Beer and Pavement

Indie-Craft Interview #11: Zach Biri

Posted in Indie-Craft, Interview by SM on May 15, 2012

Zach Biri is the man behind local record coop Yards and Gods. His bands Nonreturner (RIP) and Enemy Airship wreak of Canadian indie a la Broken Social Scene and Wolf Parade’s many offshoots. That’s a good thing. There aren’t enough Broken Social Scenes or Wolf Parades in this world, particularly in Middle Missouri. What also makes Zach similar to these bands is how seriously he takes his craft without taking himself too seriously at the same time. He’s thoughtful and has a lot to say, as you will see below…

Credit: Carrie Wade

1. Describe your craft(s).
Musician, audio engineer

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie?
As I have no experience in the indie beer community, my answer will be about music.

The stock answer is, of course, maintaining creative control and not contributing to toxic corporate culture. I’m not sure this is true across the board. Plenty of toxic corporate culture (selling an image, getting people to buy shit to attain some manufactured aesthetic, etc) is facilitated by the indies and the all-but-corporate-whores on them, and not every band or chairman on a major label is evil or even makes (much) money.

I also don’t buy into the notion that there isn’t some old greasy dude at the top of the food chain on the indie label that makes a bunch of money off of the blood sweat and tears of the doe eyed naive kids in the bands. Business is business, big or small. Obviously this isn’t the case for people who just cut out all the middle men, and it’s nice to see that becoming a viable option. I guess some people pat themselves on the back for it, but I always kind of thought remaining on an indie label (when it was even a choice in the first place, as it often is not) was – in the best case – a matter of good intentions.

Second best case: a self celebrating distinction of circumstance – some people are in love with the idea when it was basically forced upon them in the first place. Third best case: an excuse to half-ass things and sell it as an endearing quirk or something “you just don’t get because blah blah blah conceptual blah blah blah lo-fi blah blah blah” (DISCLAIMER: I do not dislike lo-fi, but it’s an example of something people clearly try to pass as intentional sometimes when a little bit of effort and planning just wasn’t in the playbook).

There are shitty people and practices on either side of that line, and as much as I don’t want to come off as a total misanthrope, there’s always someone out there trying to use you to make a buck or feel good about themselves. Maybe there have historically been more nightmare people on the major side – I love Albini’s rundown in Some Of Your Friends May Already Be This Fucked. I think, though, that in 2012, even more of these proverbial friends “may already be this fucked” as well and not realize it because they think they are safe not signed to a major – you think they paid you proportionally from the door? Do you think you are not being used in some way by someone even if you etched the vinyl yourself with an Exacto knife? I’m not saying there is or isn’t an assumed importance or benefit of remaining indie. There’s a lot about the concept of indie that is pretty great, and also a lot of the culture that I find to be sickeningly precious and/or self righteous, and I don’t buy it 100%. It’s a complicated rats nest, but it’s good that it’s on the table for discussion. I think what’s important is however you get there, don’t be a fucking prick about it.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
Does it? Millions of people pick up guitars, learn a couple of chords, and consider themselves musicians, and every kid who pirates Cubase and Komplete considers himself an engineer. Would it be fair to say that adding another voice to the cacophony is contributing to society at all? Is that elitist in some way? I don’t know. Some would argue that this culture where everyone is in a band and access is easy is just confusing the cultural narrative when it’s already ass-to-ankles full of “content creators”, and vapid and soulless to boot.

The rebuttal is that a level playing field makes it fair and facilitates variety or something. That’s a concept in genetics (diversity = a stronger, better organism) and I think it carries over to a lot of other things. I mean, I guess adding more “art” to the world is contributing something to society. Then again, how many bands (or artists) can you name that (if you could) you would pay money to NOT make music (or art) ever again? I’m sure I’m that person to someone, and the opposite of that person to someone else.

I guess I enjoy playing devils advocate on these last two questions because I think they are not the givens that a lot of people need to believe they are. I wonder if everyone would agree that I contribute anything to society at all. I’m not sure. I’m sorry, that’s a really obtuse parenthetical answer and I didn’t mean for it to be at all.

