'...Johndus's response to being told that Masturbational is spelt with an O."
It seems so often these days that all I want to do is burn things to the ground... This is not the confession of a pyromaniac but rather the resignation of a former believer who is convinced that, in so many aspects of life, it'd better if we just started over. However, occasionally something will come along that breathes life into my ever-dwindling hope. Bernie certainly did that for me in the realm of politics, Banksy has long since revitalized my belief in the possibilities of the visual arts, and, in the world of rock, I recently discovered a local secret here in Seattle which, if there's anything right with the music scene, won't remain a secret for much longer. In a time where rock seems to be sliding on to the popularity back-burner I am happy to report that the scene remains alive and well in Seattle, and at the core of this local rock scene resides the super group Ten Miles Wide. Ten Miles Wide has inspired me. After suffering through eight musically, bleak years of hipster drudge in NYC rock venues where true talent so often takes a back seat to hype, it’s refreshing to hear sincere, non-ironic music played for audiences who are there to listen rather than be seen. Ten Miles Wide seems like a natural progression of the Grunge movement, as if it had continued to grow and change over the last two decades, morphing into a new sound rooted in familiar soil. Raw and sincere but also accessible, their most recent album, The Gross (released July 16th to packed house of over five hundred eager fans), is catchy without being guilty of pandering. While possessing the power of a primal rage it is also clean and composed. To quote a lyric from Woodhead, my favorite local band back in NYC, "You don’t know the difference between a symphony or a song"… Ten Miles Wide does, crafting compositions with multiple moving parts and engaging time signature changes that challenge the ear, avoiding the redundancy that so frequently plagues our pop stations.
The Gross has a spectacular breadth of styles, reminiscent of The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, as one track will be pure, heavy-hitting, all-encompassing metal while the next will pare down to just a guitar and vocals. The title track, "The Gross", even has elements of shoegaze at play with a waltzy time signature and bittersweet vocals that could inspire one to look down to the ground and sway back and forth with the dark dream the melody invokes.
Front man, John Beckman (a.k.a. Johndus, a clever nickname he acquired due to a yellowing on his fingers from smoking rolled cigarettes), has a vocal range that compliments and helps establish this wide array, possessing a legitimate growl that carries a righteous anger with an undertow of vulnerability. It is the guttural howl of one aware of dark realities that still possesses the sensitivity that yearns for something better, closer to the promised ideal. Like a wounded animal, Johndus thrashes between moments of tearful pain and threatened violence. Will Andrews provides the backbone and ribcage for Johndus’s throbbing heart, finding an amazing balance between the accessible way his drum lines strike the ear and their actual complexity. Will is the one responsible for the band’s penchant for unusual time signatures and their frequent changes, working in tandem with bassist Ryan Thornes to reign a clear love for prog rock into the tighter perimeters of the album’s style. Jake Carden joins the band as its most recent member providing precision guitar riffs and a background of more formal training, which promises to provide the band with an even wider array of musical weapons in their arsenal.
The Gross is the first album released under the name Ten Miles Wide as the band was previously known as The Mothership, a name which they hesitantly abandoned after a group with a similar name appeared and confusion ensued. Taking the higher road, The Mothership decided to take the name of their first album as their new moniker, and so was born Ten Miles Wide. The band’s previous manifestation also included founding member Paul Fraser, who has since moved on to other projects, and while all remain good friends, with the loss of Paul and addition of Jake, it seems a new name was in order. Prior even to The Mothership the remaining founding members were all in other projects with their own passionate followings before they began to engage in poaching one another to form their future super group.
While researching the history of this musical force of nature, I encountered numerous fans and friends who were eager to share with me their thoughts about Ten Miles Wide. Mandy Varona is a court reporter who discovered The Mothership through her son, Martin. She began our interview by dictating her son’s thoughts when we met, "…Instrumentally flawless, carrying that raw rock -- that rock ’n’ roll sound that riles up the crowd while also paying attention to the subtleties and details that define their unique sound as a band. A band that carries the soundtrack of Seattle… Johndus’s vocals are both melodic and fierce on the mic… Will is on fire, playing like a demon but he’s able to listen to everyone around him and keep a tight sound."
Mandy first caught a TMW performance at Tractor Tavern and recalls an out-of-body experience, after which she proceeded to listen to their first album (titled Ten Miles Wide… oh yes, the confusion is rich) non-stop for the next six months… this is an experience common among their fans as I have since learned. Commenting on the band’s inter-generational appeal, Mandy mused, "One thing that’s awesome about this band is… my son really loves them too, so it’s something that we share. Like a serious, intense love and appreciation for this band… makes it really personal for me."
Intisaar Jubran, local musician and front woman of the up and coming alternative rock trio Intisaar says, "It’s promising to me that someone like Ten Miles Wide can drum up so much of a stir using a form of music that some would say is archaic or some people have said ‘Rock is dead’… they’re revitalizing it in a way that is fresh and relevant. People care whether they make it or not. Whether they’re trying to be relevant or not, people care." Intisaar recently returned from a tour where Johndus joined them, playing a solo set as their opening act.
