Thursday, November 14, 2013

Musical Geekery: The Best Band You've Never Heard Of

I'm going to apologize in advance, for a couple of things. First, I'm wordy as hell, so if you have a short attention span and find yourself typing TL;DR more than once a day, just skip to the audio/video shizz in the post. Second, I'm sad as I write this, because I'm going to tell you about a band that has been impressively awesome for a long time, but I've only known that fact for about a month. And I had the nerve to call myself a weird music aficionado. Still reading? Groovy! Ahem...

Strap on your seat belts folks. This car travels at the speed of light. 186,282 miles per second, to be precise. Make way for comets, it's 


OK, not the most amazing name for a band, especially one whose sonic vibrations are capable of blowing minds all day and all night. But, when you start a band in high school, you inevitably want to name it the most punk rock, nasty thing ever, right? No one likes soap scum. Especially moms. Tub Ring is music your mom will hate! Not really. If your mom is smart and has decent taste in music, she'll love it. What started out as a poppy ska infused punk band with clever yet goofy lyrics and fun tempo changes morphed into a genre bending sonic joyride with thinking person's lyrics. And that is putting it lightly, friends. LIGHTLY.

Take a moment to ponder the music you listen to. How much of it is about emotions? Love, hate, jealousy, the flotsam and jetsam of being a human being. Most of it, right? So maybe you're like me, and have intentionally looked for music that spoke to something else in you with it's lyrics. My love for Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart stem from an appreciation of humor and nonsense in music. In the case of my They Might Be Giants fandom, it was learning something new, and gaining new perspectives. I loved Faith No More for having something deeper than typical rock songs of it's era. Seriously, who at that time used the word "omniscient" in their lyrics besides Mike Patton? And then I loved Mr. Bungle for being something even deeper than that - so deep that I didn't even begin to understand what some of the songs were about until I was older. While I appreciate their sound, and I enjoy the genre hopping weirdness of it all, I never felt like Mr. Bungle was trying to do anything more than fuck with my head. They were like a gleeful yet evil child with wisdom so far beyond it's years that it would be bored if it wasn't incessantly fucking with your mind and purposely trying to give you nightmares. (in related news, I consider Fantomas to be Mr. Bungle's creepy uncle.)

What does this have to do with Tub Ring? They have a similarity to all of the above, and then some. Almost no genre remains ignored, yet they sound mostly heavy and upbeat. Their influences clearly come from the realm of underground and independent rock music, with a little bit of electronica thrown in the mix. Lyrically, the song concepts are almost never about commonplace musical themes like human emotions -  a robot theme weaves it's way through the albums they released between 2001-2007, (and even makes an amusing cameo in their brilliant cover of the Johnny Cash classic "One Piece At A Time.") and that's only the beginning. Mathematics, science, apocalypse, space travel, the last thoughts of a dying soldier, crazed religious suicide cults, paranoia, utopia, receiving more time to ponder your life at the time of your death by driving as fast as possible, and vikings are only a small example of the concepts their repertoire is made from. The albums they released in the 2000's have all name dropped theories about the search for extraterrestrial life. In the interest of cutting my word count, I'll provide you with the respective Wiki pages for each of the theories, in case you wanna get edumacated.

Drake Equation (album released 2001)

Fermi Paradox (album released 2002)

Zoo Hypothesis (album released 2004)

The Great Filter (album released 2007)

I remain unsure as to whether 2010's Secret Handshakes follows this theme, but  the title conjures images in my mind of Freemasons and secret societies.

The demos that Tub Ring released before 2001 are kinda goofy and funny, (a prime example being "Breakdancing My Way Back Into Your Heart", wherein the protagonist of the lyrical story tries different ways to win back his ex, fails, and decides that if he learns how to breakdance and do it well, she'll take him back.) but they were also recorded when they were teenagers/20 somethings. That considered, it was evident early on that these guys were clever and inventive with their music. Despite the similarities to their influences, they very much stand on their own feet and forge a sound that can and will appeal to the weirdo and the nerd in you. Listening to those demos reminds me of all my skater pals in high school who were also cuckoo about Faith No More and Mr. Bungle ( a lot of them because I wouldn't STFU about them between 1989 and 1995...) Some of them had bands that made wacky ska punk songs, and we would all go dance at their shows. They all went off and did their own things in the arts, but this group of dudes in Chicago called Tub Ring kept writing, and recording, and playing shows. They effectively grew up, started observing the universe with a bigger telescope, and decided to report back their findings to the underground punk scene.

