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Locals Only: : Avoiding The Pigeon-Hole

Indefinable duo Croatan continue to dig through the Hard Rock underground

By Jacob Richardson · March 30th, 2005 · Locals Only
Dale M. Johnson


There are many hard facts about Croatan that I can tell you. For instance, did you know that despite their fortress-crumbling Rock assault, the band is only a two-person project with Jenny Diablo on guitar/vocals and Mark Croatan on drums? I can tell you that their first full-length release was 1995's A Hundred More Verses About Agamemnon (on underground legend/Bongwater architect Kramer's Shimmy-Disc label), followed by Violent Passion Surrogate and Curse of The Red Queen (both on Rock show poster art legend Frank Kozik's Man's Ruin imprint) and their latest album, The Drunken Masters (on local Peace or Die Records). I can also tell you that Mark likes cats, and Jenny's depressed about the NHL strike.

Yet in spite of all these certainties I still cannot tell you exactly what Croatan "is." You can find dozens of articles from around the nation hailing Croatan as anything from "heavy and noisy Indie Rock" to "smile-forming Punk/Metal" to others using a slew of different adjectives, all used in the never-ending quest to accurately describe what it is that Croatan produces.

Is everyone missing the core element, or is it quite the opposite and there is no firm core at all to latch onto?

"I think most of those things that you read like that are probably accurate if you just focus on a little piece of it. We're pretty much all of those things; we're just not one of those exclusively," Mark clarifies. The listen-and-dissect analysis has always been necessary because the genre differences have always been present.

The way Croatan became this indefinable Hard Rock band littered with accolades isn't a fairy tale. They did not grow up in the same dilapidated ghetto, making music together as their only way out of a broken future. Nor did they struggle with the rigors of a conservative college lifestyle before courageously breaking free from them. The truth is that Croatan formed from the ashes of a fateful concert 10 years ago.

"It was a bad night," says Jenny. "I think I got kicked out of my band that night, and I think Mark quit (his)."

Not long after the break-ups, the pair found themselves working together. "This guy named Uncle Dave (Lewis, former local experimental music superhero) was planning a benefit show and he asked us if we would get together and do two songs," Mark explains. "It was fun so we kept (playing together), because neither one of us were in any bands at the time, so ..."

Mark pauses, groping for the right conclusion, when Jenny exclaims, "Here we are!"

From Mark and Jenny's words and mannerisms, the creation and progression of Croatan seems so simple, yet they're much more humble than necessary. In addition to opening for big national bands like Mastodon, they've broken far away from the small touring radius that restricts most local bands. "We don't want to play here every weekend and get to the point where it's routine," Mark says. So with determination and strong music in tow, they've played as far out as the West Coast on a regular basis.

Back in Cincinnati, the duo recently acquired some inexpensive recording equipment, taking them into a new creative zone. "With the new stuff we've got, we can literally go downstairs and just total stream-of-consciousness record for half-an-hour, go back and edit out 30 second chunks and arrange them until we like it," Mark says. "Word processing has come to songwriting."

This could not have happened at a better time. A split CD with quirky Brazilian band, Silente, is slated for release later this summer on Brazilian label Laguna Sunburn. Then the two start a thorough Midwestern tour before hitting the West Coast again to make up for cancelled dates due to "mishaps" involving a busted crankshaft in the middle of the desert.

No matter the album, compilation or location, one thing about Croatan remains: They will continually strive to fend off any sort of pigeon-holed predictability. This doesn't answer the question about what Croatan "is"; the best advice is to go to a show, buy a CD and find your own way to describe them. It might take a while. But it'll be fun trying.

CROATAN (croatan.com) next play in town on April 22 at Sudsy Malone's.


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