An interview with The Ex-Bombers
By: Dennis M. Kelly
By: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Good day Scott and Keri and thank you both for taking the time out with me here today!
SW: My pleasure. Any time I can talk about making music and records is time well-spent.
DK: How are you both doing?
SW: Rather well, thanks for asking. I have Billy Mure’s “Supersonic Guitars”record on in the background so it’s hard not to be well.
DK: Good, glad to hear it! So, why don’t we start off with a brief introduction outside of what your biography states… Where did each of you begin your musical journey?
SW: It all started with a Guns N Roses 45 on a plastic turntable with I was seven and culminated when I spent the money I was saving in high school for a super 8mm movie camera on an electric guitar. At each of those moments, it was clear I was incapable of doing productive things that would result in financial benefit. Mix in years spent playing in basements around the Midwest and a refusal to stop buying records and I suppose that’s Act 1 of my musical autobiography.
KC: I have a wonderful memory of discovering my parents’ old records buried in a basement storage room and from that moment on I was pretty hooked on music. Mostly folk and then something really rock and roll like The Who.
DK: What drew you to your respective instruments?
SW: I played electric guitar in bands for about 11 years before The Ex-Bombers started, so there’s nothing inherently bass-centric about me. I played electric 12 string in our former band Pat Boone’s Farm, where we played jangly power pop like something off the Nuggets boxed set, so switching over to an 8-string bass didn’t seem like too far of a stretch. I never use pedals, so I needed something that took up space sonically and since we started just playing together without anyone else, I wanted bottom end. I’m hopelessly mediocre on piano/organ, so the only thing left is an octaved 8-string bass.
KC: Yeah it’s funny, I don’t think of Scott as a bass player. And I guess I don’t think of myself as a drummer. We both just like to play instruments and generally will learn anything we find interesting or required of us.
DK: Had either of you had any formal lessons?
SW: Nope. I just made it my mission to play with as many people as possible. It’s amazing the tricks we pick up from others.
KC: I did when I was younger, and I had an awesome vocal instructor that I did not appreciate at 17 but now at 27 I realize how fortunate that was.
DK: Would you recommend Keri that all musicians have at least some formal training early on as a foundation in their musical career? What was the most valuable lesson you found to be the most helpful?
KC: Oh gosh, I really wouldn’t. Because Scott is a much better musician than me and he’s completely self taught. And actually some of my knowledge in scales and chord progression was hinderance at times. Even vocally what I was trained for is not what I do now so it was a blessing and a curse.
DK: How did you each meet?
SW: We were both going to Illinois State University at the time and were both kind of hanging around the music scene.
KC: He’s being nice; I saw his band play at a coffeehouse and was a total nerd who knew that if I could somehow play in a band with this dude I would be cool. Years later I realized I’m the cool one and he’s the nerd.
DK: (laughs) Who founded Pat Boone’s Farm?
SW: Both of us. We had a mutual love of The Monkees and wanted to play songs like the ones that Michael Nesmeth wrote and decided to play a show in the house I was renting three weeks later. I should note that at this point Keri had never played the bass guitar in her life.
KC: True. All of it. I still love The Monkees.
DK: How long was Pat Boone’s Farm active and how did the band end?
SW: About four years, from 2006-2010. It ended when our drummer Nate Furstenau left to teach English in Thailand and ride a motor scooter around looking for adventure. We love Nate and decided that replacing him didn’t feel right, plus the band kind of ran its course for us. Keri and I were just done making music that wanted to be liked and we started working on the songs that would be The Ex-Bombers.
KC: It ended on a positive note at least. So many bands break up in anger but this one was more of a shoulder shrug. We are actually reuniting for one night only at the Cavetone 6 year anniversary party. So that’s awesome. Most people have not seen me play bass. It’s pretty hilarious.
DK: (laughs) Do I want to ask for details on that Keri?
KC: What can I say, I’m just all style and no substance.
DK: Well, that is good that there will be some more PBF to look forward to; will you record it for posterity sake?
