Ounces of Invention
Nashville may have 50 times as many clubs and studios, but in many ways Murfreesboro has the more interesting rock scene. Maybe it’s because music isn’t an industry there; maybe it’s because anyone under 21 is anxious for anything to kill time. But the city spawns dynamic, original bands the way stagnant water breeds mosquitoes. Ten years ago, while Nashville bands were hopping glam-metal trends and scrambling for elusive deals, you could go to one of Murfreesboro’s few clubs and see the theatrical punk band the F Particles, the country-metal Blind Farmers From Hell (which evolved into Hank Flamingo), or the wonderful power-pop band Shamalam, among others.
Back then, Seth Timbs was a freshman at Oakland High School, and the only way he could get in to see the F Particles play at the Murfreesboro nightclub Mainstreet was if someone snuck him in. Now Timbs’ own group, Fluid Ounces, rides the crest of a new wave of Murfreesboro bands whose origins lie in a dozen forgotten high-school combos. The band signed in 1995 to Spongebath Records, the Murfreesboro label that made a splash last year with Selfwhose frontman, Matt Mahaffey, once played with Timbs and Fl. Oz. guitarist Brian Rogers in a group called Ella Minopy. Next week Fluid Ounces celebrates the release of its first Spongebath album with a show Friday, June 6, at 12th & Porter.
They’ve got reason to celebrate. Produced by former Human Radio bandleader Ross Rice, the album, Big Notebook for Easy Piano, is one of the year’s brightest pop recordsan explosion of striking hooks and barbed wordplay, set off by a bouncy piano-based sound that veers from vaudeville to lush balladry. The album’s opener, “Shamrock,” a deceptively straightforward tune about a clover imperiled by a lawnmower, sets the tone for the rest of the record, as the song cuts in cinematic fashion between Timbs’ rollicking boogie-woogie piano and the oncoming blades of the monstrous chorus.
The ebullience of the music counteracts the occasional misanthropy of Timbs’ lyricswhich, in “Birdbrained,” describe human life as the world “of the upright and the uptight and the miserable.” But a melody as insanely catchy as “Tricky Fingers” can’t help but cuddle up to the listenereven as Timbs quavers the ironic refrain “It just gets better from here” like a malfunctioning mantra. Drummer Sam Baker describes the songs as “little movies, not little commercials for an album.”
The record’s title tweaks the reputation Timbs got in high school as a teenage prodigy. Growing up in Walterhill, a rural community outside Murfreesboro, Timbs gorged himself on his dad’s Elton John records. “I wasn’t that great at piano lessons,” Timbs says. But when a friend showed him how to play minor chords, he started learning rapidly. He asked his piano teacher, Colin York of These Are Houseplants, to teach him theory. By the time he was 18, he was playing on Music Row demo sessions for Kathy Mattea and Lionel Cartwright, and tapes of his dense, melodically fragmented songs were regarded with astonishment by older musicians.
Timbs had known most of his bandmates for years. Guitarist Brian Rogers and Timbs were both on the high-school French team but spoke only to argue about R.E.M. Drummer Sam Baker constitutes a one-man family tree of Murfreesboro music: He was the lead singer of the F Particles as well as the drummer for These Are Houseplants and the Blind Farmers. “Sam was my hero growing up,” Timbs says, looking away bashfully from the bemused Baker. “I grew up sneaking into his shows.” When Spongebath founder Richard Williams decided to record Timbs in late 1994, the band assembled in the studio with Ben Morton sitting in on bass. The lineup solidified as Fluid Ounces after a well-received show at the NEA Extravaganza in 1995.
Today, the band members share a house on Broad Street and finance their music for now with computer work and side careers as “pizza attachés.” But they say they have no plans to move away from Murfreesboro, which they say is just starting to flourish with new bands and new clubs. Asked how such a sleepy city can spawn such a vigorous music scene, Ben Morton says, “Record stores sell music everywhere. There’ll be a kid here who buys a record that changes his life, and it will make him want to create music of his own that will influence someone else.”
And without even a pause, Seth Timbs adds, “And one day I’ll be that kid.”
Fluid Ounces plays 8 p.m. Thursday at the Summer Lights Budweiser Stage.
Formed by members of Neena Foundry, Old Pike hails from the highly touted Bloomington, Ind., scene that produced El Niño and other up-and-coming bands. The quintet’s 1996 EP has a fuzzed-out low-fi sound reminiscent of early Green on Red, but the combination of Tim Jones’ desolate country-rock anthems and Mike Flynn’s eerie organ makes this a midnight ride worth taking through barren country. The group plays Saturday at Victor/Victoria’s
I'd say the hats are more BILLY JACK, but that fits into the whole hippy-cult…
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…