I say "Hello" and sit down on the outdoor bar furniture with friendly and spry drummer Sebastien Schultz and singer/guitarist Ben Davis, who acts as the more measured and reserved half of the band. The two are pathologically antsy — they return to pounding their feet on the floor and drumming their fingertips on all available surfaces right after shaking my hand.
I look down for no more than 20 seconds to grab a notebook, pen and tape recorder from my bag, and as soon as I return my gaze to Davis and Schultz I find the two madly tapping away on their iPhones and discussing stage specs for an out-of-town show the next day.
Meet the new, revamped, increasingly-better-subsidized Bad Veins, Cincinnati’s Indie Rock golden boys. Through their dignified tenacity, a fortunate fever-pitch of hype, their undeniable good looks and — oh yeah — a self-recorded album of bombastic, sing-alongable tunes, they’ve gone and gotten themselves picked up by L.A.-based Dangerbird Records. It’s the label of other modern Indie bellwethers like Silversun Pickups and The Dears, and it’s a roster on which the fresh-faced duo feels comfortable and confident.
[For background, see Mike Breen's delightful March 2008 profile of Bad Veins here. See Caleb Mathern's two-part interview with Davis and Schultz right after their 2009 South By Southwest appearance here.]
Schultz lists the reasons the Veins went with the West-coast outfit: “A lot of people we respect (call the label home), they have a good track record, and they have a major-label-work-ethic mindset. But then they’re able to be as nimble as an independent label.”
In short, it was a good business decision for the Veins to sign with Dangerbird. The biz-savvy Schultz spent some time working in advertising, so the idea of branding — anathema to some bands — is nothing new to him, and it’s an imperative the new label shares.
Call it “artist development,” if you like. Both group and label are in it for the long haul.
“Dangerbird is more judicious about who they sign, and they’re thinking very long-term as far as the branding of the band,” Schultz says. “We definitely don’t fear branding. I think Ben and I really embrace it. Our branding since we’ve started as a band has been pretty consistent. People know when they see us on stage who we are — immediately.”
He’s right. When two dudes in military-looking duds haul a reel-to-reel tape player, megaphones and telephones up on stage, plug in a bunch of mystery cables and proceed to perform an energetic, fist-pumping set of lushly orchestrated, guitar-drenched Pop songs, you’re probably not going to forget who they are anytime soon.
But how did this slightly eccentric, economically-minded twosome from Cincinnati with a mere four-song demo to its name manage to put itself on the rolls of a hip, successful label in a huge city 2,000 miles away? Davis waxes poetic but puts it quite plainly.
“Things fell into place the way a marble falls through a hole when you tilt the board,” he says.
The simile perfectly sums up the Veins’ almost counterintuitive, perhaps fatalistic, promotional logic. They’re unassuming, staunch about letting the fans and the business interest come to them. To this day, they’ve never voluntarily given away a demo. They find MySpace solicitation to be “sleazy and presumptuous” — whore themselves out they will not. They just believe in working hard at their core competency — playing — and letting other folks iron out the logistics.
“We put ourselves in a position where people could discover us, but we never forced anyone to,” Davis says. “We do what needs to be done and we just let people come. It’s pretty simple.”
It seems too good to be true: a local two-man band with non-standard performance gimmicks and a Field of Dreams-inspired marketing angle now has a team of assistants, lawyers, promoters and agents working for them. Pretty amazing that the Veins’ apparently self-contradictory approach has paid off, but it’s not really so baffling when you consider the strength of the songs, the band’s work ethic and their commitment to doing things their own way.
“Something I’ve always looked at from day one is the idea that there are rules to being in a band,” Davis says. “There are no rules. You can do whatever you want. And we’ve found a way to succeed with our own ideas.”
Right now success means a debut CD that will, thanks to Dangerbird’s excellent distribution, be available in Targets and Best Buys from coast to coast. It’s exciting stuff for a band of such humble local origins. Well, exciting for Schultz, at least.
“I think it’ll be very surreal on (July 21) when Ben and I will go to the store and see if it’s really there,” he says, noting that the experience might be a little overwhelming considering the three years they’ve toiled as a band.
“Yeah, I might break down in Target,” he laughs.
Davis, however, acts unfazed.
“It sounds so silly, but I only really get excited about the creative end of things,” he says. “Ninety percent of my joy from doing this for a living comes out of that split second when it was created. Beyond that it’s a plateau.”
Our conversation is about to draw to a close. Looking at a table crowded with empty bottles and glasses, I realize that now that we’ve imbibed a decent amount of adult beverages Davis and Schultz have stopped fidgeting so much.
Davis has also switched from Dos Equis to Perrier. I can’t help but think he’s a little excited too.
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