Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Bands @ Return of the Byrne: Leadville

Return of the Byrne: A St. Louis Fundraiser for Burn Your Bookes at the Schalfly Tap Room is only a few days away. (Thursday, March 11 at 7 p.m.)

In the lead up to the gig, we'll have a look at the bands who'll be playing
. Today it's Leadville.

* * * * *

"Don't try too hard, son/ You look dumb." (Leadville, "Shittown")

Leadville plays that good 'ol fashioned alt-country with intensity and panache. That's to be expected when you're essentially a Lou alt-country supergroup: Tom Buescher (Free Dirt/Fran) -- vocals/guitar; Larry Bulawsky (Magic City) -- guitar; Will Horton (Phonocaptors) vocals/bass; Michael Rose (Stillwater) drums.

The band released their first and only record, Time Kills, last year and garnered terrific reviews from local media and a nomination as "Best Americana Band" in The Riverfront Times' annual music poll.

The raves and nomination are well-deserved. I'm spending a lot of time with Time Kills in the run-up to Return of the Byrne: The weepy wonder of "On Your Own," the raggedy fizzy handclap country of the opening track, "Wheels," the smash and grab "Shittown" (quoted above) and a powerful holdover from Free Dirt "Pretty Songs."

The cool thing about Tom Buescher's songwriting here and in Free Dirt is its emotional honesty. Fran? Well, as one could tell from that band's essaying my own drunken behavior at state fairs in a song, the Fran always had its own thing going on that put a premium on absurdist humor.

But I digress. What I mean by "emotional honesty" is simple: There are few songwriters who tackle what used to be called the "honkytonk" lifestyle the way that Buescher does, with self-awareness, humor and absolute candor. These days, honkytonk tends to mean a bunch of clean and comped-out (and compromised) bullshit that are fucking line dance fodder. Buescher takes the honkytonk back to its true roots.

You can hear a couple tracks, including "On Your Own," "Wheels" and "Got Your Number" on Leadville's MySpace page. I'm very excited to hear them played out live!

I e-mailed a couple of questions to Buescher and Rose about the band a few days ago. Here's what they say:

Q: How did Leadville form? How is it a continuation/disconnect from what you've done before with Free Dirt, Fran and Stillwater?

Buescher: I spent a year in England from 2000 to 2001. This kind of took the air out of the Fran band. So I was bandless and bored in 2002. I ran into Will Horton, ex-Phonocaptor bassist, and we hatched a plan for a band. Mike Rose was available and interested, so we put the three of us into a band. Larry joined up in a few years ago, and expanded the sonic landscape of the band in a huge way. To me, Larry really helped Leadville turn the corner. I think we are a much better band with him. We do some versions of Free Dirt and Fran songs that I wrote, but these have been re-tooled in tempo, feel, and sometimes structure. They are now Leadville versions.

Leadville is an evolution of styles for me. Fran and Free Dirt were a sum of the members, as both were filled with songwriters and the set list was a near even split of songwriting styles. Leadville is a Buescher songwriting setlist.

Every band change has been a transformation for me. Free Dirt, Fran, and Leadville were complete line up changes. Playing with different people was critical to my growth as a song writer and player. Fran was a dramatic departure from Free Dirt, and Leadville is a similar departure from Fran. I loved playing in all of them, and I share a special relationship with all the people I've played with over the years. There are bits and pieces of all of these people in the songs I write today.

Rose: I was getting itchy and called Tom about forming a group, and Will Horton (of the original Phonocaptors) asked Tom about forming a group around the same time. It was weird because I moved shortly after calling Tom, and my phone number only forwarded for a couple weeks. Tom called back to say he was interested on one of the last days that my phone number was forwarded (and my new number was unlisted).

Q: What's it like playing music in the Midwest at this particular moment? The whole music industry seems to have undergone a sea change since I was writing music criticism: Much of that traditional infrastructure of the music industry has disappeared. Bands get signed off a blog or an mp3 or two. And yet there still seems to be some demand for live music and entertainment. Rock clubs haven't disappeared. What's in it for bands these days -- aside from simply wanting to make music? (Which for alot of people, is quite enough thanks...)

We play for the sake of playing now. We've all got kids now, and priorities have shifted. In the past, we would have been pleased with a 6 week stint in an old van, but not so much anymore. I have become existential about music as a business these days. The excitement of a new song or a well done show is my reward.

Rose: While we're serious about the music, Leadville is pursued at a slower pace than Stillwater (and probably Free Dirt). So if we miss practice once in a while and meet at a bar instead, its cool. There is less of a rock n' roll agenda. It's about writing good songs and playing well, but it isn't as consuming as my earlier band.

The barriers to entry into the music business have lowered from their already low status. Recordings have gotten better, and the amount of people who will pay for an original work has decreased. One thing that hasn't changed is that people who are in music to make money are in music for the wrong reasons. I think for bands the 'joy' is being able to express yourself, and express what you love.

(Leadville from left to right: Mike Rose, Larry Bulawsky, Will Horton and Tom Buescher.)

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