80/35 Music Festival Band Preview (part 1)

BY DI ARTS STAFF | JULY 02, 2009 7:20 AM

The Dig Angees: Surfing up some pop rock

mp3 sample: The Dig Angees


The Dig Angees of Des Moines will bring gig-bags full of rock ’n’ roll to this year’s 80/35 festival on Friday at 5:15 p.m. on the Meredith West Stage. The three-piece band, consisting of Brenton Dean on lead vocals and guitar, Steven Rood on vocals and drums, and Ambrose Ball-Harney playing bass, kicked off the festival last year.

“When we have kids, we’ll tell them, ‘We were the first band to ever play the 80/35 festival,’ ” Dean said. “I think that’s pretty badass.”

The trio have a full-length self-titled album out, and the members say they hope to get back in the studio this winter for a possible EP. The Dig Angees’ first run in the studio yielded favorable results, the guys say, considering the harsh conditions of a studio/warehouse in the winter.

“When we recorded our record in the warehouse, it was so cold that Ambrose actually recorded a couple songs wearing gloves,” Dean said. “We’re proud of the record, because it really captures our live energy.”

The band’s sound is often described as surf/pop/rock. The Dig Angees combines dynamic guitar playing reminiscent of such West Coast rock bands as Sublime along with tightly orchestrated arrangements and frequent rhythmic changes. However, as a rule, the band holds no loyalty to any particular sound.

“We just write what comes to us,” Dean said. “Our newest song actually takes a lot of jazz influence. So I guess we’re kind of musically curious.”

The quirky, fast-paced three-piece promises to bring an exciting set to the second 80/35 festival.
“I’d have to say that all of our shows have been amazing,” Dean said. “They don’t call us the Dig Angees for nothin’.”

— by Ryan Fosmark

Maximilian Eubank: Going it alone

mp3 sample: Maximilian Eubank

"Not Make Believe"

Native Des Moines musician Maximilian Eubank will play 80/35 on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. on the Meredith West Stage.

“[Playing solo] is a little scary, because you don’t have a full band behind you,” he said. “If you screw up, everyone’s going to know.”

Eubank, an acoustic singer/songwriter who started playing guitar in 1997, split with his high-school rock band after moving to Colorado to pursue his undergraduate work, and he returned to Iowa a few years ago to continue his education and write and play his music for local audiences.

“I’m so excited about 80/35,” he said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for me to get my music out there.”

The singer said that his love of his home state and his connection to family and friends here were a strong motivation to stay in and perform around Des Moines in various bars and musical locales.

“I actually came back to play music with my buddy [and former bandmate] Brian,” he said. “He was diagnosed with cancer and passed away earlier in January. The whole time I was packing [in Colorado], I was saying, ‘Brian, we need to get ready to start playing music together again.’ And then I get back, and he was in the hospital, basically until the end. So I don’t regret coming back at all. But [Brian] should be here with me.”

Eubank occasionally meets up to play with his former and now Iowa City-based band, and he will on July 17 at Camp Euforia, in Lone Tree, but his individual work is his musical focus now. Eubank’s sound is refreshing and light, and his plucky guitar skills and husky vocals are reminiscent of a worldlier Jack Johnson.

“[After 80/35] I don’t have anything planned, because I’m taking the bar exam,” the Drake University Law School graduate said. “So I’ve been — and will be — studying a lot.”

— by Ellen Harris

Public Property: A recipe for groove

mp3 sample: Public Property

"Power Trip"

How to make Public Property:

“Mix roots reggae, gospel reggae, and ska. Add a pinch of sugar. Add a cup of ukulele. Stir. Add a teaspoon of hip-hop for good measure. When the pot has come to a nice glow, pepper in some funk. Simmer down. In a large bowl, serve to friends. On a larger note, never forget the ladies,” Dave Bess wrote in an e-mail interview. Bess is Public Property’s singer/guitarist/ukulele strummer.

Public Property will mix it up at 80/35 on Friday on the Meredith West Stage at 8:30 p.m. The septet is composed of Bess on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and ukulele, Ben Franklin on drums, Jeremiah Murphy on bass, Andy Parrott on lead guitar, Matt Wright on keyboards, Margaret Larson on vocals, and Meghan McDonough on vocals.

The band just released its fourth album, which has taken two years to concoct and features Toots from Toots and the Maytals on vocals. The album released on June 25 at People’s Court with Toots and the Maytals headlining.

“This is a big release for Public Property,” Bess said.

Public Property, which hails from Iowa City, started as a trio in 2003 when Bess put together a slew of songs and decided to start a reggae band. It has since more than doubled in size and has developed a diverse stock of reggae tunes. Bess reportedly loves touring and gigging, but is equally excited about the other music that will be played at 80/35.

