Local Bands Keep Breaking Up. What Gives?

In the liner notes to his band Big Black's final studio album, legendary guitarist/producer/journalist Steve Albini wrote, "...breaking up is an idea that has occurred to far too few groups. Sometimes the wrong ones."

And with the glut of local bands calling it quits these days—Oso Closo, The Cut*Off, Odis, 100 Damned Guns, Hendrick, The Slack and Airline all in the last month alone—fans are left to ponder their collective demise, as well as the question of whether or not these breakups were necessarily all that "wrong."

First, one must consider the bands themselves. While all had pretty nice local followings, none had really made much of a splash nationally and, regardless of whether family situations or simply growing older is the biggest culprit, none of the bands in question seemed poised to do so in their current forms.

"We're all married now, have kids, mortgages, etc.," says bassist Chad Sones of The Cut*Off. "Things just really slowed down. If your heart's not into your music anymore, then you're really just a cover band."

The dilemma of being a working musician versus considering yourself a serious artist is one that most local musicians eventually end up facing. Their eventual decision notwithstanding, the main ingredient for the success and ultimately the longevity of any band depends largely on how enjoyable its members find playing music together. That's a sentiment former Oso Closo drummer Ryan Jacobi shares.

"I think the main goal of playing music is to have fun," Jacobi says. "And, if that's not the case anymore, then what's the point?"

So even though it shouldn't be all that surprising that so many local acts have called it quits of late, it is still a bit concerning—especially considering the fact that the seven latest casualties have all been together for a few years now. It becomes even more so when taking into account accomplishments of the recently departed.

Oso Closo took part in a marketing campaign with Chipotle, winning a competition that saw a burrito named after the band placed on local menus. Meanwhile, Odis managed to move 6,000 copies of their album Feel, and The Cut*Off successfully toured the country with bands like the Old 97's.

"I think a lot of local bands just quit in general," Sones says. "It would always drive me crazy when a local act would get some steam, then just quit for some petty reason. There are way too many egos in this business, while, in reality, it's just a hobby for most of us and shouldn't be taken so seriously."

This isn't to say that the recent trend of breakups is anything more than a big set of coincidences rather than evidence of some evil outside force at work.

"As for the recent trend, I'm really not sure," Sones says. "It's always a shame to see bands that I like call it quits. I hope some people liked us, but don't want them to be sad."

If anything, the recent excess of band breakups should be looked upon as a point of optimism, one that will provide a much needed jolt to the somewhat stagnating local scene. In any case, keeping track of the new projects that are able to rise from the ashes should prove to be interesting at the very least.

"I can only speak for myself," Cut*Off frontman Kyle Barnhill says, "But I kept feeling it was time to reshuffle the deck. There are so many great musicians locally. Maybe it's time for a shake up. I think we're on the verge of some great new groups forming in the aftermath of all the breakups, and it should be an interesting time in the local scene."

One such group that has been quick to reassemble is the newly-formed Foe Destroyer—which consists of the four remaining Oso Closo members sans former frontman Adrian Hulet—who say they are putting the finishing touches on a new four-song EP.

But don't expect the new recordings to be throwaway tracks hastily written in the month since Oso announced they were calling it quits.

"We tried playing some of these new tunes with Oso, but it just wasn't working," Jacobi says.

More important, however, is the fact that the band isn't trying to continue on the same musical path with a personnel variation. Rather, Foe Destroyer is simply aiming to carve out a faster, catchier musical niche than keeping Oso Closo around past its prime would have allowed.

Barnhill and Sones from the Cut*Off have also indicated that they each plan on remaining active in the local music scene.

"I plan on forming a new group ASAP [and] using the six songs we have [already] recorded as a launching pad," Barnhill says.

Odis vocalist Larry Gayao shared a similar feeling.

"Personally, after the final show in May, I plan to take a short break and recharge," Gayao says. "However, I will continue to write new songs and see where that takes me. Whether or not that is a new band or solo project, who knows?"

As for the 100 Damned Guns folks, various members have indicated that they plan on starting several new projects that will involve forming an alt-bluegrass group, a surf-rock band and even writing classical music. "[Guitarist] Judd [Pemberton] is going to learn to play the piano, and is planning to write classical music and bore people to tears," 100 Damned Guns mandolin player Dave Sherrill says with a laugh.

In the aftermath of so many breakups in the past month, it may be easy to focus on the negative. But it seems the people behind the breakups aren't too concerned. Quite the opposite, actually: They each think that this sets the stage for a beautiful time filled with new beginnings.

Plus, there's something to be said for being able to go out on one's own terms.

As for not ever achieving superstardom? Barnhill perhaps speaks for all parties involved.

"Anything we've accomplished is more than anything we ever expected or asked for," he says. "For [a group of local guys], I think we did pretty well."

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Cory Graves

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