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Band delivers a sonic mash-up that shouldn’t work, but does. Beautifully.
By Jim Fester
Fort Wayne Reader
For the members of TIMBER!!!, it all started, more or less, with a text message that guitarist Ben Larson sent to singer Kendra Johnson, a friend of Larson’s girlfriend: “I heard you want to start a Husker Du band,” the message read. “I need to play guitar in that band.”
It’s not quite as simple as that, but as anyone who has seen TIMBER!!! at one of their shows the last few months can attest, what may have started as a Husker Du-influenced project has grown into something a little more difficult to define. “I would describe our music as being upbeat, fast paced, and delivered with energy,” says bass player Jason Williams. “Some songs defy this though... We have this song called ‘White Out’ that has a driving rhythm, but isn't necessarily upbeat/fast paced. And one called ‘Cyclone’ has this minimal slinky, sexy vibe to it.”
“But I'll leave it to other people to say what we sound like as far as genre and influences go,” finishes Williams. “Other people are always better at that than I am.”
Guitarist (and former FWR music columnist) Ben Larson has a similar take on TIMBER!!! “I'd like to think that overall we fall somewhere between edgy punk and catchy pop, like maybe if The Knack had a really bad day at the office.”
TIMBER!!! themselves call what they do “post-punk,” a pretty broad genre typically applied to 80s alternative bands. It covers a wide range of music, encompassing everyone from noise/art bands like Sonic Youth to The Cure or The Smiths. TIMBER!!! probably falls a little closer to the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum. In fact, Johnson in particular ranks Sonic Youth as a major inspiration for her. “I've been in love with Sonic Youth since around the age of 16, and I'm 24 now,” she says. “I remember picking up my two best friends and driving around listening to Sonic Youth’s EVOL, Dirty, Goo, and Daydream Nation albums on our way to punk shows at the Art Factory.”
But Larson adds that “post-punk” is more the closest thing they could come up with to describe what they do, and it seems that for TIMBER!!! post-punk is more of a sensibility. “There's just something about that kind of sound, like harnessing noise, bending it to your will, and turning it into great, catchy, yet really smart music, that I personally find to be very satisfying,” Larson says. “Mission of Burma is probably my favorite band ever; there's no one better at blending energy, noise, intelligence, and frankly a great pop sensibility than those guys.”
“But I guess that's why I love the post-punk movement so much in general — it's such a beautiful mash-up of all these elements that shouldn't go together, yet do. Songs should not simultaneously make you want to dance, consider the faults of Western culture, and try and figure out what they hell that guy is doing to make his guitar sound like that, but that's exactly what ‘Ether’ by Gang of Four does. It's brilliant rock & roll.”
Actually, Larson’s line about “a mash-up of all these elements that shouldn't go together, yet do” might work pretty well for the four member of TIMBER!!! “Each of us have many influences and bands that we all share a love for, but each of us come from very different musical backgrounds,” Williams says. “I mean, Kendra is the vocalist in a thrash band (Utah Spirit Babys). Ben used to play in I, Wombat. Rudy and I came from — for lack of a better term — a guitar rock band (MisterDoctorProfessor).”
Yet TIMBER!!! seemed to “click” pretty quickly. An earlier attempt by Larson and Johnson with other musicians didn’t go anywhere, but things came together fast when Rinearson and Larson started playing together, and conscripted Williams’ (Rinearson’s room mate) on bass. “Jason (Williams) and I have been playing music together since freshman year of high school, so he just naturally joined the band, and picked up the bass instead of guitar like in MDP,” says Rinearson. “Ben knew Kendra and suggested that she would be a good fit for our band as the vocalist. So we trusted his judgment and all met up to see if the magic was there. Sure enough, after the first rehearsal we were all on the same page musically and all very excited to be trying something new.”
Larson booked the new band a gig the first week they were together. “That was interesting, but sometimes you need a fire under your ass to really get things moving, or at least I do,” he says.
“What's awesome is that we're all trying different things in this band,” Williams adds. “Kendra likes to laugh at the fact that some of her friends are surprised that she's actually ‘singing’ in a band now. And I'm not really a bass player either; I was always more interested in guitar and drums but I've grown to really love playing bass for TIMBER!!! It's just plain fun for one, and I get to try out different methods.”
“In all my other bands I've used a VERY aggressive vocal style,” Johnson says. “For TIMBER!!! I really wanted to try something new... actual singing. It was a real challenge at first, but everyone in the band was very patient with me and supportive. It took a while to figure out what kind of style to sing with but I feel pretty confidant about it. It's such a huge change from everything that I've ever done before so I'm pretty happy being able to explore new styles.”
In addition to playing shows, TIMBER!!! is currently writing and recording an album, collaborating on songwriting duties. Rinearson, who does the engineering and mixing, says that the process so far has gone pretty well. “We are all very busy outside of the band, so we track everything individually whenever we can make time,” he explains. “It usually works out like this: Jason records bass first; if its a great take we keep it, if not, it is used as a scratch track. Then I record drums. After I get the drums sounding good and tight, we either lay down bass or guitar, depending on who is available. But once the drums are down, we go for final takes. I like to get all the instruments tracked before laying down vocals. Recording Timber!!! so far, has been painless. Everything has gone smoothly, tracking and mixing.”
Larson, like the rest of the band, seems happy enough to take a low-key approach to recording. The guitarist had to leave his former band, I, Wombat, when his school/work schedule got too hectic, but when things calmed down for him, he discovered he really missed playing. “I started playing with these guys (and gal), and it just felt like it was the band I had always wanted to be in,” he says. “I simply love playing music with them, and when you get an opportunity like that, you have to hold on to it.”
TIMBER!!! plays O’Sullivan’s on October 23 with I, Wombat and Mark Hutchins, and at the Brass Rail on November 6 with Wooden Satellites and Streetlamps for Spotlights.
You can find out more about TIMBER!!! on Facebook.