Times New Viking relieves Mike Wolf from his incessant boredom in recent Time Out story.
Font of youth
Times New Viking rescues indie rock from a boring death.
By Mike Wolf
At the end of “Little Amps,” the uncannily catchy third cut on Times New Viking’s Present the Paisley Reich, drummer Adam Elliott exclaims, “Pop song-uh!” in celebration. He also seems to want to assure us it is a pop song, because the minute-and-a-half track sounds like a garage-full of saw blades in joyous attack mode. Everything in “Little Amps”—and the whole album, actually—is distorted to the point where it’s hard to tell if Elliott is harmonizing with keyboardist Beth Murphy, or where Murphy’s instrument ends and Jared Phillips’s guitar begins, or that there’s no bass. (With all the dirt and fuzz flying around, who needs bass?)
Elsewhere on the new record, the band’s second, the fidelity jumps from severely shitty to medium in midsong (“Ladders”) and one channel of the music cuts out for a few seconds (“Common Cold”); the killer melodies at the heart of provocatively named tracks like “Imagine Dead John Lennon” and “Allegory Gets Me Hot” are in constant peril of being overthrown by noise. “Most of those things are happy accidents,” says Phillips, 25 (as are both of his bandmates), over the phone from Columbus, Ohio. “I think they happened while the record was being mixed, ’cause a lot of our music we mix down from a reel-to-reel onto a cassette—”
Elliott interjects: “That already has stuff on it.”
“—that already has stuff on it,” Phillips confirms.
This might seem like a surprising M.O. for any band in 2007, when pristine digital sound is accessible to anyone with a computer, and so-called mistakes on a recording don’t need to be there. Times New Viking has more elemental concerns. “I’m always after the intimacy of someone recording in their bedroom or practice space,” Elliott says. “Music is about getting together with people and enjoying it. If we do it at our house, we can get together on a Saturday night and record a song.” Talking like a short-order cook throwing together a meal, Phillips adds, “You just put some mikes up, make up a melody on the spot and go, ‘That sounds good.’ Then you make up some vocals, and you have another minute-long song that’s good.”
“No reason to think about it too much more than that,” quips Elliott.
That spontaneity helps make Times New Viking one of the most exciting indie-rock bands in years; the group’s live sets are so electrifying that, while in the moment, you feel like there’s no better band on the planet. The trio’s December show at Cake Shop undid weeks of seasonal blues, turning a crowd of roughly 75 people into a gleefully clumsy, beer-spilling mosh pit.
The three, who met at Columbus College of Art & Design, are also reinvigorating a vital, decades-old DIY lo-fi tradition that has always found special acceptance in Ohio. Columbus, in particular, had a superb lo-fi rock scene throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but after the shocking deaths of two of the city’s most talented rock songwriters—Jim Shepard (by suicide in 1999) and Jerry Wick (of the band Gaunt, in a 2001 bike accident)—things in Ohio’s capital went quiet.
Times New Viking’s first show, in early 2004, helped shake a trio of key figures out of semiretirement. Ron House and Mike “Rep” Hummel had for years played in and acted as godfathers of the Columbus scene; one or the other was involved in almost every good record to come out of the city. “Ron’s ego is like, once he found out there were kids who liked him, he had to start playing again,” Phillips says, jokingly, “to make sure he was in competition with them!”
House and Hummel soon passed recordings of the band to Tom Lax, whose then-dormant Philadelphia label, Siltbreeze, was responsible for some of the best underground sounds of the ’90s. Dig Yourself, Times New Viking’s debut, came out on Siltbreeze in 2005, and things have been rolling for the band ever since—the trio signed to Matador before Siltbreeze even released Paisley Reich. The bigger label’s interest in a band that might turn in its masters on a used cassette makes sense to Elliott. “It’s fitting because Matador put out the music we were influenced by in the ’90s,” he says. “Guided by Voices was like our Beatles, and Pavement was like our Kinks. I’d always imagined that the band I wanted to be in would be like if those bands had a baby.”
Present the Paisley Reich is out now on Siltbreeze.
Some sun bleached live footage of "Let Your Hair Grow Long" from this year's SXSW festival.