Endiana: Love, Lust & Bloodshed in the Heartland
by J. Scott Bugher
As pretentious as this is going to sound, Indianapolis is fortunate to have a band that takes itself seriously considering the city has the capacity to crush any aspiring artist, writer or band. Endiana is a band that refuses to break under the strain of a region that may as well declare prohibition on art. They might bend; they might dent, but after talking to them, I am convinced this band will not be wrecked by the challenges they face: the city's indifferent culture, the few opportunities it has to offer musicians, the music scene's overall low morale. And this is not only on a city-level; it's a statewide epidemic –– the whole apathetic "I don't give a shit about anything" attitude. This might give you a clue if you're still trying to figure out what the band name means. Endiana with an 'E' is a bold affidavit defining the heartland as an ending, not a beginning. I'm not saying the band is wallowing in self-pity, but rather, they are fighting to unleash any potential the area has to offer because they believe the Midwest has promise.
Surrounding Indianapolis –– by only a couple hundred miles –– is Nashville, who has given the world everything from Johnny Cash to Kings of Leon; Chicago, who has offered Herbie Hancock and Wilco; and Detroit, who gave us Motown and Iggy Pop, though we forgive them for Kid Rock. The bottom line is: Indianapolis hasn't offered much to the national music community other than Babyface. Okay, I know, there's John Hiatt, but I dare you to name another.
What gives Endiana the entitlement to take pride in what they do is their songs, and the development of their songs comes with a history. The band is made up of three of the city's most seasoned professionals who have all walked different paths to where they are today. Lead singer Matthew Aaron has always been a singer-songwriter at heart and grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen and Chris Whitley. Expert musician and bassist Tim Fuller was raised on a diet of more musically intricate bands like Primus and Mr. Bungle. Professional drummer Tim Gray developed as a musician by favoring band drummers like Ringo Starr and Wilco's Glenn Kotche over hotshots like Neil Peart and Carter Beauford. The three of them crossed paths a number of times in their younger years on the scene, but Gray was the glue that linked the band together. "We [Fuller & Aaron] were kind of like crosstown rivals brought together by Tim Gray," says Fuller.
Gray was drumming with Fuller in LMNO, a heavy, progressive rock group and safe haven for Fuller to show off and play his bass as if trying to beat his high score. Aaron caught a few shows and couldn't help but notice Fuller. "I started watching these guys playing in LMNO, playing a completely different style of music than I had been accustomed to. When I'd watch Fuller use the entire neck of the bass, I'd wonder why. How do you write a song where you need to use the entire thing like that?" says Aaron, who follows up with, "Fuller was a noodly fucker."
After LMNO's breakup, Gray began working with Aaron in a band called Train Wreck, a nasty, whiskey-drinking, shit-talking outfit of beatniks. Fuller wound up at a few of their shows and didn't care much for Aaron at the time. Fuller would often blatantly tell Aaron, "You're disgracing my craft," meaning Fuller didn't take kindly to showboating singers because he was a serious musician, one who could make a bass ejaculate notes faster than Annie Sprinkle, though now he understands the world isn't going to give him a Purple Heart for bassmanship. "Anymore, when people see a bass player playing a shit-ton of notes, they try to get away and run," says Fuller.
Eventually, Train Wreck split up, but Aaron wanted to maintain a band and continue to do what he does best: write good songs. Aaron and Gray kept close and, thanks to an alignment of stars, Fuller was brought into the new project, though he and Aaron still participated in the musician-versus-songwriter war.
It really is a matter of appreciating both musicianship and the craft of songwriting, but sometimes artists don't understand the other side of the spectrum. Now appreciative of singer-songwriter music, Fuller says, "It's frustrating. Some people [Aaron] just sort of 'got it' while some of us had to work at it a little more." Aaron, still uncertain of jazz-fusion-noodling-musical masturbation, says, "They [Gray & Fuller] still make fun of me for not getting it." And who can blame Aaron for not getting it? He's been a singer-songwriter his whole musical career. He only knows the basics of playing chords on a guitar. Lou Reed once said, "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz." I believe it's fair to say Aaron feels the same way when he says, "My songs are just two or three chords and the truth." Truth is on the forefront of Aaron's mind when writing lyrics. He writes memoirs and performs them lyrically, melodically and in verse.
