If you lived in Lawrence between 2000 and 2002, there's a good chance you remember some of the city's key bands: The Get Up Kids. The Appleseed Cast. Mates of State. Laces Loose.
The quartet made its mark on the scene at the time with idiosyncratic compositions that defied songwriting logic and probably had more than one listener uttering, "They're an acquired taste."
Over the next few weeks, the quartet — guitarist Torin Andersen (who is employed as an engineer by KMUW), bassist/vocalist Adam Crispin, keyboardist Matt Campbell and drummer Ben Steinbauer — will perform its first shows in 17 years. And Steinbauer, an acclaimed documentarian, has brought a film crew with him to capture both the spirit and the spit.
"There was never a question about whether or not I'd film this," Steinbauer says. "I was always going to film it.
"Why I'm filming it is maybe a deeper question that I don't totally have the answer to, and what this will become, I'm not 100 percent sure. I think it could be a short documentary that I think will be really fun. In the spirit of Laces Loose, I'm trying not to care so much about the outcome and enjoy being in the present and having fun in the process."
Laces Loose performs at Louise's Bar on Mass in Lawrence May 10; Ellis Street Moto in Wichita on May 11, and Kirby's Beer Store (also Wichita) on May 12. The band will regroup on May 28 for a show in Norman, Oklahoma (venue TBA), and then travel to Steinbauer's current hometown, Austin, Texas, for a May 29 show at The Sahara Lounge.
Steinbauer recently spoke with KMUW about the band's history and upcoming shows.
Where and when did Laces Loose start?
That is hotly debated topic in the band right now. All four [of us] have very different versions of the story. My version is that we were all in art school at the University of Kansas, living in Lawrence. We were all in different bands. We were friends of friends but didn't really ever overlap until a girlfriend of mine brought us together. I heard these guys needed a drummer.
I sort of describe myself as never being a good drummer. I was always on time to band practice, and I was very enthusiastic about being there. That was 90 percent of what it took to get the job in Laces Loose. We played together, and it immediately clicked. I think there's something about us being four distinct, eccentric personalities that makes the band really fun.
What was the scene in Lawrence like at the time you got together? Was it fertile?
Lawrence was super vibrant in terms of a music scene. The Anniversary and The Get Up Kids were just crushing it. Everybody loved those guys. They were really successful, playing all over. That sort of pop-punk was popular in the late '90s, early 2000s. The Strokes came through town and we have a really great song ["Greatest Story Ever Told"] about [how] our number one fan beat up the whole band, although that's hotly debated in Laces Loose lore. There's a lot of stories that are hotly debated.
That rock ‘n' roll resurgence in the early 2000s — LCD Soundsystem, the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all those bands — I don't know if they influenced us as much as we were aware that that was happening.
I live in Austin, Texas now. The thing I always say about my time at KU was that it was this sort of magical, protected time, this space where we were basically all bands. Everybody I knew was painting or making a movie or doing some kind of theater piece. There wasn't an expectation, at least on my part, that we were ever going to make money doing any of this. This was just a really fun thing to do with our friends. It was creative and naïve and inspired, and it was weird.
The music's pretty peculiar. It's not quite like anything else that was happening at the time. Yet, you can [trace] certain elements [to their source]. Were there a lot of discussions about direction early on?
If the band had a philosophy, it was that we don't jam. That is not interesting. We're there to figure out parts to play. Adam is basically the captain of the ship. He's the lead singer. He writes the lyrics. He's an experimental painter. The songs are a little bit like his paintings. There's not the typical verse-chorus-bridge-chorus [structure]. It's: This part, this part, then this part, then this part, maybe we'll go back to this part, then we do an outro that comes out of nowhere. As a band, it's really fun to go on that ride and tie all of those parts together, make that collective experimental painting. [Laughs.] This music is not for everybody but people like it, really like it.
What led to the end of the band?
That also is hotly contested. We all kind of moved away. Our last show was, I believe, in March 2002. I had graduated. I finished my undergrad at KU. I had studied film there, and I had started to make documentaries. I was working at a company in town that was making industrial films and shooting wedding videos and stuff like that. I was making stuff on the side and directed a couple of short docs. I just wanted to go to a bigger city. I didn't want to go to New York or L.A. Actually, that's not true. I did want to go to New York. My girlfriend at the time and I were planning on moving there. Then we broke up. She went to New York. I moved to Austin. You know, I didn't want to bump into her in New York.
I figured the odds were high. It's a small place.
I didn't want to be bumping into my ex-girlfriend all the time. I moved to Austin and moved in with a guy who's gone on to be one of my dearest friends, Brad Beasley. He made the movie about the Flaming Lips [Fearless Freaks] and my first job, when I moved to Austin, was actually going on tour with the Lips to shoot footage for that documentary. I thought I had won at the game of life. Died and gone to heaven.
Tell us about some of the films you've made.
My only feature-length doc was called Winnebago Man. That's probably the one that most people are familiar with. It's the story of a viral video celebrity named Jack Rebney, who is the star of a video known as "Winnebago Man." It features him making an industrial sales video for Winnebago in 1989 and doing a terrible job. He's having a really bad day, and he's basically swearing at himself. The crew was having a hard time with him, and they basically left the cameras rolling.
As an inside joke, they cut together this best-of montage of Jack berating himself throughout the day and passed it around on VHS tape. From 1989 until about 2006, it made the rounds in the tape-trading underground. It became this kind of cult sensation. When YouTube came along [Jack] was one of the first viral video celebrities. Nobody knew what had happened to this guy, so that's where I came in. I made a film about finding him and what I found was what I least expected. It ended up being this sweet story about this friendship that developed between me and the Winnebago Man.
How did this reunion come about?
We made a pact when I was 23. Everybody's different ages in the band. Torin, our guitar player, is the youngest. We made a pact, when I was 23, that when we were in our 40s, we would reunite, record some new songs, and go on tour. Cut to 17, almost 18 years later and here we are. I haven't seen these guys in about that long. I haven't played in a band since about 2007. We're knocking the rust off, coming out of retirement. This is the tour nobody asked for. [Laughs.]