SW: There’s been a few conversations about it, but it’s tough to put any money or time into a dead band, although there are a few songs from that period that should be on tape.
KC: I believe a small crew is shooting parts of the whole night and editing them together in a video package.
DK: When did you both decide to make your way to (near) the Windy City?
SW: 2011 when I took a job at Eastern Illinois University. I was born and raised in Bridgeview, IL, so I’ve always considered Illinois to be home.
KC: I was born in Illinois so I felt good about “returning home.” I was never very comfortable in Missouri.
DK: Not much happening out there, eh?
SW: Personally, I really liked the city of Columbia. I met some very dear friends in very good bands with whom I had some very good nights, and very rough mornings.
KC: I don’t know if I can say that, it’s just the things that were happening were not my scene.
DK: How many shows have you played so far as Pat Boone’s Farm and the Ex-Bombers?
SW: I’m weird so I keep this list of all of the shows I’ve played. Things like the date, venue, the other bands on it, so I can actually tell you exact numbers. Pat Boone’s Farm stopped at 119, The Ex-Bombers are doing show number 100 at The Empty Bottle on Thursday. See Keri, the list pays off once again!
KC: Scott has a Rainman-esque ability to remember every show he’s ever played.
DK: Absolutely nothing wrong with keeping track of details, I am the same way. When you came to form the Ex-Bombers, why did you choose drums and bass, verses your previous 12-string guitar (Scott) and bass (Keri), (instead of bringing on a new drummer to replace Nate)?
SW: As I mentioned before, we were just done writing songs that wanted to be liked. We were done being loud and trying to go out and grab the audience. Keri and I got along well musically as well as personally, and equally as important, we had the same idea about the band that we wanted to form, so as you can see, there was really no choice. As a two piece, I knew we could never “out loud” anyone, but we could certainly “out quiet” them, so an octaved 8 string Hagstrom bass without any effects and a small drum set let us do that. It lets the songs breathe. I think the logic was, if we kept playing the same instruments we would keep writing the same songs, and we were done with those songs.
DK: Do you think you’d ever add anyone else into the band at any time in the future?
SW: Nope. I am happy with how touring, recording, song writing, and absolutely everything else happens with this instrumentation as a two piece. Also, I am nowhere near done exploring this musical space.
KC: Plus, I have cooties! (laughs)
DK: (laughs) No, I’m sure you don’t… do you?? (laughs) The band was originally formed as a side band with the vision of creating the exact “polar-opposite” sound that Pat Boone’s Farm was known for. Since the formation, how has the vision for the band taken shape? What has changed and what has stayed the same?
SW: I’m not sure I thought of it as a side band, I just had zero expectations for it.
DK: Sorry, Keri mentioned it was kind of a side project on that episode of “This Man is Not My Father”… it is all Keri’s fault… (laughs)
KC: I certainly had no expectations of us going anywhere with it. Thus my definition of a side project.
SW: I wanted to write new songs that expressed where I was at in life at that moment and pulling from parts of my record collection outside of the usual suspects. The spirit of why we started is still definitely there, we’re just more comfortable in song-writing, performance, and recording. Four years in a band just makes you better at being in that band if that makes sense.
KC: For me, it’s a confidence thing. At 22 I was not a super confident person. At 27 I am more so and at 35 I hope to be even more so.
DK: Were you able to retain your former fan base? Or did you (in fact) lose them, but made new fans in the process?
SW: It was a strange transition. It was a pointed and purposeful departure, so a few people didn’t come with us, but to a lot of people’s credit, they gave it a while before they passed judgment and then some came back. We’re really an acquired taste, so I understand that. This band is a natural extension of who we are as people, and I think people identify with our idiosyncratic ways.
KC: I feel like it’s mostly new ones but that’s okay. I like Hall & Oates but did I follow Oates’ solo career? No, no I did not.
