People searching for a Subaru or a Suzuki over the past few years might have noticed the words “Spinning Grin” in the automotive classifieds and wondered if this was yet another wacky Kia-style upstart car company. Actually, this unusual advertisement was one of many attempts by the band Spinning Grin to obtain a singer. Left without a voice after its former frontman became the singer for keyboardist L.J. Smith’s side project, Modern Miracle Machines, Spinning Grin auditioned countless candidates but repeatedly came up empty.
“A lot of those guys were stuck in the ’80s,” Smith says. “And we were trying to decide whether we would have a singer who didn’t write songs, who would basically be a robot up there. We almost broke up — we were at a total loss. And then Kevin fell in our lap.”
That would be Kevin Kos, former frontman of hard-rockin’ local favorites Strychnine. After Kos told Moaning Lisa frontman/United Entertainment guru David George that he was looking for work, George served as matchmaker. It was a marriage of convenience, but it soon sparked a flurry of productivity.
“We’ve been together three weeks, and Kevin and I have already written seven songs,” Smith says. Although Smith is a keyboardist by trade, he writes songs on the acoustic guitar, and Kos, who also plays guitar, concocts accompanying vocal melodies.
Adding Kos to the group has also helped Spinning Grin simplify its back catalog, which covers a sprawling array of musical styles. Its first release was an eclectic 12-song effort that Smith says tackled nearly every imaginable genre “just to see if we could do it,” while the follow-up was a solid four-song demo produced by the Rainmakers’ Steve Phillips. After Kos came on board, the group started dropping old material to make way for the new, and finally only eight pre-Kos numbers remained as setlist candidates.
Spinning Grin will publicly unveil its new-look lineup at Spirit Fest on Friday, September 1, at 6 p.m., as the group will open the local-stage festivities. It’s a deadline Smith wasn’t sure the band could meet, but now he’s confident that three weeks of 12-hour Sun- day mara-thon practices have paid off. “It took us awhile to get on the same wavelength musically, and at first we came out torn in different directions,” he recalls. “Now we’re focused. If we play as well as we do at practice, we’re gonna kick ass.”
Should said ass-kicking occur, Spinning Grin, which hasn’t played a gig in months as a result of its search for a singer, might soon be showing up regularly at area clubs. “We’ve finally gotten to that stage where we might actually be able to take this somewhere,” Smith notes optimistically.
The SuperNauts, Kansas City’s latest teen sensations, have already had a banner year, beating out 120 bands to win the regional “Battle of the Bands” contest at the Flamingo Casino and playing a 45-minute set at Sandstone Amphitheatre prior to the formidable triple bill of Styx, R.E.O. Speedwagon, and Eddie Money. Thursday, August 31, will be yet another red-letter day for the group, which hosts a CD-release party for its debut effort, Orange Moon, at the Grand Emporium. This 12-song album captures the band’s classic-rock-inspired sound nicely, but it only hints at the depth of its arsenal. As guitarist/vocalist Jason Smith says, “We could put out four CDs right now if we wanted to.” The SuperNauts boast 65 originals from which to draw, as well as 75 finely honed covers.
Although releasing a CD is certainly ample reason for celebration, Thursday night’s concert holds special importance for the band. After the first 100 people pay only 99.7 cents (part of a promotion for this KYYS 99.7 -sponsored show, and, yes, they do round up to $1, so no reason to use heavy machinery to cut pennies into fractions), the $5 cover charge goes to United Cerebral Palsy. A dollar from every CD sold also goes to this organization, which is of special importance to the group since drummer Kenny Wood Squires was born with cerebral palsy.
Smith says the band was able to book its CD release party at the Grand Emporium because of its Sandstone set, which was its reward for winning the KY-sponsored Battle. “That show really opened a lot of doors for us,” he says. “It made us tighter as a band, got our band known more, and created a pretty good buzz about us in the city.”
That buzz might focus more on Orange Moon than on the band’s live show for a while, as the SuperNauts have no solid gigs booked in the near future and are currently unavailable for weekday shows, since band members return to school this week. Nonetheless, Smith vows everybody will put in plenty of personal practice and continue to play occasional weekend shows. And Beatles fans will be delighted to learn that the SuperNauts, who are known for their eerily on-target Fab Four covers, are talking with Beatles tribute artists Liverpool about teaming up for future shows.
A little Slurry will cure what ails ya’
As devoted Simpsons fans know, the above quote comes from Monty Burns, in response to the environmentally conscious Lisa Simpson’s horror when she discovers that Lil’ Lisa’s Slurry, the touted elixir that bears her name, is the product of countless slaughtered sea animals. The dubious substance was quite versatile, providing livestock with feed, dynamiters with extra oomph, and engines with coolant. It comes as no surprise, then, that the band that chose to name itself Slurry is an explosive, self-proclaimed “cowpunk” act or that, given how well the moniker describes the group’s sludgy neo-grunge sound, its lead guitarist chose the stage name Mike Slurry.
However, Slurry wasn’t Mike’s first choice. The band was having such difficulty naming itself that members resorted to picking ideas out of a hat, then dropping these semifinalists into another hat and letting bass player Kurt do the final honors. Slurry beat out such contenders as How’s My Driving? and several representatives from the ever-popular noun-plus-number category (10 Cent Well, Rockethouse 238). Once the hard part was out of the way, this quartet started making music.
