There's some serious storms brewing in the Midwest right now. Sure, tons of people just think this is flyover country - but you know what? That's their loss. Some of the best music on the planet is coming from the flatlands between the coasts. One of the biggest purveyors of Midwest weirdness is Night People's Shawn Reed. Most folks probably remember Reed as one of the members of Iowa City's first kingpins, Raccoo-oo-oon, but since they found their natural demise, he's been involved in pushing his own new sounds (Wet Hair) and the magic of a whole host of weirdos, especially those in Iowa City and it's sister-city for insanity, Madison, Wisconson. And hell, these two cities are just a few examples of all the awesomeness coming out of this part of the world right now. You'd be well-advised to brush-up and check it out. So we talked to Shawn a bit about Iowa City, Wet Hair, Madison, and all sorts of other good times.
Well I grew up about 40 min. away, out in the country outside of this small industrial Mississippi river town called Muscatine. So as soon as I turned 16 I was driving to shows in Iowa City as much as I could. That was around like 96/97 I think. I went to college in this town called Cedar Falls a couple hours North of Iowa City. There was a pretty thriving kind of cross-state DIY scene at that time. Cedar Falls was a kind of hub in that scene, but I was still going to shows in Iowa City and other towns almost weekly, driving to places like Minneapolis and Chicago once in awhile as well. I ended up in Iowa City as the Cedar Falls scene kind of dissolved. I've lived in Iowa City for 5 or 6 years now. Been in the same house doing shows out of it for about 4 years I guess. Went to graduate school here, but that was as much of a side note as it was a focus.
When I moved here there wasn't a lot going on. There was this band that had been a real focal point for years with the DIY scene here called Ten Grand. The singer of that band Matt Davis died the year before I moved here so not a lot was going on by the time I got here sort of due to the shock of that and it just being a transition time. Things had sort of dried up. The long running house venue in town Theta Beta had been done for a couple of years too, and there had been some stepping in to fill that void but not much. Daren Ho and Andy Spore both got here generally around the same time, Andy and I had been in bands since High School, and we knew Daren from going to shows in Des Moines so we started talking about getting something going, something different then anything we had done before and Raccoo-oo-oon was created pretty quickly. Ryan Garbes was living in Cedar Falls but would drive down to practice, etc. We just wanted to tour and put out records right away so we didn't pay to much attention to local activity at first. It started really small, I feel like we didn't have any following for awhile, but it just sort of grew and grew since then. Even after that band dissolved and Andy moved away it continued to grow in a way, change a bit, and it's going as strong right now as it ever has but it's transient here because of the college town thing so it could be over sort of instantly.
Well I don't know if it actually produces a lot of bands. With Raccoo-oo-oon touring a lot that ended up bringing more and more bands here, and I've always tried to get bands I like to come so that has helped just having a lot of really quality shows with great touring acts. We sit right on I-80 so it's a natural place to stop. Jeff Witscher moving here right as Andy Spore was leaving helped fill that void of Andy being gone, which was a blow for sure because Andy did a lot and played in a lot of projects. Jeff Witscher I feel helped make it a hub for more traveler freaks and friends of his so that brought even more touring acts and people coming through. We had met Jeff on the first Raccoo-oo-on tour and he would play here on different tours, etc. Jeff being a really prolific solo performer and tape guy etc. got that sort of idea to catch on even more. I think what makes it available for people to do rad projects here is the amount of time you can generate here. It's easy to live really cheap, low rent costs can be found, there are a lot of easy ways to get free food, etc. It's a little insular sometimes but that also alows time without distraction, time to sort of go inward, get away. It's not the grind of the city, it's more laid back, less to do. In a way it's not created a lot of bands, just a lot of projects, a lot of solo stuff. It's in the air here, kind of this independent but group support thing. I wish there were more bands to unify it more, make it feel a little less insular. But I'm not complaining. There are a lot of good solo projects going.
Yeah Night-People started as the band releasing side stuff, and stuff by friends from tours, etc. There has always been a local vibe to it too, trying to get more exposure for local stuff. I guess it's always been about variety, been about whatever I am into. Before, when Andy was around still, it was very collective. After he left I just took it over. It became more just me curating it and I started aiming towards putting out vinyl. I just release what I like, it doesn't matter if it's local or not. It's usually people I know, that tends to be the case, bands I see on tour, old friends from years on the road, new local projects, etc. I guess the local contingent sort of has its own pull. I feel an obligation to highlight local things, a good obligation. I feel like it's helped foster some opportunities for local rippers. The label is really eclectic at this point and I'm happy with that. Time is cruising by pretty fast, so it's just me trying to document a little bit of what is flying by that I find interesting or that I feel a connection to musically. I guess I try to tie it together a bit with the visual aesthetic, but that's always evolving too. At this point I'm really committed to the silkscreen aesthetic. I want it to be a factory label, and what I mean by that is that as much work as can be done for it is done in-house, literally in my house; if I could press the vinyl here I would. I'm obsessed with the work of it, hating and loving it at the same time. Sometimes it's rough around the edges a little, sometimes a tape doesn't get dubbed right, etc. But I like that about it, it's hand-done. I don't want to sit on a computer and have someone else do all the nuts and bolts thing of the release, I want to to do all of it from start to stop. It's not a political thing or some idea really, it's just wanting total hands-on control.