When I first heard Tub Ring, it was 2009. I was prepared to find something to dislike because the person playing them for me had insulted a few of my favorite musicians already, so out of spite, it took me all of one listen to some of 2001's Drake Equation (coincidentally produced by Trey Spruance) to come to the conclusion that my ears didn't need or want a Bungle Junior, and I banished his CD from my boombox. I didn't listen to anything else. Never even thought about it, really. The guy who introduced me to them became a permanent fixture in my life, so 4 years later, he played them for me again. And this time, he went all over their discography and I listened without spite or expectation. And I've been listening every day since. There's been a couple of times where I forced myself to listen to other playlists of music I like, and I still had Tub Ring forcibly taking over the decks that belong to the DJ in my brain. What does it mean? I haven't been this into a band in a long, long time. Imagine all of my dismay, when I decide to Google them to learn more, and there just isn't all that much out there. No fan forums. No official web site. A handful of videos on YouTube. One online store selling merch at a very discounted rate. I'm under the impression that they're taking a vacation - and who could blame them? They've been busting their asses and their wallets for years on the road. 

 I have a ton of respect for their DIY aesthetic, and was happy to discover that they aren't too busy or snotty to communicate with their fans. While digging for more info, I discovered that October 31st was the 21st anniversary of the first show they played. I commented to them that I hoped someone took them out to celebrate. Apparently, no one did. How did this happen, people? How did I not only miss this band completely in their most active years, but how did you, too? They were even on MTV at one point, which may possibly be how a small chunk of their fan base came to exist - but MTV at that time was already deep into the snowball of being less and less about music and more about teen moms, Snooki, and "real life". I have incredible admiration for Tub Ring, because as hard as they worked putting themselves out there, they remain well loved only in the underground. They never sold out to a major label or got national radio airplay, or played huge stadiums. So they stayed true to the punk roots that they began with. I respect that immensely, but at the same time, in a world where the majority of what is popular in music for the last two decades has been vapid, mind numbing garbage more about emotionless sex and partying than anything else, it saddens me deeply that an intelligent, revolutionary rock band like Tub Ring hasn't had much of a spot in the limelight. Hell, they haven't even been exposed to many people who would love them. I'm still baffled as to why I never heard of them before 2009, and kicking myself for waiting till now to be open minded enough to listen. So I guess that's why I'm writing this. I'm lost in wonder at how a band that is this good, and who worked tirelessly for two decades has less than 4000 likes on their Facebook page, and almost no activity on the page in the last year. Their most recent album was released in 2010, a small tour followed, and then their web site disappeared, the founding members live in different parts of the country and are working on other projects, and time, the cruel mistress, is piling new information and sounds and art right on top of them. I don't know why their music has gone largely unheard, but it deserves exposure.  I don't want to live in a world where music like this goes ignored, so I must do my small part to open some new ears to this awesomeness. I don't have much of a following myself, but I always feel compelled to show appreciation when art of any kind takes me by the shoulders and shakes me like this. The DJ in my brain is never wrong, and he has been intent on playing these guys whether I want to listen or not. 

I have no delusions that I will ever get to experience this phenomenon live - their relentless days of touring non stop seem to have come to a close, and who could blame them? Being in a touring band requires an enormous amount of sacrifice, time, and money. That being said, I do hope that the founding members of the band continue to maintain their friendship and musical collaboration. I know they have done a few projects, (Super 8 Bit Brothers, 3-2-1 Activate) and they're all worth listening to - but Tub Ring is something very rare and special. Dammit, guys! We missed out on some amazing shows, fellow noobs. Those of you who were there, cherish those memories, because y'all were lucky.

Dig deeper:

Rob Kleiner

Tub Ring (tub_ring) on Twitter

Tub Ring on Facebook

Tub Ring at

Tub Ring merch from Omega Order

Tub Ring on YouTube