Within five hours, Slurry had seven songs recorded and mixed, with Mike, who works as the sound man at The Bottleneck, taking advantage of that venue’s facilities. Soon, Slurry procured the opening slot for some semi-big-name acts, including thrash veterans D.R.I. and platinum-selling rap/metal crew Papa Roach. For those who have missed Slurry’s numerous showcases, Mike urges the curious and fans of “whatever kind of rock we are” to check the group’s Web site, http://home.earthlink .net/~schmatda, for information on its upcoming gigs, and to visit http://slurry4u.iuma .com for samples of its songs. “We started up during the early ’90s, when Kill Whitey and Paw were big, and we stayed in that area,” Mike says, offering a description of Slurry’s sound for those who are MP3 illiterate. “Big guitars — we try not to get too whiny — and the vocals are generally singing instead of random bellowing.”
On Tuesday, August 29, Slurry warmed up for energetic stoner-rockers Fu Manchu, trash ‘n’ rollers Speedealer, and new-school hardcore outfit The Workhouse Movement at The Bottleneck, a potentially huge concert that offered the group another chance to get its memorable name into people’s minds. “I like it,” Mike concludes about the handle. “At that point, when he drew the name, I was just like, ‘Whatever,’ but I wanted a one-word name, and it’s nice and easy to remember. Plus, our music’s kinda slurry-ish. Either we’ve come to fit the name or the name just magically fit what we were.”
Earlier this year, one touring indie-rock act balked at the prospect of playing the Replay Lounge; the band reportedly found the venue’s close-to-the-crowd layout and unforgiving acoustics unbearable. However, you’ll never hear the hard-hitting rockabilly-tinged trio The Buddy Lush Phenomenon throwing in the towel because of such circumstances. “You’d pretty much have to throw sharp things at me for me not to enjoy a show,” declares J. Paul, the band’s guitarist/ vocalist.
That’s not to say J. Paul and company enjoy playing one gig after another. “It’s a function of not playing as much,” he explains of his enthusiasm for live performances. “You play less, and you really enjoy it a hell of a lot more.” Among the sparse dates on the Phenomenon’s calendar are a show at the Grand Emporium on Monday, September 4, tentative dates at The Pub and Pauly’s, and a Chicago-area show alongside local firebreathers Cretin 66.
Those who are not willing and/or able to catch one of these shows should at least avail themselves of the group’s outstanding self-titled album. From scorching instrumentals to subtle pop numbers, this 15-song disc offers plenty of variety without even one track dipping from its remarkably high quality. The drum-fueled “Hugo” best displays the band’s technical talents, while “In Love Again” reveals its ability to craft hooks. Although copies have sold at a decent clip, J. Paul says there’s plenty of time to do some last-minute shopping. “Everybody is almost selling out of it,” he explains. “You can expect high single-digits at our shows, and that’s pretty much where we’re going with the sales. You give ’em 10, and they’re gonna sell nine of them, but they’re never going to sell that last one. It’s like the last shitty cookie.”
Getting Their Feet Whet
Many band formations are sudden and impulsive. A group of friends will see an especially inspiring performance or a film that glamorizes the rock-star lifestyle, and suddenly these budding musicians are in the garage, strumming away on secondhand equipment and filling moments of silence with excited chatter about playing shows. Then there’s Whet, a quartet that has been together for two years and has only a handful of shows and an extremely unofficial five-song demo recorded with a boombox in a basement to show for it. However, the problem isn’t typical slacker procrastination. It’s the mile-wide perfectionist streaks of four classically trained musicians.
Drummer Beth Robinson, who held down a stint with Fast Johnny Ricker’s crew for six years and currently pounds the kit behind Kristie Stremel; guitarist/singer Ingrid Stohzel, whose compositions are performed by orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the world; bassist Bryan Mace, who joined the group by replying to a classified ad in the Pitch (see, they do work); and vocalist/violinist Tiffany Thompson make up this accomplished group, whose complex pace-hopping melodies and unorthodox time signatures hint at the time it has devoted to the 12 to 15 songs it currently packs into live sets.
“It’s been a rehearsal process for two years,” Thompson says. “Our whole style has changed, and we’ve played with a lot of different musicians. Actually, we planned to have a different singer, but I just kinda got stuck with the job.”
Thompson, who possesses impressive range, has become much more than a capable stopgap, and, when wielding her self-crafted electric steel violin, she makes this highbrow instrument rock in a manner seldom seen since Tracy Bonham sawed her way through a spirited cover of a P.J. Harvey tune at a local gig several years ago. Still, Mace, whom Thompson describes as “phenomenal” and “a found gem,” was the band’s savior, as the process of auditioning bass players had left the other members at their Whet’s end. Once Mace solidified the slot, the group began the painstaking process of revamping its catalog, eliminating some existing songs and thoroughly reworking others.
At this point, only a select few fans have heard the result, but it’s certainly promising that Whet has been able to win over the rowdy fans of such heavy funksters as Hairy Apes BMX and Six Percent, for whom this rhythm-driven outfit has opened. Thompson says Whet’s future plans include gigs at The Hurricane and Pauly’s, so keep an eye on those clubs’ calendars for the still-rare opportunity to see these seasoned artists in action.