Aaron is nearly verbatim to some of Split Lip's favorite literary heroes with regard to the writing process. Opening lines are the steroids that elicits growth when Aaron is working on a new set of lyrics. He says, "One line starts all of my songs. I need to have a big intro line in order to keep going." A good example comes from Endiana's "Second-Hand Heart." Aaron begins with, "As she jumped out of the window, she screamed everybody knows I meant it now." It's catchy, it's not abstract, and it hooks the listener in. Writing in this style is like a triggering process. Author Raymond Carver worked the same way. Carver stated in an interview: "For several days I'd been going around with this sentence in my head: ''He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang.' I sat down in the morning and wrote the first sentence, and other sentences promptly began to attach themselves." I have a feeling it works the same way for Aaron. When writing, Aaron also favors motion,
action and getting straight to the point. He tells us, "Instead of setting up some scene, I start with the action of the story to draw the listener in right away. I know that sounds a little weird, but––" There's nothing weird about that at all. Kurt Vonnegut advises writers to "start as close to the end as possible," which is exactly what Aaron practices. The last element of Aaron's lyricism is its presentation. He says, "My vocal pattern and melody comes from how I'd say things in my speech." Aaron will sing you his story as if he were telling it to you at a bar while sipping whiskey.
The foundation of an Endiana song comes from one of Aaron's concepts, which he brings to Fuller and Gray. Fuller recalls how they'd arrange songs when they were just starting: "Matt would come with an initial concept and all the other musicians would explore their own visions for it, and by doing so, we'd wind up lost in the playing and forget about the song." Now when Fuller adds his part to one of Aaron's new ideas, he says, "I try to be as invisible as I can be–– My goal is for people to not pay attention to me while I do my job keeping their heads bobbing." Gray concurs with this approach and considers his drumming as a part more than a feature. Gray mentions that "playing for the song has always been what kind of hooked me on drums. Playing in a band has always been more fun than playing solos." Gray discards the idea that a musician's value is found in how flashy he can play. He continues with, "I just like to play what's right instead of trying to stand out as an individual." Gray's last point on drumming pertains to Fuller as well. Since Gray and Fuller have worked in a number of bands together prior to Endiana, they are quite a distinguished pair when it comes to laying down the groove and driving the bus. Gray says, "I focus on locking in with Fuller to help create our identity as a rhythm section." A perfect example of their teamwork can be heard in the posted video for their song, "Life of Leisure."
When it comes to adding a dose of color and melody to the rhythm-heavy band, the guys brought in musician & producer Doug Henthorn (former frontman, Healing Sixes), who is a human embodiment of taste when it comes to playing guitar. Just like gathering a sense of identity of Endiana's rhythm section when listening to "Life of Leisure," allow your ears to take in the melodies of Henthorn's work on the guitar. You'll take it in like you take down a shot of Patron –– smooth and intoxicating. Not only does Henthorn play with the band live, he also mans the mixing board in the studio and has recorded the band's most recent singles. He's a perfect fit for Endiana's core trio.