DK: Eh, they will come around, just give them time. The band’s approach is a unique one, in that in a world of digital, the Ex-Bombers and other label-mates are making vinyl only releases. While I know vinyl has been making a big comeback, it still seems unusual in a digital age. Now, I grew up in the vinyl days; had tons of records and always enjoyed looking at the album artwork and liner notes, but CDs killed vinyl for me and digital killed CDs for me. From my perspective, there is nothing better than digital. I love the sound quality, portability of being able to play my music on my computer, tablet or phone and, most importantly, have backups. Vinyl was always frustrating to me with scratches and skips and the clicks, I just don’t see why people would want to go back to those days. Why are so many people not only keeping vinyl alive, but bringing it back en-force?
SW: Through the conversations I’ve had, it the return to making music an important part of life. When it’s always on as an infinite playlist on every device in every environment through questionable playback mechanisms, it’s just there. Music should be more than just there. It’s important to own music instead of streaming it and for the music to sound good loud, and records recorded on tape sound amazing when they’re loud. It’s important to hear the songs in the manner that the artist intended. I would argue that convenience, portability, and price are excellent reasons to eat a hamburger.
KC: I can sum it up for you in one movie reference. In the movie, Almost Famous when the sister leaves home she leaves all her records to her little brother and they show him simply wearing headphones and listening to the music. He’s not doing anything else. He’s just listening. Think about how little you actually do that anymore. Music is always available, it’s always on. But how often is just the act of listening the only thing you are doing? When you buy an Ex-Bombers records we are forcing you to listen to it.
DK: Oh yeah, [that] movie… never saw it (laughs), actually, I didn’t see it, but I (of course) totally understand what you mean. I am guilty of that all the time, always doing something while listening and yes, it is incredibly rare for me to just sit and listen anymore. I may work with no music, but rarely (these days) do I listen and absorb the music like I once did. One point that I could see about going all vinyl with album releases would be with established bands where a solid fan base is buying music readily, but by going vinyl all the way, aren’t you, in fact cutting yourselves off from potential sales and new fans by not getting your music out there?
SW: Let me preface this by saying that I love to argue. My dad told me I should be a lawyer, but I really like idea sparring so permit me to be a bit antagonistic while I reassure that your position is a valid one and all of your questions are really solid. “Out there” is a phrase I hear a lot. It’s more of a cultural myth than anything. This assumes that music has some sort of magic transformative power that will immediately inject the listener with some fan transformation serum and then that individual supports the musician in all endeavors. I saw a study where there are roughly 5 million bands in the United States. Let’s figure that they release 5 songs a year, a conservative estimate. That’s 25 million songs a year released “out there.” After a decade, that’s 250 million songs, and 40 years (which is only back to 1975) makes there a billion songs floating around “out there.” Why bother to take one in a billion odds? The Internet game is over. I am hedging my bets that music will return to people sharing music, physical actual music. Not links, not YouTube videos, but people actually enriching their relationships to others by sharing music. Whether by listening to a record with others in a shared space, which vinyl and cassette enthusiasts do frequently, making mix tapes, or even making their own bootleg copies of records onto different media. All of my favorite music took me a little while to like, I would think that most of us work that way.
DK: To make up for the lack of digital music, do you think you will release videos or more performance videos that fans can share and people can learn more about you that way?
SW: No, I don’t believe we will. Our label does promotional videos, but they’re more for booking and press. It’s an audiovisual representation of a band’s complete aesthetic. When someone else takes a video of us, that’s fine. When someone transfers our record onto a tape and mails it to a friend, that’s fine as well. There’s something to be said about not being absolutely and totally available.
KC: I think there is this myth that we only want our music on the sacred vinyl record. That’s actually not true. We want you to buy a record, sure, but we are happy when you rip it to your computer and send it to your friends in Brazil. We personally just don’t want to record, mix, and release digitally. If Mr. Moneybags knocks on my door and will pay for me to do all those things I’m happy to do them. This was never a morality/principals issue for me.