“I’m personally stoked to see Public Enemy,” Bess said. “Unfortunately, I’ll miss Ben Harper and G. Love due to a show with Toots and the Maytals in Chicago on Saturday.”

With all the momentum behind Public Property’s recipe for groove cake, no end is in sight for the seven-piece.

“We plan on rocking hard and continuously into 2010,” Bess said.

— by Ryan Fosmark

Public Enemy: Legendary act

Few things ruled the ’90s greater than “Saved by the Bell,” R/C Cola, and Public Enemy.

Public Enemy, one of the first rap groups not afraid to speak out about injustice, will take the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage as one 80/35’s headliners at 9:30 p.m., following Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. KRUI disc jockey Mark Smith, who saw the band at Pitchfork Music Festival last summer, describes the group as having a great live show because of its energy.

“I wasn’t really a huge fan before I saw it,” Smith said. “There are few bands who can recreate their albums, and [Public Enemy is] definitely one of those bands. Chuck D is full of energy, and Flav doesn’t need much talent — he just yells funny things to keep the crowd entertained.”

Public Enemy, made of mainly Chuck D and Flavor Flav, emerged as one of hip-hop’s prominent groups in the late ’80s with its début album, Yo! Burn Rush the Show, and went on the create such classics as It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The group pioneered new sounds in hip-hop, using a blend of sampling, jazz, rock, and rap, along with politically driven lyrics, to create an influence still heard in today’s music. Public Enemy is ranks No. 44 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time, and the band is still releasing critically acclaimed new music today.

After fading for a couple years, Public Enemy pushed back into the spotlight when Flavor Flav created his own VH1 reality show, “Flavor of Love.” However, fans of Public Enemy don’t seem to care about his television antics.

“Halfway through the set [at Pitchfork], Flav thanked everyone for making him the No. 1 reality-TV star,” Smith said. “Everyone started booing, and he got really offended. Chuck D had to be like, ‘Back to the music,’ and people started chanting.”

The band made a name for itself with politically charged lyrics — often speaking out about politics and ethnicity and potentially providing Middle America with a new aspect of hip-hop.

“I’m shocked it is in Iowa; I think it’s great,” KRUI general manager Nathan Gould said. “Public Enemy is one of those untouchable bands — [like] Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and Public Enemy. It will be an awesome show.”

— by Eric Sundermann

MooseKnuckle: Kicking off the Meredith West Stage

Jam rock band MooseKnuckle will open the Meredith West Stage on Friday at 4 p.m., as part of 80/35. The native-Des Moines band just released its first CD in its hometown and says the group is excited to support its new album at this year’s festival.

The quartet’s heavily improvisational vibe keeps its fans returning for a new set every time it plays. MooseKnuckle is made up of guitarist/vocalist Nathan Finestead, bassist/vocalist Jason Kent, drummer Eric Biase, and Gwen Schlepphorst on piano and vocals. The funky, danceable tunes they make emit a catchy, experimental feel that sends listeners on a trip.

“We could describe our music as a high energy carnival ride,” Finestead wrote in an e-mail interview.
Over the last two years, MooseKnuckle has developed a considerable following, drawing many of its listeners the fan bases of bands such as Garaj Mahal and Family Groove Company. The band hopes to keep the funky jams flowing again at this year’s festival.

“We are very excited to be playing at 80/35 this year,” Finestead wrote. “It was such a great experience to play at a festival in our home town last year that we can't wait to do it again.”

— by Ryan Fosmark

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Symbolic dining

Indie band Cymbals Eat Guitars will travel to Des Moines to play an early evening show on Saturday on the Meredith West Stage at 5:15 p.m.

“Oh, I’m definitely excited about 80/35,” said frontman Joseph D’Agostino. “It’s our first big professional [show], and the only one that we’ll do prior to Pitchfork [a Chicago-based music festival on July 17-19].”

Cymbals Eat Guitars, a true alt-rock band from Staten Island, N.Y., recorded its first album, Why There Are Mountains, in the studio of Kyle Johnson (who produced alt-rock wonder Modest Mouse) in 2008, after Johnson heard the band play on the Lower East Side.

D’Agostino and drummer Matthew Miller have been playing together since their sophomore year in high school, though the pair attended different colleges.

“[Miller] went to Penn State, and I went to Fordham Lincoln Center in New York. We sort of had an on and off musical collaboration still going on,” D’Agostino said.

Both have taken time off from their education to pursue musical careers with Cymbals Eat Guitars.

