Shiner: Reading, Writing
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Oct. 10, 2001
What exactly is "math rock,"
"I think they call it 'emo' these days," said Allen Epley,
vocalist/guitarist for Kansas City rock band Shiner. Their new album, The
Egg, sports a distinctly "mathy" sound, though Epley (or
probably any band for that matter) would never admit it.
My take on math: Highly syncopated guitar-driven rock with intricate,
angular, complex arrangements, over-the-top dynamics that, at times,
borders dangerously close to prog- or art-rock. The messiahs of the genre
is NYC's Chavez, who haven't recorded an album since 1996's amazing
long-player Ride the Fader on Matador -- a band that Shiner opened
for a couple times in New York back in the day.
Epley gives a verbal nod to my mathy interpretation, but reframes from
dropping his own band into the definition. "We came out of the
post-grunge era into post-rock," Epley said from his Kansas City home
a couple days before leaving on the tour that brings Shiner to Omaha Oct.
16 to open for Death Cab for Cutie at Sokol Underground. "For some
reason, Shiner has flown under or above the radar of many different styles
of music, which is either our Achilles Heal or our strength. While we've
been labeled as emo, post-grunge or math, we're either too indie for rock
or too rock for indie, which may have been a blessing."
Epley points to Chavez as one of Shiner's major influences. "I
can't deny that we're building off them -- in their chord structures and
bombastic sound, which was foolishly heavy without being overdone. It's
"Refreshing" is a term that has
always fit Shiner's heavy-duty sound since the band first opened for K.C.
legends Season to Risk back in 1993. Epley is the only remaining member of
the original line-up. In December 1995, Season to Risk's Paul Malinowski
took over on bass. Three years later, Jason Gerken of Molly
McGuire/Gunfighter became the band's drummer, while StR's Josh Newton took
over second guitar chores in the summer of '99, cementing the line-up
heard on the band's just-released full-length on DeSoto Records.
Wandering somewhere in the sonic territory between Chavez and At the
Drive In, Shiner's The Egg is as bombastic and flamboyant as either
of those bands' best efforts. Produced with the help of J. Robbins -- the
mastermind behind seminal post-rock bands Jawbreaker and Burning Airlines
-- The Egg is 49 minutes of guitar-hewn twist and turns, peaks and
drops, and charging, crunching mayhem that is, at times, as sinister as it
Shiner's connection to J. Robbins dates back to the band's first 7-inch
and full-length. Both recordings were released on DeSoto, a label launched
by Jawbox's Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot. "All those guys from Jawbox
really took us under their wing," Epley said. "Splay
(Shiner's debut) was DeSoto's debut full-length as well, so we always had
a lot of support from those guys."
It wasn't enough, however, to keep Shiner at DeSoto. Lula Divinia,
the band's follow-up, was released on HitIt! Recording in the spring of
'97. Later that same year, SubPop released a 7-inch as part of their
"Singles Club" promotion. By now, Shiner was getting hungry for
the big time and began showing its wares to the majors.
"We did some label showcases in Los Angeles," Epley said.
"We had the same management as Ben Folds Five, but no one was biting.
The majors weren't ready for us. Ska was the 'in thing' that week just
before big band. We weren't the flavor of the month. By that time, people
had already heard our name and we were old news. They wanted something
new. In retrospect, we should have stayed on DeSoto because the only way
we were going to get on a major was by selling a lot of CDs on an indie."
"The majors weren't ready
for us. Ska was the 'in thing' that week just before big band. We
weren't the flavor of the month."
"I'm not afraid of
flying any more than usual. I'm convinced that the plane is going to
crash into the ocean anyway."
It appears the band had learned its
lesson. And what better coming home gift from DeSoto then placing J.
Robbins behind the knobs on The Egg? The recording sessions for
Shiner's previous CD, Starless, "took the ass out of us,"
Epley said. "We wanted to work with someone who was objective, who we
could trust and afford. J was all those things. He has always been a huge
supporter. His influence can be heard in the mixes as well as the
In fact, listeners will quickly recognize the explosive, percussive
power that is the hallmark of all J. Robbins-tinged efforts, especially on
the CD's haunting title track that so stylishly brings together the band's
If Shiner made some wrong turns on its record label search, it never
strayed far from its homebase of Kansas City. Epley says K.C. has been a
key behind their success, and that moving to the Coasts never entered
"I don't think you can discount the Midwest, or that you need to
be on the coasts to have an impact -- that's not the case anymore
especially with the advent of the Internet," he said. "We've
been successful by touring beyond the three-state region. Some bands
prefer to build a regional following in smaller cities. We preferred
playing in bigger cities like Dallas and Denver, all within eight hours of
Kansas City -- it's a great midpoint."
The city itself is enjoying a rock renaissance of sorts that rivals the
golden years of the early '90s, Epley said. "It went through a low
period in the late-'90s. Now it's more robust than ever, with clubs like
the El Torreon, The Uptown Theater and The Madrid bringing in mid-size
acts. You get a sense that you don't have to be in Chicago or Austin to be
relevant. In fact, we're more relevant in those cities by not being from
For this year's tour schedule, Shiner will, for the first time, wander
overseas to Europe opening for Aina, a Barcelona-based band that
"sounds like Jawbox meets AC/DC," Epley said.
Despite the opportunity, the Sept. 11 events have drawn a specter over
the upcoming tour. "We debated over going to Europe," Epley
said. "We did a lot of soul searching and flip-flopping. We could
have done a West Coast tour in lieu of Europe, but our distributor,
Southern UK, is really stoked about it and we knew we couldn't pass it up.
"My main concern is that something will happen when we're over
there and we'll never get back," Epley added. "I'm not afraid of
flying any more than usual. I'm convinced that the plane is going to crash
into the ocean anyway."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 10, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.