’t think DeSoto released a 7 inch that I don’t own. Seriously, I’m looking at their web site right now and I’m pretty sure I own all of those.
From 7 inch records I went to compilations. I was in love with compilations. It was a great way for me to discover new bands, particularly if some of the tracks were by bands I already knew. There was the Simple Machines 7′ series compilation, the first Jabberjaw compilation, Dischord’s State of the Union comp, all those Kill Rock Stars compilations, and endless records put out by tiny labels in every town in America featuring bands their friends were in.
And then there were the ‘zines. Listen, I’m not much for “real” or “true” definitions of labels, like the whole fake geek business. But if you were actually involved in underground music at all back in the day, you read ‘zines. I mean, you just did. The internet wasn’t the place it was today, so you had to get all your information about upcoming shows, upcoming records, etc. from ‘zines. And some of the bigger ones would even release compilations of their own.
This was all going down during my sophomore year of college, my first year at Ohio University (after leaving a very small, very conservative school in the middle of the state). I’d been playing guitar for over a year by this point, so I was actively trying to find people to be in a band with. I actively sought out people by the music they listened to. It was all that mattered to me. It was horribly close minded, but I’m nothing if not committed. I dove in.
The Glory Days
I spent five years at Ohio University, three finishing my undergrad, two in grad school, and during that time I became a bizarrely active member of the “scene.” I put that in quotes because I didn’t think such a thing existed, but often found myself in situations where I was planning shows that my band wasn’t even playing in. The younger kids were really into creating a community, which was great, but I’ve always been a misanthrope, so going out of my way to organize social functions was very strange.
There weren’t a lot of “indie” rock bands at OU back then, and by default my first band, Middle Kittanning, became this strange kind of figure head. A lot of that probably stemmed from the fact that we had a PA that other bands could borrow. It also probably stemmed from my aforementioned involvement in the “scene,” as it were. As if to firmly cement myself as part of this strange sub-culture, I got a job at a local record store. Now I was that guy in that band who also worked at the music store. I was defined by all of this.
I realize all of that sounds pretty arrogant and I don’t mean it to be. We’re talking about a couple of dozen people in this so-called “scene,” at least at this point (it seemed to get larger as the years went on). And Middle Kittanning really only filled a void left by the graduation of a band called Mr. Hand, who were a stark contrast to a lot of the garage rock that was going on at the time. I was nothing special. I’m just trying to make it clear at how completely submerged in this I was.
The kicker came in grad school when I moved into a house with other like minded individuals. We had a basement full of musical equipment. We were all in bands of one kind or another, if not multiple bands. We had shows in our basement which bled out into parties in our house. We became that house. Every town has one of those houses, where the loud angry bands play through shitty PA systems and boys with patches and girls with pixie hair get drunk and awkwardly try to make out with each other. We were that house.
I remember a really nice kid from Memphis, new to OU, setting up a meeting with myself and another member of the house, to discuss the upcoming punk rock events. I’d suddenly been roped on to the underground social committee. A band once showed up at our house to play a show, but no one had told us (or anyone else). They were on tour, so they just hung out.
Eventually, we even had recording equipment in our basement and a audio production major who could use it all (two, really). Records were now being recorded there by bands from other towns. It sounds arrogant to say that the house was a hub of some kind, but it really was. I don’t remember there being a house like ours in the years previous.
A funny thing happened while my head was buried in all these things at OU: the music scene in my hometown of Kent, Ohio become a big deal. Okay, that’s relative, but it seemed like every punk rocker’s eyes would light up when they learned where I was from.
I mention this because it became important when I finally left the nest, graduated from OU, and moved to Atlanta.