Smile Politely

Growing up a little at a time

Isaac, singer and lead guitarist of Withershins, did most of the talking when I interviewed the band over the phone last week. I expected to learn Isaac’s last name in the email follow-up, but he goes by one name on the Internets because his mom is constantly Googling his name to see if he’s up to anything bad. Oh well, I’m sure he’d tell you it in person.

The rest of the band — Colin Larson on drums, Bryce Robert Hays on vocals and guitar, and Neil Yeager on bass — will join Isaac, as well as Chicago’s PoundCake (“not a Van Halen tribute band,” their website promises) and Kankakee’s Sea Creatures at Mike ‘n Molly’s tonight for a 10 p.m. show. Cover is still TBA at this late hour, but I doubt it will break you. Of course, what do I know about your finances? Sorry to be presumptuous…

Anyway, these Withershins folks were quite nice, especially for what they claimed was their first interview. They rambled a bit, but hey, don’t we all. Hear about Isaac’s past with a possibly Snuggie-inpired twee-folk band, Blanket Arms, and the rest of the band’s roots in Johnnyork.

“Give In” by Withershins

Smile Politely: How’s the rehearsal going?

Isaac: It’s going swell, everybody just sort of showed up.

Colin Larson: We just got here and cracked our first beer open.

Neil Yeager: Celebrating the weekend with a Pabst Blue Ribbon and an interview.

SP: How long have you guys been a band?

I: Feels like it’s been near two years now, year and a half, something like that. We’ve been through various incarnations. Many people have come and gone, even before we played our first show. We sort of existed in a garage for quite a long time, and then a living room.

SP: How did your current incarnation get together?

I: I hosted, was it on Openingbands?

CL: Yeah, me and Neil, we were in a band called Johnnyork, and we played around for a while, like a year or two years. Then two of the kids in that band were grad students and they left town, so we had to find two people to hang out with and play. We found Isaac through Openingbands, we found Bryce through…

I: Bryce and I had been friends for a while, even before we started playing music together. Bryce was sort of living with me and my ex at the house where we practiced at. He just would hang out in the garage and smoke [tobacco cigarettes] with us. Bryce played the guitar, but I had been in a band with Layla called Blanket Arms, which was this obnoxious DIY twee-core folk duet, and we sang really happy, cute, obnoxious songs, and it wasn’t very interesting to listen to, I imagine, but it was fucking fun to perform, I tell you what. Oddly enough, there is a strange intersection — Dave sort of knew who I was before we started practicing. For Blanket Arms, we had this CD release show with these handmade CDs that I spent forever painting and put what I thought was a lot of consideration into what I thought was a very solidly made DIY product. And I sent it off to Openingbands for review, and it ended up being Mohan…

CL: Mohan was the lead singer of Johnnyork.

I: …and he just trashed it. He trashed it. It was sanctimoniously panned. He was like, “The sound quality was shit,” and you know, we were poor, living in an attic with our cats, and I ran a record label that went nowhere out of my attic called Potmonster Pop Monster Records. And he was like, “It sounds like shit; it sounds like somebody made it on his laptop,” and I was like, “Yeah, I did.”

NY: And we were like, “We should get a band with that guy.”

I: Did you guys know it was me?

CL: We did.

I: And you guys used my CD as a coaster, did you not?

CL: Yeah.

I: So, yeah, there was that. What the fuck were we talking about? Our current incarnation.

CL: Half Johnnyork and half Blanket Arms. All Bryce.

I: Bryce was at all our practices. Bryce would just be in that garage.

NY: When was that, the summer of 2007?

I: And at one time, we had six members in the band. Violin, female vocalist — anyways, these practices never materialized to much more than drinking and smoking and chatting. A friend of mine, Nick Brown, who frequents the Cowboy Monkey open mic night, at which Withershins recently made an appearance, we had Nick Brown as a guitarist, but he was tall and British and broke his back, so that didn’t work out. We had a very shy violinist and vocalist who was more fond of drinking Jameson… We should probably mention … what was the dude who moved to Chicago?

NY: You’re the ex-guitarist expert.

I: There was a kid who played guitar, Lucas Bowers, great kid, we practiced with him a lot, we have some demos recorded of him playing, he played really happy, angular, awesome Minus the Bear kind of shit, but on a very different dimension than where we played, but then he never showed up at our first show, so he had to leave the band and then he moved to Chicago. I hear he’s playing in an awesome band in Chicago, called … Bryce? We were just jamming shit anyways, and when did I actually ask you? Because it seems like it was after the fact, like … oh, Mustachefest, yeah. We played Mustachefest in 2008, that was in Joliet, and how many practices did we have with you? We just kind of threw you in there. We didn’t really figure out parts for Bryce, because he plays a really interesting style, in open tuning D, and we just kind of let him ramble, because with me playing in drop D, we figure … our cohesion as a band is sometimes happenstance rather than some sort of overarching … yeah. Our band is really more of a drinking club.

CL: I want to be more professional.

I: Haven’t we been more professional? Because I was going through what could have been a fucking divorce, I mean we had cats and shit. I was really emotionally unstable through the whole process. The band is called Withershins, which is an old Irish word meaning, literally, “to take turns counterclockwise,” but it’s used in Irish tales to designate an Irish hero dying. It means you’re essentially doomed if you look it up in the dictionary. Because I felt like, the band was great, but every time we played, I felt like we were just going to get beaten up, because I was going through this shit. I was always trashed.

SP: So you’ve had a long and sordid past already. Maybe this is a new beginning.

CL: We’re starting to hit up shows a lot more now. We have a lot longer set.

I: Did I just say all the shit you didn’t want me to talk about? We’ve been around this long and we’ve never had to deal with anything such as an interview.

SP: How would you describe your sound for someone who’s never seen one of your rare shows?

CL: I think all of us have different influences. We’re not that loud.

I: We try to be. I try to be loud. I recently discovered the videos of our show with Mock Orange and New Ruins, and I did not realize I fucking moved around that much. I’m a maniac.

CL: My influences are Broken Social Scene and Appleseed Cast, and I like all that mellow stuff, I guess. Anything with lots of reverb and delays in guitars.

I: We’re breaking in the “let’s fucking play around with our delay pedals.” Not so much loud, fast and distorted.

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