Smile Politely

New Ruins, Old Favorite

Olney, Ill., (pronounced ull-knee) is the undisputed home of albino squirrels. The chummy police officers sport chalky white rodent patches on their sleeves and wear clear jelly shoes. Without this hairy claim to fame, Olney could just be mistaken for a spot on a map. It was that seemingly insignificant spot that molded and formed New Ruins into the band, and the men, they are today.

New Ruins formed in 2004 with Caleb Means and Elzie Sexton both on acoustics. They created their first album, and The Sound They Make came out on Hidden Agenda Records (a subsidiary of Parasol Records) in April of 2007. In 2006, Means and Sexton played a show at Aroma Café in Champaign. There they met Roy Ewing, previously a drummer in Braid, and Paul Chastain of Velvet Crush who completed the package. This summer New Ruins worked on their second full-length album titled We Make Our Own Bad Luck.

Both Means and Sexton brought their home base from Olney to Champaign-Urbana. “We appreciate coming from nothing. We’re not city boys; we like openness and space,” Means explains with a slight Olney accent. Their songs hearken back to the days of growing up in a simpler town, a simpler time and a simpler way of life.

Chastain and Ewing brought a plethora of experience to the group. The former has been making sweet music since the mid ‘80s, and the latter was Braid’s original drummer in the mid-‘90s. The majority of New Ruins has now settled down to start families, but they still reunite as a full band once a week. Sexton is also an artist creates all the art for their records.

Recording is a way for New Ruins to experiment and layer sounds. Means admits there’s a bit more “cheating” involved with recording, but their live shows are quickly coming up to par with the studio tunes. During live shows, most musicians’ minds might be straying to what to eat after the show, the girl in the front row or concentrating on nailing the right key, but Means says he plays music to think of, well, nothing.

“I think playing music is a lot like playing sports,” he says. “You have to practice to get it right, but when you’re playing you’re only really concentrating on that one thing that makes you happy. There’s a lot of depressing stuff, and for that moment I don’t have to think about anything that makes me unhappy in the world.”

If they had it their way, the guys would probably settle into a Bob Ross painting. Add in a few venues, maybe a grocery store, and call it home.

Fall plans: Peddling the new record, writing new material, and playing shows (hopefully the grungy basement type with cheep beer and good company).

Show highlight: The band once played a show in ’06 and had to share the stage with a gutter punk on crutches. He basically screamed, rolled around on the ground, performed to a tape and sometimes actually played an instrument. Needless to say, they won’t be returning to The Beecher Kids Festival anytime soon.

Fun facts: Chastain recently got married in Japan. Sexton creates mixed media artwork and has been featured in art exhibits at the Virginia Theatre and Radio Maria. Ewing has been working at Parasol Records for over a decade. Means gobbles up books like a worm, and his current prospect is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

Check out New Ruins on Oct. 3 at Cowboy Monkey with Hopewell and The Number One Sons or Oct. 23 at Mike’n Molly’s with The Tractor Kings and The Championship.

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