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
Jarrett Crader opened my eyes to the world of homebrewing a few years ago, and that shit is endlessly fascinating to me – the history and the craft of it. I’ll probably never attempt that kind of thing though, at least not soon. My apartment has two doors: the entrance to the apartment, and a bathroom door that doesn’t lock. I’m sure the landlord would freak out if he saw me sparging on my 5×5′ “patio” one day. I don’t see myself living in a larger place any time in the near future…

People who build and sell effects pedals on the small scale are incredibly inspiring to me. Ben (Chlapek) and I are hoping to break into this once we do a little bit of research – partially to design our sounds in Enemy Airship and other musical outlets from the ground up, and partially because we need new hobbies that don’t involve drinking coffee and talking shit. Looking into Earthquaker Devices after geeking out over their “Dispatch Master” pedal kind of spawned this fascination for me at least. It turns out there are a bunch of little companies like ED that are actually just one or two people making and distributing hand made pedals from their little studio apartments. A lot of times, they make only 100 or so of a certain pedal – many with unique custom design work screen printed or etched onto them – and then they are never made again.

I’m guilty of it as much as any guitarist/gearhead: there’s always the guy at the show who is craning his neck to see what pedals his favorite musician uses so that he can go home and order them and ape that sound. Try to pull that shit when it’s a board of limited run Blackout Effectors and Dr. Scientist gear. I don’t necessarily become indignant and cry foul when someone sounds like someone else intentionally or otherwise – art is part theft and everybody knows it and anyone who denies it is a liar or delusional – but adding some rare variables to that theft couldn’t hurt the crucial diversity.

5. What is your dream of success?
I don’t know. Finding a bag of money? Paying my mom back somehow for putting up with the heartache of watching her son work entry level jobs for the rest of his life because he wanted to drop out of a private university to play music with his friends? Some recognition would be nice, but I doubt I’ll find it in this town. Everyone wants to get paid to do what they love. I guess the tricky part is not compromising the integrity of that thing in order to get paid for it.

Pay attention to Enemy Airship. The band seems to have lit a creative fire under Zach’s ass. It’s more cohesive and purposeful than Nonreturner with some rather strong parts in place. If they really are able to build their sound from scratch (the ultimate in DIY achievement and Sonic Youth worship), the sounds coming out of Columbia, MO should be able to create a niche for Enemy Airship such that Zach will quit those entry level jobs and do what he obsesses over loves.

Note: I’m still waiting on a few “big” names to submit their answers to the interview questions, but be on the lookout for Zach’s partner-in-crime tomorrow and who knows beyond that. If you have suggestions for people that should contribute to this series, feel free to submit names in the comments.

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Posted in Live by SM on March 25, 2011

I wrote this for The CoMO Collective, a collaborative local blog on which I’m working. We haven’t officially launched yet, but it’s coming. Right now, we’re just trying to build some content. In the meantime, you can read my recent post on a show I saw last weekend. It does no favors for the band or the gig, but it’s content, right? Still, when you’re done reading this piece of crap, go download their music. Eventually, I’ll do a proper recap of Nonreturner, maybe an actual interview or some shit like that.

Also, this is actually my 100th post. This took much longer than the last blog, but I’m happier with where this one is going. Stay tuned for more fun in my next 100.


March 19, 2011
Eastside Tavern

Sloppy can be good.

Nonreturner has not always been sloppy. They were good, not sloppy, the last time I saw them. The kind of music Nonreturner plays is not the kind one usually associates with sloppiness. This band creates soundscapes with layer upon layer, recalling early Broken Social Scene and later Radiohead in nearly every song. There’s intricacy in what they do. Nonreturner makes music that is exact and carefully planned. No one half-assing it can do that as well as Nonreturner does it.

That said, there’s a new vibe to a Nonreturner show. I’ve always believed in the Calvin Johnson school of thought where emotion is more important than skill. Nonreturner had the skill part figured out already, but in what appeared to be a potentially disastrous drunken stupor, turned out to be a show that reverberated through the night, causing any band to follow to be forgotten. Yeah, it was that good and that much fun.

Such well crafted music deserves an audience. Eastside Tavern featured a nice turnout, but Nonreturner should have a greater number of ears hearing their art. They should tour, but that would only take them away from Columbia. Still, for this Nonreturner thing to work, they will inevitably have to tour.

Maybe you missed their set at Eastside last weekend or can’t normally make it out to see them live, but there is no excuse not to listen to this band. Their music is out there for free. Yards & Gods, their record label/cooperative, makes the music its roster creates free for pillaging. Go there now and get to stealing some music like it’s 1999.

Nonreturner are unknown quantity in the CoMusic scene, but not for long.

