Note: The following was written by Roy Ghim. And … well, you all know Roy, right? Right. So enough with the explanations.
Everything has a beginning and an end. So it is with Old Indian, one of Frederick’s biggest — and arguably best — rock bands. They close out their six-year run together on June 11 with a final performance as the headlining act of The Thing at 200 East Art Haus.
The band’s announcement in March to split in June left many wondering, why now? For a band that is adored for deconstructing rock music to a blistering core, playing to over 1,000 people at Fall Fest at 200 East last October, not to mention a reputation rising beyond the clustered spires of Frederick, they seemed to be at the top of their game, a trajectory without ceiling.
Three weeks ago, the band played their penultimate show at Artomatic @ Frederick, breaking previous attendance records as hundreds crammed into an old auditorium to witness a band shift into accelerated gear, even as they were — in a sense — winding things down. With an electric atmosphere in the air, the audience transfixed and connecting with the music, the hushed awe interrupted into wild abandon between songs.
“Yeah, that was definitely one of our top five best shows,” recounted frontman Cory Springirth. Invading the privacy of their rehearsal space, I sat down with the trio of Mark Weeks on bass, Evan Owens on drums and Springirth on guitar and vocals to talk about the band, their legacy, reasons for leaving the game and how they were preparing for the last show.
To unravel the mystery driving Old Indian’s end, let’s rewind to the beginning. Ryan Nicholson, of the Frederick band Heavy Lights, was working alongside Springirth at Philly Cheesesteak Factory (now Roasthouse Pub) in 2009 and saw in Springirth an intense interest in guitar-driven original music, however Springirth was too shy to play or sing in front of anyone. Nicholson encouraged Springirth by bringing in his own guitar to the shop, but Springirth declined the offer to play. Despite the hesitancy, Nicholson noted, “I had this sense there was something special about him.”
Eventually Springirth approached Nicholson to engineer a recording of musical ideas he was working on in his spare time. The future format of Old Indian was beginning to crystalize, as Springirth tried on the role of singer, guitarist and frontman, fleshing out his vision with a rotating cast of musicians. In the early recordings, Nicholson could tell they weren’t comfortable hearing themselves yet, but added, “I still listen to it — it sounds bad ass, like a loud band through a tape machine.”
By 2010, Springirth decided to take Old Indian out for a spin for its first public show, with Austin Nuckols filling in temporarily on drums (Owens joined shortly thereafter). Their debut took place at Guido’s Speakeasy, in a small back room that Weeks likened to “playing music in your weird uncle’s basement,” and they continued to put on shows there. Springirth initially found the experience stressful but crucial. “It was a proving ground,” Owens recalled, which gave the new band freedom to develop their raw talent.
And they kept playing. “They grew and grew,” Nicholson said. “Having seen their first gig … they’re constantly progressing with every show.” When pressed to describe the evolution of their sound, he said it’s difficult to put a finger on what that is exactly. Black Keys-esque heavy blues rock for denim-wearing hipsters? Long-haired ’70s-era hard rock? Esoteric surf rock? Punk? Garage? There’s no real answer, but their kitchen-sink hybrid of competing sounds synthesized into something that people responded to — something retro yet modern.
Fast-forward to 2015, a defining year that saw them play in front of massive crowds at Flying Dog Brewery (opening for Of Montreal) the Weinberg Center for the Arts and 200 East Art Haus, and 2015 saw the release of their LP “Mumble.”
Track by track, inside and out, the album “Mumble” is a work of art, pressed in vinyl that will literally outlast the band (and they still have some copies to sell at this weekend’s show). Frederick Playlist called it “explosive” when it came out. Despite the higher production costs of releasing on vinyl, partially offset by crowdfunding help via Indiegogo, they went for it, setting the tone for an intentional listening experience.
An aspect to their legacy was their embrace of underground subcultures in Frederick, namely the skateboarding scene revolving around the skate shop Pitcrew. “We skate hard, we play music hard” is the mantra Weeks cites. That synergy resulted in Old Indian playing a show at the Kennedy Center last September; the stage was adjacent to a skating bowl with gravity-defying skaters leaping in the air just a few feet in front of them.
Why leave all that behind?
While their accomplishments have been tremendous, the reality was they still needed to hang onto their day jobs. Springirth acknowledged the frustration. “At the end of the day, each one of us has to look to the future. … It’s hard to make a sustainable living off music.” However, Springirth added, that’s not the reason for the breakup.
“We just kinda realized we were all heading in different directions in life and it was going to be hard to keep Old Indian going,” Springirth explained. He being a new father, and Weeks set for a move to Denver in a few months, “it was a mutual decision to just end it and not drag it out half-assed.”
“Major transitions in life shift priorities,” added Owens.
At the end, with all the brilliant experiences and memories etched, everyone agreed they could walk away from the band on a high note. However, the creative bug will not let go; they expect to continue writing music, but separately instead of as a collective after this weekend.
For now, it’s false to speak of Old Indian in past tense.
There’s still a show to do.
“I think we realized that we aren’t going to get to play rock ’n’ roll music with each other for a while, so we are making it as best and enjoyable as we can for us,” Springirth said. “There’s no negativity with this being the last show. It’s more a celebration and thank-you to everyone who helped us on our music journey and was along for the ride with us.”
What the band does not want is mourning.
“A show should be more like a party. This last show is a party for everyone,” Owens said, adding that he was glad the 200 East show would be all-ages.
The show lineup itself was curated by Old Indian. They think people will be surprised and turned on to the opening acts, Atomic Mosquitos and the Pittsburgh-based Outsideinside. Both bands had helped them earlier in their career.
As far as their set, Owens hinted, “We’re going to pay our respects to some people in a cool way.”