DK: Ahh, I gotcha! I mean, at my age (yes, I’m old…lol), you would think I’d be on the vinyl side of the argument, having enjoyed and appreciated the value of what an “album” meant, once it was released. But I think one thing that has really made it hard (for me) is the sheer amount of music that pours out on the world on a daily basis. I mean, I think that is one of the main reasons why any band has a hard time these days; just getting themselves heard by anyone over every other band, but to then cut yourselves off from the benefits of digital music seems it would make it that much harder. You were most thorough in providing the following information on cultural and economic trends:
“The group’s vinyl-only release represents a radical culmination of some prevailing cultural and economic trends. The music industry has drastically shifted toward music without physical referent as CD sales continue to decline. According to RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), over the previous decade, CD sales have decreased from 753 million to 241 million. While vinyl sales cannot compare to their 344 million unit peak in 1977, record sales currently make up 2% of the annual total sales of the record industry (about five million units) up from its 1993 low of 300,000. This of course excludes the used market as well as units sold outside of SoundScan (a common practice in independent distribution and retail). According to ICM (Independent Communications and Marketing) the 18-24 age group constitutes the largest consumers of vinyl records, the most malleable age for audience habits over a lifetime.
This 2% foothold of vinyl pales in comparison to the 59% share of digital-only (ex: iTunes) or even the 15% that digital music streaming (ex: Pandora) comprises according to the March 26, 2013 Billboard article by Glenn Peoples. Many artists have sought to reap the best of both worlds by offering digital downloads with vinyl purchases. However, The Ex-Bombers, as well as all current Cavetone Records artists, provide vinyl as the only manner by which listeners can experience their music.”
Where do the Ex-Bombers and other artists on the Cavetone Record label roster fit into this trend? Will there be enough of a growing trend to fully support your careers?
SW: I guess the question I would pose is, returning to my one in a billion argument, what are the tangible and likely benefits of releasing music digitally for a lower mid-level band like us? If my record makes it into your hands, you will spend time with it. Additionally, have you seen the royalty rates for online streaming services? They’re brutal. When you hand a Cavetone band $12 for a full length LP or $5 for a 7 inch, they keep that entire amount.
DK: True enough. What sort of distribution channels besides internet sales are in place and what in planned down the line?
SW: Cavetone Records is stocked in independent record stores in five states, and multiple cities in many of those states. Additionally, we have a couple smaller distro deals, including Mooster Records out of Chicago. The number one place to sell records is at a live performance, and this our main avenue of connecting with people and selling records. There’s something very human and enjoyable about someone seeing the show, and then talking with us afterwards to buy a record. When we return to that city, we see these people return as allies instead of fans. I play in a band because I love to play music and I truly enjoy meeting musicians and music nerds like myself.
KC: It’s why we play out so much. To sell records. If we never left Illinois we would be stuck with many, many copies that would eventually be used as coasters.
DK: (laughs) You’re funny Keri! Of course, we’ll be positive here and believe that you’ll never see a day like that happening, right? Your promotional videos are also most unique, the most recent of which for your anti-single “Kissing Hands/Shaking Babies.” How has the reaction to them been and I expect there will be more?
SW: I think there will.
DK: Good, glad to hear it! You should try getting more people involved with them in some way, turn it into a contest where people have to identify certain items in the videos, or something like that for a free album, or something like that anyway, but I’m rambling, sorry.
SW: That kid who spent all his super 8mm camera money on an electric guitar still enjoys the possibilities of video. The reaction is the desired one, to promote intrigue about the band while not giving it all away. The best things in life leave us wanting more. As per the contest, I’ve thought about that, where people photograph or shoot video of themselves listening to our album in the most swanky manner possible and the swankiest gets a free 7 inch.
KC: The videos are fun. They are mostly a way for the Cavetone interns (or Caveterns) to learn about video and to be able to say I helped with this project.
DK: How were the sales on it?
SW: The band on the other side of the split broke up less than 30 days after its release and it cannot be played on the radio so it’s the epitome of an anti-single, but they’ve been rather solid. We hand numbered our 7 inches, and I mailed one the other day. I believe it was #161.
KC: Personally I don’t like singles. I had to be talked into doing this one and to have the other band break up was just solidification of never doing another one. Full length albums from here on out!