In the summer of 2007, D’Agostino and Miller headed into the city to put some of their demos in the public’s ear. After spending five months banging out a majority of the tracks that are found on Why There Are Mountains, the pair went on the hunt for more band members.

“I got another guitarist and a keyboard and bassist off Craigslist,” D’Agostino said.

After getting the gig with Johnson and replacing the group’s former bassist with Neil Berenholz, Cymbals Eat Guitars débuted its album to strong local success in New York. Recently, the band has released its first single, “Tunguska,” a sleepy anthem tune meant to accompany cold drinks on hot summer nights.

“All of our ducks are kind of falling into a row,” D’Agostino said. “It’s pretty cool.”

— by Ellen Harris

Beati Paoli: The Beati goes on

Beati Paoli will play the 80/35 festival on at 12:45 p.m. Saturday on the Mediacom East Stage.

The members of Beati Paoli — Gregory Goode, Scott O’Gara, Ryan Meier, and Cecil Skrdlandt — have known each other since attending Lincoln High in Des Moines. Then, in the fall of 2005, the longtime friends decided to jam together.

“Scott had been living in California for a year, I’d been teaching in Japan for a year, and so we all just kind of came back,” vocalist Goode said. “One reason I came back was to [form a band].”

The theatrical-pop sounding Beati Paoli received its name from a story he heard prior to forming the band.

“It’s an Italian word,” he said. “It’s an early form of the Mafia. A group of knights, similar to Robin Hood donned cloaks in the middle of the night and stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Some people believe it’s true, and others think it’s just a fable.”

Recently, half of the band moved to Iowa City for a change of scenery. Because the members can no long practice whenever they want, Goode said, it just makes the time the band does spend together more important.

“I think it’ll be challenging, but I think it’ll just cement our dedication,” he said. “When we do get together, the shows will have to be that much more important.

This will be the first time Beati Paoli has played 80/35, and Goode is most looking forward to being able to play for a crowd that includes people from all generations.

“Last year, I went to 80/35, and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “[There were] all different types of people. People you’d expect to see at a show like that and then parents and grandparents of all sorts you wouldn’t expect to see there just having a good time. It’ll be fun to play for all those people.”

— by Rachael Lander

Hanwell: From Chesterton to pop

Believing in oneself is something Des Moines band Hanwell tries to live by. In fact, its moniker was derived from Orthodoxy, a book by G.K. Chesterton, which explores the meaning of life.

“The only thing that keeps us sane is that we have something greater than ourselves to believe in,” singer/songwriter James Petersen said.

Hanwell will play in 80/35 at noon on Saturday on the Mediacom East Stage.

The band’s genesis occurred in the fall of 2007, when longtime friends Petersen and Nathaniel Hill (drums) decided to form a band after spending time writing music together. Hill brought in guitarist Austin Dunn, and Hanwell began to grow.

“It really came together around the three of us,” Petersen said. “Then, as we started to get more and more serious about it and started to work with other musicians, we decided we needed to form something more legitimate.”

Petersen, who described Hanwell’s sound as folk pop, said the band has found inspiration in bands from the Beatles to Wilco.

“We’re influenced by a lot of different things but we sort of channel that all through a basic desire to make great pop music,” Petersen said. “We listen to some really experimental weird stuff, and that kind of gets channeled through some of the sensibility that we got from girl groups and ’60s pop bands.”

Since 2007, Hanwell has kept its shows local, focusing more on the music than trying to embark on an national tour. The Des Moines music festival will be the biggest event the group has played at, and though Petersen said he is looking forward to the experience, he doesn’t necessarily consider the gig as something that will launch the band into a national tour.

“We don’t really know what the future has in store, and we don’t really have any plans for it,” he said.

“We’re just going to try to make the best music that we can and reach people, and that’s sort of what we’re about.”

— by Rachael Lander

Baby Teeth: ‘Shoot-from-the-hip sincerity’

Baby Teeth bassist Jim Cooper lives a life immersed in music. When he is not on tour, the musician spends his time as an orchestra director and scoring works.

“I just finished scoring work on a video game, which, if I could tell you what it is, you would laugh,” he said. “It’s supposed to come out with a blockbuster that’s slated for release in the fall. Basically, you’re writing this music to get 8-year-olds to sit in front of the TV and rot their brains for hours.”

Cooper, vocalist and keyboardist Abraham Levitan, and drummer Peter Andreadis will play an old-school blend of pop rock at 80/35 on the Meredith West Stage at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The Chicago-based group — which critics have compared with bands such as David Bowie and Queen — is preparing to release its third album, Hustle Beach, on July 14. Cooper says the album is vastly different from the group’s previous work.