I like Dunebuggy, Ryan and Charles Taterbugs sort of classic lo-fi rock and roll band that has some cool psych garage organ vibes, like the Clean maybe?, really pop but kinda goofy and dirty. Truth Syrum is cool, our friend Will's new project. I guess it's singer songwriter but not really, kinda like Pumice in that way maybe, really fried in effects but simple sort of guitar and vocal songs. The Savage Young Taterbug has been a local phenomena in ways, like this ultra burnt drone pop music, a real character in the best way. Baronic Wall is pretty great, this dude Jake Gilbert from Wales, who has lived here for a long time. His sound is really soaked in sci-fi synth murk and arty British post punk vibes, kind of a Shadow Ring bent to recordings but it's more punked out live, really weird shit. The Tanks is this local rock band of buddies who tour a lot, etc. Super Sonic Piss can be really good, just grimy filthy hardcore, really destructive. Horsebladder is this transplant Elaine Kahn, her recordings are really nice, loner hazy dark lady zone. And of course Jeff Witscher, dude's sort of an institution. Him moving here, like I said, made some reverberations, but in a pretty under the radar way, like setting a rock in the water instead of throwing it in. His newest main project Abelar Scout I think is the best thing he has done. Marble Sky live really has blown me away too, and his design/visual art stuff for his releases has gotten to another level too. Jeff and Brenden O'Keefe do this strange kind of homoerotic dance music thing called Cuticle that's good. Evan Miller is a long-time staple and goes back to the Raccoo-oo-oon days, feel like he's always moving ahead faster then recordings can catch up. Like I said, lots of solo zones, more so then bands. I'm putting out tapes for almost all of the locals I mentioned this spring and summer.
Yeah, Wet Hair has a lot of connections to the Madison scene, or kind of the new crop of Madison bands. Peaking Lights moving from the Bay Area to there is what got us involved with that town. I met them through touring I guess, them playing in Iowa City and putting them up at my house. One of the best bands in the world right now, really great people too, some of my favorite people, a really great band to tour with too. The Peaking Lights "Imaginary Falcons" LP is something I am really proud of, definitely my favorite thing that has been put out on the label and I was really happy with how the art turned out for it as well. PL own a vintage clothes/record store in Madison now called Good Style and that hopefully will help build up more of a base there, because the scene is really strong there. Iowa City has a really strong DIY weirdo scene as far as kids coming to house shows, etc. Madison is still kind of getting it going on that front. Zola Jesus and I started writing each other around the time I met Aaron and Indra from Peaking Lights so the connections started to happen. Zola Jesus has gotten really good, Just Niki and Dead Luke as the live band. Wet Hair is touring with them this summer and that should be really good. Those kids are a bit younger then me, but I relate to them, they are from small Midwest towns, really into lots of different music and art. Niki's brother Max Elliot does good stuff. Luke does a bunch of stuff, Dead Luke, Absinthe Minds with Max, the Jerkwave label which is totally killer. That little crew all release stuff on Sacred Bones, a really killer label out of NYC. This summer I'm putting out a Zola Jesus 7-inch and a Dead Luke LP, probably an Absinthe Minds tape sometime too.
I think there is. It's a college town thing, like these college towns being hubs for any area weirdos in the area or rural states like ours, etc. The pace is different, too, then big cities, less competition for things, less struggle to get by, too, I think, cheap rents, that sort of thing. An isolation too. That's why Madison and Iowa City have this weird bond, maybe connected through Night People in some way or myself and friends doing shows here and then Zola and Peaking Lights doing shows there. We just feel kindred, doing similar things, having really similar aesthetics in towns that are a bit isolated but just a few hours away from each other. I was talking with Ryan the other day, and looking at flyers on my wall, and there has been crazy amazing shows happening in this town for awhile like these weird lineups that get formed, stacked bills somehow. Like some of my favorites, 3 or 4 years ago I did this show for: USAisamonster, Kites, Nautical Almanac, Dan Friel and Raccoo-oo-oon. It just sort of came together, 3 separate tours all converging sort of when all those bands where really fresh to a lot of people. That happens a lot here. Just a bit ago I did a show at my house with: Daniel Higgs, Bill Nace, No Age, Wet Hair, Peaking Lights, Zola Jesus and Animental, all on the same bill in Iowa. It's weird, to be able to put these shows together that are so many great bands that have records out and are all touring separately, something about the location, like we are right on I-80 dead center in the middle of the country and once people started to find out about playing here things have really come together in rad ways at different points. But the thing is, is that it has to stay small. It has to stay spread out a bit. The population is small. You can only have so many shows; it can only support so much. Quality over quantity. The summers here make it worth it, the winters I will admit fuck with most of us pretty hard, people get tired and depressed. But summers, bike rides everyday, running around, swimming in these resevoirs north of town, hanging out having bonfires, it's pretty great. A little bit of everyone dies in those winter months and then is kind of born again in the spring, which can make for interesting activities, people really cutting loose when the weather gets nice.
-- Brad Rose (1 May, 2009)