DK: Tell me more about Cavetone Records and your analog studio…
SW: It is 100% analog madness. The label only does vinyl and the studio only records to tape and then mixes to it. Cavetone is strangely one of the last labels working with all analog source material to do vinyl, which ensures that the records sound good when played back loud. As for the music, if you consider The Troggs pop music, you might like the Cavetone catalog.
KC: It smells like old wood and lemon bars.
DK: Sounds very interesting Scott. Keri, uh, what?
SW: It actually does smell that way.
KC: No really! We had an amazing local guy make the custom wood diffuser panels and he used reclaimed wood for it so it’s got this amazing earthy smell. The lemon is because I bake lemon bars easily once a week…
DK: Have you observed the growth you have been wanting for it all these years?
SW: Cavetone is in year six of legitimate, organized existence. There is definite growth, it’s steady and sustainable growth too. The goals remain the same to put out good records, work on making music communities better (for example, in Charleston, Free Music Friday is a free monthly original music showcase), and make long term relationships with people we enjoy working with. We just get to do a bit more of those things these days than when we started.
KC: Cavetone has definitely shown slow and steady growth. We find, like most things in life, it gets bigger the more time we put into it.
DK: Are you actively looking for more artists for the label?
SW: We are always open to like-minded individuals who support what we are doing and who wish to be doing the same. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship where the label helps to grow the band and the band helps to grow the label. In this mutually beneficial relationship, both parties need to understand that good things happen through hard work and perseverance. We will get further together than apart.
KC: “If you build it, they will come.”
DK: I like that philosophy Scott and encourage the same with what we do with Chicago Music Guide. Do the bands on the label perform together?
SW: As frequently as we can. I like all of the other active bands on the label. They’re good people who make good music.
KC: It’s great when things work out that way but it’s difficult when the other bands are 3-4 hours away.
DK: Tell me more about the Top of the Roc shows and how bands can get involved…
SW: Free Music Friday is an event showcasing 4 bands once a month without cover charge. I started it because live music is important, and free live music promotes people giving new bands a chance. If local, I will always find a slot for you as long as you can get together 20 minutes of music that you like.
KC: I have to gush about Scott here a bit. He really is the one who pushed and kept that going through adversity. He is the reason some bands have formed and keep playing because he encourages everyone he’s ever met to play music. Not just play music, but also play music for an audience.
DK: That is great Scott, we should really get some more promotion happening for you with that, let’s make it a bigger event for sure! Where do you see the evolution of music (in general) going over the next 10-20 years?
SW: The sounds of music, I’m not sure. I would guess increasing fragmentation. It seems like there is always some type of resurgence or recombination of a past era. I wonder if the lifespan of bands will decrease as well. I read this article encouraging people only to release 5 songs E.P.s instead of complete albums and release these frequently. I suppose it would be the increased Twitterization of things.
KC: Hopefully all music will start to sound like Soft Cell and Thomas Dolby.
DK: (laughs) How do you see the industry evolving in those same years? More independent or less independent?
SW: If we look at it historically, the last time the music industry was really independent was the mid 60s where startup labels could send songs to independent radio stations and have regional hits. I’m not sure of what independence entails anymore.
KC: Not to be the pessimist here but when radio stations don’t have the capacity to play vinyl/tapes/CD’s anymore, indie music has died. When radio stations replaced DJs with computer playlists, indie music died.
DK: How do you feel the internet will affect the industry?
SW: The best predictor of a medium’s adoption is convenience and low cost. I predict a day where people will get paid fractions of a cent for streaming new music. At that point, music is actually worth less than nothing, which is a crazy thought.
KC: Or what’s actually happening now. Bands are paying to have their songs streamed on Pandora. Like when record companies paid DJs to spin certain 45s.
DK: Now moving on to your upcoming show at the Empty Bottle on March 6th, what can you tell me about it?
