This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down with the members of Spondaic Buttons, perhaps the most active student band on campus, to discuss their recently released EP, “Trainyard,” as well as their take on the state of music on and around campus, because when it boils down to it, the two topics are inextricable from one another.
“Trainyard,” a six-song EP cut in 2009, came about as a result of the band’s relationship with the Galesburg community.
“If you didn’t know someone in town, or you couldn’t do it yourself, you didn’t record. It was as simple as that,” said group vocalist junior Willi Goehring.
Going further, the group echoed that being a part of the town, as opposed to being a strictly Knox-related act, has been very important to the group’s development. Guitarist senior Jake Whipple said, “We played with guys [in Galesburg], and they rubbed off on us. At Knox, shows are seen as these informal things; no one takes it very seriously.”
The atmosphere in Galesburg proper, on the other hand, is more conducive to their growth, with shows being putting on every weekend if you know how to find them. Music is very much alive in this town, but, according to the group, we “cannot focus on the ‘Knox scene.’ Such a scene can only be worthwhile if it is also part of the Galesburg scene.”
The group’s appreciation for the town is self-evident in the way they conduct their business: they debuted their EP at a show at Billiards on Main, played numerous other shows at similar local venues and will even be playing at Billiards’ new location with three other bands this coming weekend (a $5 entry fee is required to enter).
Their music itself is unlike much of what other groups on campus play – which is only to be expected from the punk outfit – and they actively seek to stay away from the “safe” sounds of groups like the erstwhile Hoot Hoots. From the get-go, “Trainyard” is rife with pounding drums and hard rock sentimentality, though the work is admittedly flawed, a grab bag of mistakes and strokes of insight.
The titular track opens with the statement, “This is a song about unemployed workers in Galesburg,” and while punk has never been known for its subtlety, this minor detraction nevertheless comes off as a bit heavy-handed.
Goehring’s vocal work is derivative of other similar acts, a combination of singing and howling, and at times it seems explicitly imitative, though as the EP progresses, it is clear that he is on his way toward developing a vocal style of his own.
“Good Stuff” is a hard-driving, grungy tune that in many ways showcases the best of what the group has to offer. Goehring strikes a nice balance between his singing and all-out growl, and drummer junior Ernie LoBue drives and complements Whipple’s and Junior Jimmy Pittman’s instrumental work that calls to mind the halcyon days of hard rock.
Striking a median is the closing track, “Break.” The first minute or so of the song is a dark, dirty and urgent bass-driven romp accompanied by Goehring, who sounds more melodic during this introduction than he does anywhere else on the EP. Unfortunately, the song loses itself somewhere between its beginning and end.
It remains as panicked and forceful as ever, but its verses are meandering and focusless. By the end, “Break” recovers a bit of its essence as Goehring positively foams at the mouth while the instrumentation devolves into feedback and white noise.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, two songs stand out as being misplaced. The first is “Cruise Ship,” a highly Oedipal tune that often comes across as being edgy for edginess’ sake, a point the group willingly concedes.
Of the song, Whipple said “It’s a nice song to play at shows because we get to destroy it every time. It’s stupid.” The other is “Stop All the Clocks,” an unnaturally bouncy, peppy-sounding song, which is not bad in its own right but which sounds so drastically out of place when compared with its companion pieces that one cannot help but wonder where it came from.
The group stresses that the album, though it sounds remarkably close to the way they played at the time, is only supplemental to the band’s live act.
“Spondaic Buttons is an active experiment, an exploration,” said Goehring. “The performative act is a catalyst for us.”