The boys from TMW not only reveal in creating inspiring music, but also actively promote acts which have inspired them, as I learned from friend and fellow musician Drew Shreve who related, "They’re very musician’s musicians... John relentlessly promotes bands he finds and loves and will make a point of having them open and getting them exposure to a larger audience." Drew shed light on their central love for music as he fondly recalled the years he was a part of The Mothership House in Shoreline, where roommates and friends of roommates continually cycled through, jamming in the band room and engaging in other Bacchanalian rites, "…when you’re roommates you’re around each other every day and one thing we would do, almost on a daily basis, was turn the TV off and just… somebody’d start puttin’ on music. Like music discovery mode… We’d go buy a twelve pack, we’d sit around, everyone’s drinking a couple beers and we’re just listening to a record as a group, hanging out... They’re always looking to find something new -- especially underground and local stuff." Drew is also in a side project with Johndus and having been an intimate part of their working process offered these insights, "Ryan is so good at studying [Will’s] accents and really digging in so that Will can come through and act like this land scape over it… and then John is very minimalistic with his guitar playing, but he uses effects in a way that most people don’t. He’s one of the few effect-based guitar players that I really appreciate… very simple, elegant effects… its just so refreshing to see people -- guitarists in particular, who just give a song what it needs." He rounded up our interview by saying, "They are one hundred percent unapologetically themselves, as people and as musicians and I really feel like if more artists and more people were that way we would solve our decaying art that we have in this world."
I finally caught up with Johndus and Will in the green room at Barboza as the muffled sounds of Intisaar’s set reverberated from the stage. Johndus drifted in and out of the room grabbing beers and playing with his stage make-up as I interviewed Will first,
"We’re making music for us. We wanna make music we want to hear and it might be born from our formative years a little bit… We grew up listening to really good music I think. When we were teenagers we were listening to Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana… heavy stuff and not-so-heavy stuff. John listens to a lot of bluesy rock and I listen to a lot of King Crimson and prog stuff and ambient stuff…" Will originally hails from a suburb outside of Boston and was raised in a household of great musicians. He received basic training in his youth but also bares elements of the self-taught, "I would come home from school and put on my favorite record -- it wasn’t a record, it was a cassette tape, I just call it a record… I would try to learn the album start to finish and every day I’d try to get better at it and try to really match all the hits and make sure that I was playing the exact the same stuff that that drummer was playing. The same feel. The same inconsistencies… verbatim." He then studied at Berklee College of Music, mentoring under Mike Mangini, who he swears by as a master of creating a step-by-step system that taught him how to execute drumming techniques, which had previously seemed impossible. However, before finishing his studies at Berklee, Will was lured to Seattle by fellow classmate Chris Cullman with whom he would eventually join to form the popular local Seattle band OMNI. It was during this time that he met both Ryan and Johndus. Johndus was the front man in another local institution, Future Fossils, and Will was quickly drawn to his voice, thus beginning the band member poaching which would eventually result in the formation of The Mothership. The union is a happy one and Will remains excited about the band’s future prospects, "The Gross has been getting some really positive reception and that makes us pretty stoked… we want to try to get outside of Seattle with it…. At least do some out of town shows at first and then maybe get our feet wet with an I-5 tour, go down to California, come back up to Seattle…".
After talking with Will, interviewing Johndus was a very different experience and the dynamic juxtaposition of these two band mates was both fascinating and explained some of the elements of their music, with Will acting as the solid, structure-providing frame of the engine and Johndus being the combustible explosion taking place inside,
"I heard 'Teen Spirit' - I’m one of those kids, man, like I heard 'Teen Spirit' and I immediately stopped in my tracks and fucking couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like the calling, it was just like this thing. I don’t know what it is about his voice, I don’t know what it is about his music. I still can’t explain it, it changed my -- from the fucking moment, man, hearing that shit, it changed my life." He professed his love for how Kurt could scream in tune, a quality that he has in common, and embraces his own lack of formal training and the dysfunctional qualities of his singing voice, which he playfully referred to as his “Nar.” He also deeply appreciates lead Tool singer Maynard’s voice saying, “I was always obsessed with Tool and Maynard’s power and how he can be so rage full but then… take that, and be fragile,” another influence that clearly shines through in his own vocals.
Johndus reluctantly noted that he was born in San Diego and that his first home was Camp Pendleton, where his father was a drill sergeant, but he was happier to add that he moved to the Pacific Northwest when he was one year old, so he isn’t "part of the problem" since he moved out here before he was sixteen.
Though you could never tell it by looking at him, Johndus has a sixteen-year-old daughter, and even more surprisingly, he says that he didn’t play his first show until December 15th, 2005, though the seeds of all of his subsequent creations were planted around the time of that first performance,
"Most of the shit that I play in the band now is all riffs and all ideas from that stage. When it was like the collection stage. Like the fucking hungry, hungry hippo of melodies and riffs and stuff… but yeah, I had never even been to a bar… ever, before my first show in 2005. It was really weird. I remember… yeah, I started thinking like it was going to be this huge thing, like we already have fans… it was such a huge slap in the face. Like how dare I even think that, but that’s just the way I thought it worked."
He didn’t think of himself as a singer until his band mates encouraged him to step to the microphone, though he did confess that he would sing really quietly in his apartment into a microphone when he was alone. Today you would have no idea that this front man, with such a commanding presence, was so reserved about his voice and he celebrates his good fortune, "I’m in a band with fucking three dudes who are amazing at what they do." When asked about the future of Ten Miles Wide’s music, Johndus replied, "It’s going to be way more musical and way more like -- like open tunings and weird -- but not trying to be weird, just fucking weird, man… its gonna be the record we should have made from the fucking very beginning because we already are that."
Though the current mainstream music scene doesn’t seem to have much of a market for anything genuinely weird or non-factory produced, perhaps Ten Miles Wide could be the one to bridge that gap, acting as a voice calling out in the wilderness of auto-tuned pop and corporatized hip hop. And though the odds do seem stacked against such hopes, looking back we can see that after a decade laden with glam rock nobody knew there was a market for Nirvana until they made one for themselves practically overnight. - C. Jefferson Thom
(Photos by Iron Mike Savoia)
For tour dates and more information on Ten Miles Wide, go to:
Mr. Thom lives in Seattle with his wife Lori and their terrier Tug where he walks dogs and is a tour guide for the Seattle Underground. He is also a playwright who loves traveling to other countries and playing the armchair historian.