SW: I can tell you that the bill is amazing, the venue is amazing, and the night will be amazing. The bill is comprised entirely of two-piece bands, which should be really interesting, because none of us sound alike at all. The Pack A.D. are old friends who are touring from Vancouver, and if there is any justice in this world, they will blow up and become stupidly successful because they are genuinely good people who make genuinely good music. They are also surprisingly good at Wheel of Fortune for 8-bit Nintendo. Nonnie Parry is a Chicago treasure, and then there’s us, who I like as well. Also, The Empty Bottle is a great place to see a show as well, so I couldn’t come up with a more ideal set of circumstances to do show #100.
KC: I want to make a 100 show t -shirt! I don’t know what more I could say, awesome bands, awesome venue. Should be better then Crucial Taunt at the Gasworks!
DK: Party on Keri! What do you have in store for the show? How long will you be playing for?
SW: A 45 minute set. Keri is calling it a mega set because we had been playing our new album in its entirety, but since people in Chicago have our first release, we’re doing things off “The Tightwire” as well that night.
KC: Super Awesome Mega Set. To be exact.
DK: Definitely NOT A SHOW TO BE MISSED then, right? I gather you’ll have plenty of vinyl for people to pick up at the show?
SW: Definitely. All Cavetone bands actually tour with their releases, as well as those of their label mates.
KC: People buying past records pays for future records, so if you’d like to hear our follow up LP…
DK: Speaking of picking up, are there any stores there are selling your albums where people can buy them?
SW: In the Chicagoland area, it’s available at Dave’s Records, and Oak Park Records. They are both very nice stores.
KC: And of course our Square store carries all things Cavetone.
DK: Do you have any other merchandise yet that people will be able to pick up at your show?
SW: Shirts, shot glasses, buttons, and record totes. I’m sure there’s other miscellaneous things as well.
KC: The record totes are my favorite.
DK: What do you have lined up after this show and for the remainder of 2014?
SW: This show is part of a three date jaunt where we go to Indianapolis the following night to play The Melody Inn with our amazing label mates The Down-Fi and then we’re in Muncie, IN the following night at Be Here Now. Muncie is genuinely an awesome place. Thee Cavetone Records 6 Year Anniversary Spectacular happens on the 21st here in Charleston and features every active Cavetone band. That should be an evening to remember.
KC: I feel like I’m giving the city of Charleston a gift that night. The gift of awesome.
DK: AWESOME! Well, Keri and Scott, I would like to thank you both for taking the time with me again and with you both the absolute best in all that you do. Thanks so much again!
SW: Thanks for the time Dennis. These were really well-researched questions and I truly do appreciate you taking the time to talk and all that you do for the Chicago music scene.
KC: If I meet you in person I will give you a sweaty hug.
DK: You’re most welcome Scott! It is what I do and most certainly, what I truly enjoy doing, thanks! Thanks also Keri, nothing says thanks more than a sweaty hug! I’ll look forward to it!
The Ex-Bombers play dirtbag spy jazz or beatnik punk, depending on who describes it. Both descriptors hint at the pair’s decidedly avant and seedy approach to making pop music.
The duo started in 2010 in Columbia, MO before moving to their current residence in Charleston, IL (home of Eastern Illinois University). Keri Cousins provides the rhythm for the pair on a small Rogers drumset as well as her vocals. Scott Walus plays a weathered Hagstrom 8-string bass (EADG octaves) and shares vocals. They play dark but catchy songs using only these instruments, without distortion or digital trickery.
Their songs reflect the awkward years of adulthood when the hangovers last two days instead of just one. This results in an uneasy but provocative alliance between the flippant sounds of early Velvet Underground/Sonic Youth and the content and style of Soft Cell or Girls Against Boys.
In 2012, The Ex-Bombers released their full-length debut album “The Tightwire” on Cavetone Records. The album was recorded entirely on open reel tape and was released exclusively on vinyl without digital counterpart. The record has 10 songs and 3 interludes that combine to tell a 31 minute sonic narrative. In October 2013, they released an anti-single as part of a 7 inch split.
The Ex-Bombers enjoy playing songs from these records, meeting interesting people, drinking absinthe, and lurking through antique malls (preferably all in the same day). For booking, press, rights, merchandise, and general correspondence, please contact email@example.com