Listen to Endiana's Vodka
With a diverse catalog of songs such as "Vodka," which is an extract of hip hop; "Another Saturday Night," which is grounded in punk rock; "Life of Leisure," which is a Motown type of thing; and their forthcoming single "Fountain," which shows their Americana side, they need to think of the business end of their creative endeavor, and thinking about such things can be disheartening since the music industry is nothing but a queue of ass-fuckness anymore. When thinking of the music business, Aaron compares it to the current state of Detroit: we've lost Motor City, we've lost Motown. Instead people settle on shit-produced cars along with copy & paste music. Aaron says, "It doesn't matter if you're writing the best songs or writing the worst songs––anymore, music is just an expensive hobby instead of an appreciated art form." And he's right. Music is highly under-appreciated these days. It's just too accessible and easy to obtain, and, worst of all, it can be taken for free. There is no respect for intellectual property anymore. Aaron reflects on the days music was more of an earned privilege, something that one would pay money for: "I used to save my allowance or birthday money in order to buy vinyl," he says. "There was beauty in reading the liner notes while listening to a record for the first time." Now the relationships people used to have with their records have dissolved with mp3s and streaming music on social media sites. Today, bands are forced into the exposure trap, meaning the only incentive for a band to put their music out there is to accrue exposure. There is no monetary gain, there is not as much appreciation as there used to be, and the market is too saturated since anybody with a laptop can make a record.
Endiana is still pushing through it though. Fuller credits British band Little Comets for influencing him as a business man in the music industry. He sees them as a band fighting relentlessly to get their name recognized. Fuller says, "The bands that I like are still in the struggle, still working hard in this kind of environment, which can be very discouraging, but they [Little Comets] are making headway on their own terms." That's exactly what Fuller and the others are looking to do with Endiana: make headway by doing things as they wish and doing them on their own.
The model Endiana is following is a real-time commentary and content-production approach, meaning it's all about putting out a regular flow of content––singles, videos, concerts––all at a steady frequency. Fuller says, "We're just putting out singles; we're not recording full records. I don't think it makes sense to do that anymore." And he's right. These days, if somebody purchases a full album, they will favor one or two songs and sidestep from the rest of the record, which renders the other eight songs worthless to both the consumer and the recording artist. Aaron backs that up when he says, "It's best to release our
content in real-time instead of spending a year in the studio working on a full record." By doing this, Endiana maintains their presence since they won't be hidden in a recording studio for so long, and they can take advantage of trying new songs live prior to cutting them in the studio. If an audience reacts to a new song, they'll damn sure record it. If the song puts people to sleep, they'll archive it for another day.
Though maintaining this strategy is a viable practice, that doesn't mean it will be easy. Fuller says, "We've come to terms with: the old model is dead. Nobody's going to do things for you; nobody's coming to save you. We've got to learn how to fucking swim. It's all on us." That, in sum, is the state of the music industry. It's a DIY project and the labor is divided. There are no all-inclusive record labels that provide funding, management, booking, publicity, promotion, etc. There are those who fund, those who manage, those who book, those who publicize, and those who promote, but it's up to the artist or band to put together their team. Though Endiana is a few steps beyond getting their feet wet, they still have a few more stairs to climb. Split Lip Magazine believes in them, and we're sure you will too once you give them a listen. Before they know it, they'll conquer the US beginning with Indiana, and even the world once they start touring Europe with Little Comets.
Endiana can be found at:
Forthcoming from Endiana
The band is currently working on their first film contribution for veteran filmmaker John Borowski's documentary, Serial Killer Culture, which is slated to be released by Netflix in early 2014. Several tunes by
Endiana will be featured on the soundtrack, and, in addition, Aaron, Fuller and Henthorn are scoring the movie. According to Aaron: "Endiana's been trying to focus on our strengths and push ourselves to do new things. Making the soundtrack for Serial Killer Culture is just the first step in demonstrating our potential. So much of the business is about placement and getting our songs heard. We hope that this film is just the first movie that we score. "
Aaron, who worked with Borowski on his most recent film, Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance, will play a key figure in Serial Killer Culture. Every artist has a set of obsessions, and one Aaron is known for is his interest in murderabilia. Aaron collects artwork, artifacts and autographs from notorious killers who have been executed or are currently on death row. A portion of Serial Killer Culture will be based on Aaron's history with the subject.
But trust us when we say murderabilia is only a fragment of Endiana's overall interests. Many of their songs do touch on the scary and bizarre, but much of their music relates to relationship, booze and causing trouble. All in all, Endiana is a band that writes songs about love, lust and bloodshed in the heartland.
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