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Maritime: No More Promises

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: June 8, 2004

wLatitude, Longitude; Snailhouse
Tuesday, June 15, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

Maritime frontman Davey von Bohlen says bouncing from one band to the next over the past decade hasn't hurt his career.

Von Bohlen's first notable gig came in the early '90s as a guitarist in Cap'n Jazz, a short-lived though seminal indie band that included Tim and Mike Kinsella, who would go on to form Joan of Arc. To this day, Cap'n Jazz is deified by a small handful of indie rock devotees for its take on pop punk. Von Bohlen closed out the '90s as the frontman for The Promise Ring, arguably one of the most influential bands credited with redefining a song style known as "emo." And now there's Maritime, a band Von Bohlen formed from the ashes of The Promise Ring with drummer Dan Didier and former Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson.

It seems like Von Bohlen's projects just start to pick up steam when they fly apart in all directions. It's a problem that he's well aware of.

"Cap'n Jazz was a strange breakup at the bottom of the hill of success," he said while "counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike" on his way to a gig at Brooklyn's North Six that evening. "But being in that band seemed to help us book our early Promise Ring tours. It certainly put us ahead of the local Joe starting a band who wanted to get more than his friends to show up."

That advantage appears to also apply to Maritime. The evening before our interview, the band played at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia -- a venue that Von Bohlen calls "the best unclub club to play" -- to a larger crowd than they expected. "We're aiming for moderate success, and that seems to be happening," he said. "Our album only came out a few days ago. There could have easily been 15 people there last night instead of 150."




Maritime is a natural progression for Von Bohlen after the remarkably successful Promise Ring disbanded in the fall of 2002. Shortly after the break-up, he and Didier formed the trio Vermont with Pele guitarist Chris Roseanau. Then along came Eric Axelson, who Von Bohlen and Didier had first met years earlier at a Dismemberment Plan show in Madison, Wisconsin.

"It was their first tour, before they had an album and before we had an album," Von Bohlen said. "We were just a couple random bands playing a hall, and at that point I thought what they were doing was complete insanity."

If that doesn't sound like a compliment, that's because it isn't. Von Bohlen was stunned by Dismemberment Plan's early "avant pop" approach, which he said was more avant than pop. "I must have been 20 and thought 'What was this?' One guy was playing trombone. It was pretty challenging."

Years after that first meeting, however, the two bands became friends, and the coinciding disbanding of both Dismemberment Plan and The Promise Ring in 2002 made for an opportunity for Von Bohlen, Didier and Axelson to work together.

But even before Axelson joined Maritime, the band (which was then called "In English") already had received interest from the Promise Ring's former label, Epitaph subsidiary Anti- Records. "We had made a phone call deal for our first record and they said, 'Cool, we'll pay for it,'" Von Bohlen said. "When we sent them the master, they said they could take it or leave it. I guess they didn't think it was 'the sound of now.' We said, 'If you don't want to do it, we don't want you to do it.'"

Despite paying for the recording, Anti- handed the masters back to Von Bohlen and company. "We took it to a few places, but none of them wanted it. At the lowest point trying to figure out what to do with it, Kim Coletta from DeSoto Records called."

DeSoto was Dismemberment Plan's old label, and Von Bohlen had known Coletta, formerly of the band Jawbox, for years having been a huge Jawbox fan from his early teen years. DeSoto, who's roster includes bands like Burning Airlines, Juno and The Eternals, seemed like a perfect fit for Maritime's style, which is more adult and laid-back than The Promise Ring's jangly indie-pop. Songs from the new album like "Sleep Around," with its puppy-tail piano chords, gossamer horn parts, and young-boy Ray Davies vocals, feel like a sunny slice of British pop. The sweet, kicky arrangements almost always mask introspective lyrics tinged in new wave existentialism. Check out "Someone Has to Die," for instance, where Von Bohlen gleefully sings, "All I know is that someone has to die to make room for you and I" over a bubbly shuffle. Or the acoustic golden sunset of "I'm Not Afraid," with the line "I thought that I might start to smoke / Just so I'd have somewhere to put my hands / When time unplans affairs."









"I must have been 20 and thought 'What was this?' One guy was playing trombone."




"But I don't have a window into mortality anymore than anyone else does. I don't want to seem as if I'm capitalizing from having lain on a surgical table."



Von Bohlen says he never thinks about his lyrics. "I try to make the words the best that I can in whatever way that is for each song, and never sit down and think 'What's this song saying?'"

But with insinuations of death at every corner, it's hard not to wonder if Von Bohlen's own brush with death has overshadowed his lyrics. During the height of his Promise Ring days in 2000, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that turned out to be benign. Though he doesn't deny that it's had an obvious impact on his life, he says it's made no conscious impact on his lyrics.

"Today, having breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts influenced me in a fraction of the way the brain tumor influenced me," he said. "It was the focus of my life for the better part of two years. But I don't have a window into mortality anymore than anyone else does. I don't want to seem as if I'm capitalizing from having lain on a surgical table.

"Mortality is something you face. For the first 17 years of my life, I didn't even have a grandparent who passed away. But as you get older, it just occurs more often, like when people from your high school begin to die."

Hardly emo, or is it? That label has haunted Von Bohlen's efforts from day one. And just like every other band that's been pegged with it, he denies any connection to the term.

"'Emo' seems to describe a group of music fans more than a music style," he said. "The whole emo thing has probably done us both a disservice and a great service. We're always going to be pegged something, and every musician in the world feels they're greater than any term. Emo might be at the end of its run because of the huge corporate success of it. It's lifted itself out of the indie scene, which has kind of freed us from it as well."

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Published in The Omaha Reader June 9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.