Interview

Frontier Folk Nebraska

Jonathan Goolsby
Frontier Folk Nebraska Talks Classic Rock, Kimbo Slice, and Sweaty Nights in the Back of the Truck
16 January 2012

HAMILTON, OHIO – It’s cold in Hamilton, Ohio. Really cold. Frontier Folk Nebraska has just wrapped a show at DIY venue, née record store, Galaxy CDs. And we’re hungry. Well, I’m hungry. They seem more thirsty. The local “German” bar, wall-mounted Imperial Kriegsmarine ensign aside, has nary a smirch of gemütlichkeit. We settle on Steaky Shake for the post-gig interview. The waitress has to fill our community bottle. Like, fifty college kids just left, she bemoans; they ate all the ketchup.

I think these guys throw a Bad Company vibe. Certainly classic rock throwback. Steve, the bassist, is a bit of a ringer for Ted Nugent, plus ‘stache, il n’est pas barbu. But Bad Company? Mike, lead vocals and guitar, is incredulous.

“Really?”
“I think we dreamed of being Thin Lizzy.” This from Travis, lead guitarist. “We were going with big ‘70s guitar rock.”
“My parents love Bad Company,” says Steve.
Mike admits to a love of the Beatles, Ryan Adams and old country: George Jones, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck. “But as far as the band sound, Thin Lizzy. And Steve is into Grand Funk. I know there was a moment where I was listening too much to Band of Horses and [Travis] pointed it out.”
“I mean, like, I don’t ever tell you what I think something sounds like to make you upset,” Travis jumps back in over his already-empty coffee cup. “I always feel like we’re going for a loud-quiet sort of thing. I feel like there’s a groove to what we’re trying to do. If you just play three chords over and over a lot of times it can get strange, but I feel like we just try and get something, keep going and it kind of morphs as it goes along. They’re not technically complex songs, but I don’t feel like they’re easy to play.”
Mike builds. “They’re three-chord songs, but we keep the dynamics going. I really started feeling the dynamics when Nate joined the band. Nate’s the perfect human – what’s that thing – click track?”
“Metronome,” says Steve.
Nate nods.
“And the dynamics really complete what we’re trying to do.” Mike leans back. The fries are here.

***


Frontier Folk Nebraska?
“We’re not a folk band anymore.”
“And folk you for thinking it.” Of course Nate is our character. Maybe that’s why I was never a good drummer.
“ We’re not from Nebraska. We’re not a folk band,” says Travis. He pauses. “We are on the frontier.”
“It wasn’t always deceiving though,” Steve asserts. “Because we were kind of legitimately a folk band at one point. We developed into what we wanted to be and that was a rock’n’roll band.”
Mike is in with the backstory. “I met Steve about seven years ago. We started playing and it kind of turned into this three-piece folk band with his then-girlfriend Andrea. She played the odds and ends, the violin, accordion. He played bass and a kick drum and hi-hat and I just played acoustic. We rolled with that for a couple years, because (A) we couldn’t find a drummer and (B) we just wanted to play.”
“We still play some of those songs,” Steve interjects. “They just have a different feel.”
So why the move away from violins and accordions?
Steve: “The violin player quit.”
Travis turns to Mike. “You said you always wanted to do this sort of thing anyway.”
“It just took time to get into it, really,” says Steve.
“You know, I’ll bet if we were like, ‘We could use violin on a song, do you wanna play . . . ,’” Mike arches an eyebrow at Steve.
“She would do it.”
“But it is a boys club,” Travis asserts. “Forts don’t got carpet.” He’s out of coffee. To the waitress: “I’ll always need more coffee.”

***

Mike seems to be, if not de jure “leader,” of the combo, then primary phrase curator. They do write collaboratively.
“Mike brings ideas and such,” Steve offers. “He writes things and brings them in and then we flesh them out together.”
“I feel like anything that comes up that [Mike] didn’t come in with, he takes home,” adds Travis. “If we give him a bunch of parts, he kind of has to make it go. If he’s not into it, it’s not gonna work.”
“You gotta own that mic, Mike!” Nate’s back..
“I strongly disagree with that.” Mike looks around the table. “I think we’re all important.”
Travis: “Nate doesn’t matter at all.” Cheeky.
Nate nods. “Yeah. You guys could just get a drum machine.”
“Technically Nate was in the band before Travis was in the band,” says Steve. “Nate was in the band for a few months when we still had the violinist. But I guess he had bigger priorities in a different band, so it didn’t really last very long.”
“Hookers and blow, dude.”
I choke a little on my veggie soup. Nate’s killing me. Think Lawrence from Office Space.
“But it must be true love,” Steve sums up, “because he came back.”

