Here’s what you have to know about Columbus, Ohio: it’s small. There’s a handful of bars everyone goes to, a handful of shows where you literally see everyone you know, and very few people stick around for more than a year or two after they graduate from CCAD or OSU (or any one of the zillions of other colleges that call Columbus home). But because there’s an influx of creative, youthful innovators, Columbus is on top of its shit, in a way. It’s got a thriving arts district, foodie scene, and there have always been great bands (especially those with a lo-fi bent) based out of the heart-shaped state’s capital.
Recently, there’s been buzz about All Dogs, Sex Tide, Nervosas* and Connections. That last band features members of Times New Viking, who was the band with the buzz in “my time” – specifically, 2001-2008, when I lived in that humble Midwestern City. The fuzz rockers released a handful of purposely ill-recorded LPs, becoming progenitors of so-called “shit-gaze” alongside Psychedelic Horseshit, another band I saw in Columbus dives too many times to count. For whatever reason, I found myself thinking about TNV’s first record, Dig Yourself, and was shocked to realize that almost a decade had passed since its release. But that glorious distortion takes me back like it was yesterday.
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The only local bands I saw more often than TNV were Sweetheart (the Unwound love-letter featuring Ahmed Gallab, aka Sinkane, on drums) and Sword Heaven (a terrifying noise/performance project fronted by the guy who holds the world’s record for most hours hula-hooped). And maybe Lambsbread by default since Lambsbread opened for damn near everybody. I went to art school with TNV’s co-vocalists, Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy, but only knew them tangentially, through friends of friends. A mutual acquaintance of mine and Murphy’s for instance, is the reason I’ll never do Adderall again. And Elliott served me too-large shots every Sunday at Bourbon Street’s karaoke (I will never again come across a catalogue that encyclopedic). Once, at a DJ event in that same bar, he gave me a dream catcher made by a bum. And we both attended this Blue Cheer show in some weird office space in Grandview; he was making out with his then-girlfriend in the closet most of the time. When they broke up she’d go on to say that he’d been physically abusive toward her, but she lied about hooking up with my roommate years later and dated a guy** I had two weeks after we broke up, not to mention having a penchant, in general, for my sloppy seconds. I used to call her my nemesis (as opposed to my archenemy) for that reason, but now she’s married so I stopped caring. Plus I lived with her cousin for three years after I moved to NYC, when any remaining grudge I harbored was long past ridiculous.
Girls like her, as well as rumors and the like, are one of the main reasons I moved away; Columbus’s smallness got to me after a while. I always said I’d never sleep with more than one dude in a single band, and then three dudes I had slept with formed a band afterward (not based on the fact that they’d all fucked me, but still). Listening to Dig Yourself after I had not in a while, though, was a welcome vacation through time and distance. In particular, “Dance Walhalla” caught me in a web of awkward memory. Most everyone I knew lived in this shitty part of town East of campus that we referred to as “Washington Beach” for some reason, or no real reason at all. Just to the North, you had Clintonville, where I think we all wanted to live (most of us eventually moved there). It was stereotypically crunchy – as in, home to the only co-op, populated by lesbians – but also really elegant in a certain fairy-tale sort of way. While most of Columbus is flat, Clintonville is woodsy and has houses built into hillsides, most dramatically along Walhalla Street. My friends and I liked to cruise around down there after dark, exploring train tracks and drain pipes and supposedly haunted houses because we had nothing better to do. It’s not just the name-checking a location in the song’s title, but the restlessness of it in the shouted vocals, the dissatisfied crash of drums, and that line “They couldn’t talk about nothing / So they spoke of too tall buildings”. It feels as aimless as living in that place felt to me then, but it also romanticizes such mundane uncertainty. I’m not even, and never have been, sure if those are the actual words to the song. Follow that with the nostalgic one-two punch of “Indian Winter”‘s lackadaisical lyrics: “We were married to…. not a goddamn thing” and you don’t have to have lived anywhere near there to know what the sticky, confusingly incestuous scene felt like.
TNV’s ability to translate the devil-may-care, jaded experiences of youth – I mean, they didn’t even try to make the recording sound good – is a big part of why people latched onto Dig Yourself and that band in general. They put the record out on Siltbreeze, which felt like sort of a big deal, and followed it up with Present the Paisley Reich on that same label before signing to Matador, which really felt like a big deal. Two summers ago, I saw them play live for the last time. A guy I’d just started dating (who wasn’t even from Ohio!) invited me to see them open for The Clean at (le)Poisson Rouge. It felt almost like a weird joke that he had asked, and it was even weirder when I bumped into old Columbus friends I hadn’t expected to see at the show because they still live there and I don’t anymore. I only know a handful of people that do, these days. But when listening to Dig Yourself, that history is never far behind me – whether it’s the memory of famed toothless savant Don B (a local fixture) belting out Batman with every band who ever played a show in Columbus, or reminiscing on something as simple as a pointless night drive down a darkened street.
* an ex-boyfriend of mine fronts this band, which is a lot better than the trying-too-hard psych outfit he was in when we dated
** that ex-boyfriend[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]