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When I used to go out…

Posted in Life, Live by SM on August 12, 2010

…I would know everyone that I saw. Now I go out alone if I go out at all[1].

Or so goes a popular lyric from a popular alt-rock track from a few years ago. It’s also how life turns out for the aging hipster[2]. We make choices to get jobs and have kids. Our bodies don’t put up with the stresses of late-night living and three or more beers in an evening the way they used to. Our attention span is not capable of reading Pitchfork and updating our blogs.

I used to go out fairly regularly. I’d go see bands, especially local bands. I did this whenever I could afford it in college[3]. I even did it as often as possible when I lived an hour or more from any city with the capacity for such things. I can remember several shows in which I fell into bed at 3 AM, only to get up around 6:30 AM or so to prepare for the day teaching fifth graders. The point is that I made a regular effort regardless of daily responsibilities to see local bands play music.

That doesn’t happen anymore. For one thing, I moved to a much smaller market with fewer good bands. So, it took me a while to catch on with these locals. And even when I did catch on, I found it difficult to make it out to shows where bands didn’t go on until 9 or 10 at night. Sure, I was invited out or promised to see a friend’s band, but occasions when that actually happened became few and far between.

This week, I had no familial responsibilities to keep me in. Work is relatively light in the summer and there was actually a show. So, I made the choice to see a local band for once.

Nonreturner is an outfit on local label/co-op Yards & Gods. The band, and most of the bands on their label, are quite prolific. But it’s not just quantity they produce, it’s also of a high quality. This is pretty amazing considering that they rarely tour[4] and they’re giving away their music for free when it’s worth way more than that[5].

Of course, these facts just make them candidates for favorite local band status. I went through several local bands back in the day. None of them toured really. They were all on tiny labels that were labels in name only. They all made a lot of great music. While not all of it was free, it certainly was cheap. Sometimes, if you would buy a cassette tape, they’d fill it for you[6].

Anyway, Nonreturner had the unfortunate honor of opening for an act that didn’t even bother to show up. It was a hot, Monday night in the summer in a college town. Plus, before the venue reduced the cover, it was $8, a rather steep price for such an event. Well, I showed up anyway. Zach and Carrie[7] of Nonreturner have been regulars in my blogs’ comment sections and I owed them at least $4 and a late bedtime[8].

I’m glad I did go out. Despite there being maybe 15-20 people in attendance and the bad metal band that played after them, Nonreturner were pretty good. Bands like Broken Social Scene and anything Bradford Cox came to mind as textures of drums, samples, guitar, and keyboards[9] held together over Mojo’s shitty-ass soundsystem. Funny thing is, I sort of knew Nonreturner was this good. I didn’t need to see them to confirm this opinion. It was not the most inspired performance[10], but it was certainly worth the night out, making me think I should do it more often.

1Sorry, I know the Walkmen are passé for some of you and the sentiment of “The Rat” is a bit clichéd, but I couldn’t resist. This is a post going on in my head every time I go out or choose to stay in.
2This sort of points out why it’s so absurd that I use the term “hipster” so often. There was a time when the word would have applied to me. I’m just too old for that now. Or too boring.
3Which, strangely enough, was quite amazing. I gave up meat so that I could have more money to spend on such things. I remember choosing to smoke at a bar because I couldn’t afford as much beer as I could afford cigarettes. It’s funny how money would appear just so that I could go see a band.
4Well, they might have toured, but what I’m talking about are 1-2 month stints on the road. That’s how bands become nationally known. They tour the shit out of their material. Even then, it’s not guaranteed.
5So, at this very moment, there is no excuse for not going to the Yards & Gods site and downloading everything you can get your hands on. Start with Nonreturner, though.
6I once misread some liner notes that came with a 7″ and sent a guy two 90 or 120 minute cassette tapes to fill. He filled them both even though the offer was really only for one tape’s worth of music. I played the shit out of those tapes. They were so good.
7OK. So, Carrie is not an “original member” of the band, but she is taking the bassist Clint’s place in the lineup. Apparently, Clint knocked up his wife with twins. Babies get in the way of a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, but twins will destroy it.
8And I have promised fancy beers in a public forum. Twice now.
9That and Carrie plays a mean tambourine. She can also take the tambourine and do a figure-eight between her legs Harlem Globetrotters-style.
10This is not a complaint. There was no crowd and their drummer took a 10-minute shit right as they were to go on. So, it was no big deal. The music was good even if the feeling wasn’t great.

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