Ed. – Part One of our conversation with Anyway Records founder Bela Koe-Krompecher can be found here.
Last week, we delved into the history of Anyway Records. It was an enlightening conversation, to say the least. But, having moved to Ohio in 2004, I was curious if Bela thought that Columbus has its own unique “sound.”
“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “I moved here in 1986 and you had corporate radio. I have an almost visceral reaction to a lot of what was shoveled down our throats. When I was in high school and really finding punk and indie music… I mean, I heard Lou Reed and R.E.M. when I was 15. It was like, ‘Oh my God! I don’t have to listen to Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston’ or whatever it was.
“And, I didn’t like ‘hair metal’, so… Columbus, at that time, you had bands that were trying to make it, trying to get played on QFM96. It was nice, because I came here and really noticed there was this whole, super-underground scene of people that were making music. It was good and it was different.”
In the mid-1990’s, the music industry was looking for the next “Seattle.” They were in search of a sound to market and sell, but they didn’t know what that sound was.
“When people look now at sort of the heyday of Columbus music, it would be the 1990’s; the New Bomb Turks, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Scrawl, Moviola… these sorts of bands.
“What’s interesting, when people referred to Columbus as the next Seattle, is that no one came to any of those shows. I mean, the Turks are probably more popular now than when they played back then. Slave Apartments, when they reform once a year, can sell out Ace of Cups.
The “Dayton sound” was the most widely recognized sound by those outside of Ohio. Which is ironic, as that sound was not solely confined to Dayton. That sound the people outside of Ohio thought was unique to Dayton, was flourishing throughout the state.
“So, that sound that we had was this sort of lo-fi sound. In fact, for a little while, Guided by Voices were almost claiming that they were a Columbus band. One interesting story about them was that Mike ‘Rep’ (Hummel), who worked at Used Kids, produced Propeller and Vampire on Titus. They played their second show here with that band.
“They played a lot in Columbus, because nobody could afford to go to a studio. Even then, you were talking $70-100 studio time. And, nobody had that kind of money. Everyone was working in pizza shops, record stores and coffee shops. You weren’t looking for a polished sound. You were looking to get whatever your idea was on tape as quick as possible, and get it out. That’s why we (Anyway Records) were doing 7-inches.”
Due to the technology of the time, many local bands were limited to four-track recording machines, as they were somewhat affordable. But to book time in a professional recording studio? That was cost-prohibitive.
“I remember (Robert) Pollard… we had done three Guided by Voices singles, and he asked if we would be interested in doing their next record. This was before they had Scat Records. For me, there’s no way I could afford that. It was like $3,000… I couldn’t do that. I mean, I could do 500 bucks for a single. That just seemed so outside the realm of possibility. And, CD’s were so expensive; they were a lot of money. Back then, you had to do cassettes, CD’s and LP’s.
“So, that sound, I guess, would be that kind of lo-fi, punk, DIY sound. What’s interesting now, with technology, people can make a really clean sounding record on their own. But, you still had bands that wanted to have ‘big’ sounds. With Jenny Mae’s second record, she spent about a year in the studio with that. It’s a huge sound; a very polished record. It’s very different from her first record, which was made on four-tracks in various living rooms all over the city. I guess that would be the sound, as I look back on it.”
The modern digital technology has made it far easier for local bands to record their music and have it sound just as polished as if it were recorded in any major studio.
“I look at the records that I’m putting out now, they’re probably cleaner-sounding than anything I’ve put out. Part of it, is that people have the technology to do it. But, I’m such a fan of pop songs. Like Mary Lynn‘s record, it’s such a clean-sounding record, as is the Earwig record (Pause For The Jets).
“It just wasn’t the technology of the time. But, it’s also this idea of you write a song, you make something, you create it, you capture it, and you move on to the next thing.”
One item, of many that Bela and I agree on, is the need by so many bands to record take after take, ad nauseam. Why do they do this? Yes, attempting to get the best possible take on a song is the driving force for many bands. But when is enough… enough?
“If I hear some songs… like the fucking Eagles. I can’t stand the Eagles. I remember reading an interview with Glenn Frey or Don Henley where they did 200 vocal-takes on this one line. So, there’s this part of me that thinks ‘God! What a dick! It’s a pop song! Who cares?’ And, that’s just my own taste. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s different things for different people.
“I think the Columbus sound is more of an immediate sound. Like, we have to get this out. That’s what I think the lo-fi movement was.”
That immediacy can be heard in many of the records from that lo-fi movement era of the early-to-mid 1990’s.
Curiosity dictated that I ask Bela how the music scene has changed over the time he has lived in Columbus. Are the changes in the scene obvious to most people?
“It’s more diverse,” he stated. “I would actually say that there are more good bands, there are more interesting bands coming out now than ever before. What I also like, is that guitars are back. There are also more places to play. And, there are more sub-communities of people, which is both good and bad. It’s a much bigger city than it was twenty or twenty-five years ago. Music is so much more accessible today.”
He hits the proverbial nail on the head when he reminisces about how he used to discover new music. The way that people access music today is so very different from how we discovered music 30 or more years previously.
“When we were kids, you had to read about the music and then go look for it. You didn’t know if you were going to like it. And then, if you did scrape together ten bucks to buy a record, you made sure you were going to fucking like it. Now, it’s different. You just get on your phone.
“So, there’s more bands, but it’s harder to get people out to see them, because the scene is so fragmented. And, kids don’t go out to socialize as much. I think kids are more prone to sit around the house or go to an art gallery. But, going to see a band is not the first step that comes to mind.”
Essentially, we discovered new music and then looked for where they were playing that was in driving distance from our homes. Going to see a band live was something we all looked forward to with much anticipation.
It was an experience not to be missed, because you know if you did miss the show, your friends would regale you with everything that the band did and just how awesome the concert was.
With the proliferation of local bands, why is that not something that people want to do today?
“That great heyday of going to see bands,” Bela concluded, “that was our generation.”
Connections – Cruise Control (Anyway Records)