Out of Sight

Actionslacks is a good band playing good songs. Simple as that.

"I mean, the band dynamic we have going on, personally, is by far the best that it's ever been. It's actually the first time that our band has been able to...Last night we had a meeting, and we could just sit around and talk shit for a couple of hours and not even talk about the band. And that's something that I don't think you can take for granted, because some bands are so dysfunctional. It's kinda like, 'Let's do this, do what we have to do, and then I don't wanna see you until the next time.' There was a point in our band when it was like that, and it's just really not a very healthy relationship. This one's a lot better, and we're all friends, which is cool."

Modie and Murray weren't around when Actionslacks recorded The Scene's Out of Sight; their parts were played by, among others, bassist Aaron Rubin of The Mr. T Experience and Samiam, bassist Jeff Palmer of the Mommyheads and Sunny Day Real Estate and singer-guitarist Chuck Lindo. But another one of Scanlin's new friends was there: J. Robbins, singer-guitarist for Jawbox and (now) Burning Airlines, and a producer who has recorded The Promise Ring, The Dismemberment Plan, Jets to Brazil and a slew of others. Robbins is all over The Scene's Out of Sight, adding guitar, vocals, piano and percussion to the disc, besides recording most of the songs. (Palmer and Pell Mell bassist Greg Freeman also recorded a handful of songs on The Scene's Out of Sight.)

The collaboration with Robbins began innocently enough, with Scanlin and Kelly sending Kim Coletta--who runs DeSoto Records and was in Jawbox with Robbins--a copy of One Word, not expecting too much. They did it "just for kicks," Scanlin says, "because we're such massive Jawbox fans. I sent her a copy of the album just, like, 'Oh yeah, I'll send it to one of our heroes. Why not?'" They weren't expecting Coletta to e-mail them soon after, saying she loved the album, saying she and former Jawbox guitarist Bill Barbot had taken a road trip and listened to One Word 30 times, saying she'd passed along the record to Robbins. "I totally thought it was a joke at first," he admits. "Because we just hold Jawbox in such high esteem. I think that band was so amazing."

Ready for action: Actionslacks is, from left, Marty Kelly, Ross Murray, Doug Modie and Tim Scanlin.
Ready for action: Actionslacks is, from left, Marty Kelly, Ross Murray, Doug Modie and Tim Scanlin.

Robbins and Scanlin struck up a casual friendship, crossing paths at shows, talking to each other every once in a while. Eventually, when Burning Airlines was playing in San Francisco and Actionslacks was opening for them, Scanlin asked Robbins if he'd consider producing the group's next album.

"No hesitation," Scanlin recalls. "He was like, 'Just tell me when and where you want to do it.' He's definitely one of my favorite musicians and also just one of my favorite people. In addition to being incredibly brilliant as a musician, he's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He's just such a sweetheart. It's kind of annoying, actually." He laughs. "It's like, 'You're so talented and you're such a nice guy. You should be a dick or something.' But he's just a really cool person."

Although Robbins flew to San Francisco to work with the band at Tiny Telephone studios, the band plans to head to Washington, D.C.--Robbins' hometown--to record with him at Inner Ear Studios, a recording environment Robbins "knows like the back of his hand," Scanlin says. "Everything he does there sounds awesome." Scanlin wants the next album to be less black-and-white, less quiet-loud-quiet, something different than he's done before. Texture, he says, will be the key word for the new album. "I want to explore that gray area between super-quiet and total ape-shit guitars," Scanlin explains.

But there is one problem standing in the way of Actionslacks and a new album: Drummer Marty Kelly isn't leaving the band, but he might be leaving the city. For good.

"His wife is getting her doctorate in art history, and she's looking for professor jobs all around the country, so there's a good chance that he's going to have to move to another city, which is going to kind of throw a wrench into things," Scanlin says. "So, you know, it looks like we might have to pull a Pavement thing, and trade tapes in the mail and get together for strategic rehearsals and stuff. But we're definitely committed to doing it. I mean, there's no question that we want to put out another record. It's just going to be a little bit more difficult. Although I'm kind of excited, because I'm really into the idea of, instead of writing songs and then flogging them for two years and then recording them, I'm really into the idea of writing them and then laying them down in the studio when they're still really fresh."

And he's already got another idea how to keep music fresh for him. It also solves the problem of how to continue as a band with one member living in a different city: Make it two members living in a different city.

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