***

“I mean if there’s anything that shouldn’t be held to what its name sounds like, it’s a rock’n’roll band,” says Travis. “In The Wonder Years, they named the band the Electric Shoes, and he gets all kinds of shit about it. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“Well, we’re in a society now where they’re too lazy to think,” Mike argues.
Steve plays Ego in our Greek chorus. “We’re getting negative now.”
Travis again. “People will show up with their own expectations of what they’re gonna see, no matter where they go, the majority of the time. Things like tonight – where there’s no real distractions and everybody’s there just to hang out and experience something. Those [shows] are always a lot better. It feels less cynical doing something like that.”
“How many people there tonight didn’t know who they were or have expectations of what we’d be?” Steve wonders to the group. “But we seemed to have a pretty good reception. We sold more records compared to our average.”
How many sales are average?
Travis shakes his head. “We can’t tell you that. I mean we’re making a LOT of money doing this. You know. I mean if a place that had prime rib and steak was open 24 hours?”
“I’m thinking about buying a boat,” says Mike.
“The ‘Queen City Serenade’ he’s gonna call it,” Travis laughs.
“We get better receptions in places where I feel like I’m out of a comfort zone.” Mike pauses. “But then it turns out to be one of the best shows we’ve played.”
“Like Toledo?” Steve asks.
“Yes.”
“Toledo was like a house show, basically,” explains Steve. “It was supposed to be an art collective, but at face value it’s three roommates. They have shows in their house, they have artists in their house, and they let us spend the night there. And tons of people came, they loved it and we sold records.”
“We watched ‘Comin’ Out of Their Shells,’” Travis reminds him.
Steve nods. “We watched some old Ninja Turtles stuff. On VHS.”
Travis: “It was just one of those places where they shoved a bunch of stuff together and they didn’t care if it made sense.”
Like Galaxy CDs?
“I like that they’re keeping it alive,” says Nate. Behold, the drummer’s gone contemplative on me. “It seems like it used to be a store and the guy’s like, ‘Well, we’ll just be a venue now.’ It’s cool, because it doesn’t seem like there’s anywhere out here to play.”
“I really enjoyed Galaxy CDs,” says Mike. “I thought it was very welcoming and warm.”
Here’s hoping they’ll spread the word.

***

Road stories. Everyone has them.
“You saw Travis’ truck, right?” Steve asks me. “We all slept in that.”
Nate: “That’s the tour bus.”
“In a Wal-Mart parking lot in Athens, Alabama,” says Travis. “In June.”
Steve: “It was about 90 degrees.”
“And it was right after the tornado passed through,” adds Mike. “I see Nate – every time I wake up, he has another article of clothing off because it was so hot.”
“We got done in Nashville and didn’t have anywhere to sleep,” says Travis.
“We also played with probably one of the most memorable bands I can think of,” Steve pans across the group.
“Snarly!” Travis brightens up. “’Chicken Dinosaur.’”
Snarly?
No.
Snarly!
“They had pretty awesome homemade masks,” says Steve.
“There’s three people in this band.” Mike helps me out. “One guy played bass, one guy pushed buttons on a Casio – he had sound effects – and the lead singer had this light-up toy gun and just started bouncing around. I stepped outside.”
“He pushed a bunch of backing tracks through a crappy guitar amp, so it sounded insane,” Steve elaborates. “Their songs were funny. ‘Chicken Dinosaur.’”
Travis has the scoop for all of us. “‘Chicken Dinosaur,’ I was told, was a cover of that guy’s other band. He’s in a punk band called Yeti Machete. And ‘Chicken Dinosaur’ is a Yeti Machete song, but Snarly! also does it. Apparently all their stuff for the most part is on cassette. So there’s not a lot of stuff to listen to on the computer.”
Sounds like Gwar for the jangle-pop generation.
“They were reminiscent of Gwar,” Steve agrees, “but not as intense. They were punk.”
Mike: “And Kimbo Slice.”
“He gave us great directions to Chicago,” Travis looks at me to make sure I buy it.
“Without going through tolls,” Mike piles on. . I’m off-balance. My bullshit meter has been thoroughly desensitized by Snarly! talk.
“This was the Toledo night.” Thank you, Steve.
“Very nice man,” says Mike. “It was a guy who looked exactly like Kimbo Slice.”
“No it was him!” Travis is sure of it. “He was modest about it.”
Mike: “Well Nate clarified it. Busted through the doors and was like, ‘What’s Kimbo Slice doing here?’”

***

And the record? No really. They only have a record.
“I don’t know when the next record will be,” admits Mike, ”[or] when we’ll start it.”
“Tomorrow,” says Travis.
I note that there are no digital downloads for purchase on their Bandcamp site, or on their blog.
“It was about putting out a physical product.” Travis is a true vinylhead and waxing philosophic. “There’s nothing personal about downloading something. You get a record and you have to pick it up, flip it over to play it, and it just seems more interactive. If you buy a record, you’re gonna at least have to care about it a little bit. It’s breakable. You have to kind of treat it with a little bit of care. You can’t fuck up an MP3.”
“People want ringtones, man.”
That Nate . . .
Travis stands his ground.
“Ringtones are in March.”

FRONTIER FOLK NEBRASKA are:

Steven Oder – Guild Bass B-301
Travis Talbert – Gibson SG
Nate Wagner – Stripped-Down Tama Rockstar
Michael Hensley – Vocals, Epiphone Sheraton and Auto-Tune (Not Really)


Their record is a record. Like wax and stuff. It’s self-titled. You can buy it at www.frontierfolknebraska.blogspot.com, Shake It Records or at the rock’n’roll show.


UPCOMING ROCK’N’ROLL SHOWS:

01/28/12, 8 pm – 2 am
Frontier Folk Nebraska, with Evans Collective and Laser Pony
Mayday (Northside)
Donation at the Door
Project REACH benefit to fund college tours for Cincinnati Public School students .
Ping-Pong Tourney


02/25/12, Time TBA
Frontier Folk Nebraska, with The Mainstreet Gospel
Mayday (Northside)
Cover TBA