lazyhome         reviews         hype         new.gif (913 bytes) webboard                interviews

Shiner: Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Oct. 10, 2001














What exactly is "math rock," anyway?

"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 pretty refreshing."




"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 is anthemic.

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 recording."

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 mathy talents.

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 their minds.

"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 them."

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."

Back to  huge.gif (2200 bytes)

Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.