“The orchestration is a lot sparser, there are fewer instruments, and the songs are much, much simpler,” he said. “We experimented a lot with repetition on this record, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow and perhaps less heady than the releases we’ve done in the past. I think that makes it a lot more accessible, and we think it’s the best one yet. We’re very proud of it.”

Although Cooper is not quite sure why, he says that the band has always had a large fan base in Iowa, and he looks forward to playing the 80/35 festival.

“There’s something about that Midwestern shoot-from-the-hip sincerity that seems to resonate with folks from Iowa,” Cooper said. “Come and have your heart broken in the most fun possible way.”

— by Eric Andersen

Anni Rossi: Playing Iowa

It only took 23-year-old viola player Anni Rossi one day to record her latest album, Rockwell, in which the artist blended a mix of classical and pop music.

“I wanted to push myself a little bit,” she said. “I just wanted to capture what it would be like if I were to play for whatever people were listening to the record as if they were sitting in the room with me. It felt as if it would be more natural to have it occur in a day rather than numerous days.”

She will bring her live show to the Meredith West Stage as part of the 80/35 on Saturday at noon. She often performs solo, using only her viola, voice, and a briefcase for percussion.

“When I play solo, I stomp on a suitcase for percussion, and if I’m not doing that, then a drummer named Kevin Maxwell accompanies me,” Rossi said.

She has been classically trained since the age of 3, when her mother signed her up for private violin lessons. She eventually learned to play the viola and sing, which, she said, was not easy.

“At first, it was kind of laughable, what I was attempting to do,” Rossi said. “The main difficulty was that my voice wanted to do whatever the viola was doing, and now, finally, the melodies and the viola are kind of independent of one another, which makes it easier to sing and play at the same time.”

She recently finished a tour of Canada, and she is now playing shows in the United States. She will perform at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. Friday before heading to the 80/35 festival.

“I’m looking forward to playing in Iowa,” she said.

— by Eric Andersen

The Nadas: From couches to arenas

Des Moines band the Nadas will make up for last year’s absence at this year’s 80/35 festival Friday at 7:45 p.m. on the Mediacom East Stage.

“We missed it last year, and I felt as if I missed the most important thing to happen in Iowa in a long time,” guitarist/vocalist Jason Walsmith said. “So I’m very happy to be a part of it this year.”

The band that labels its sound Midwestern rock is made up of three guitarists, Walsmith, Mike Butterworth, and Ross Vanderwerf, along with bassist Jon Locker and Ian Shepherdon on drums.

The Nadas has spent 16 years making lyrically driven music after beginning in the halls of Iowa State University. The band has grown considerably — evident by its name on the Bon Jovi bill at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines in 2006, but the members still value their humble beginnings.

“More than playing with big bands, we sort of really enjoy playing with peer bands. We enjoy playing with our friends,” Walsmith said. “We still play living rooms, and we still, occasionally, get to play stadiums.”

While its shows run the gamut from couch stages to arenas, the Nadas has proven particularly ambitious with its latest recording effort, dubbed Project Almanac. The project allows fans to observe the entire making of an album from initial songwriting to final recording.

“On that blog, we’re streaming all the songwriting sessions, all the recording, mixing, rehearsals, and then we’re posting those on there too,” Walsmith said. “They’re live when we’re doing it, but then we also keep an archive on there, and we keep an archive of e-mails, and phone calls, and radio appearances. So it’s kind of like the whole life of the making of the record that’s available on that blog.”

The Nadas posts a new song every month, and the group has six completed and archived. There is also a chat room on the blog in which fans can talk about what’s happening with the musical process and discuss the band in general. With the buzz about Project Almanac, the Nadas is sure to bust out some of the hot new material on Friday.

— by Ryan Fosmark

Man Man: Manning up with strangeness

Experimental Philadelphia band Man Man is strange — its members know that.

But being different makes the band thrive, though different may be an understatement for these six characters who go by the names Honus Honus, Critter Crat, Pow Pow, Chang Wang, Organ, and Freeman.

Man Man is set to perform at 80/35 on Saturday at 3:15pm on the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage.

Unlike most bands, when Man Man takes the stage, it does so with xylophones, marimbas, and sousaphones. Everything from the members’ names to the group’s sound is original.

Though many bands reach their sound peak when the groups record in the studio, Man Man’s brilliance hits its high point when the members are on stage in front of their fans. The group famously doesn’t stop between songs in its live performances — rather, the six play continuously, almost like a record.

“Man Man is one of those bands that is famouse for its live shows,” said Nathan Gould, KRUI’s general director. “Not every band’s music translates well to a live, outdoor environment.”

Man Man’s compositions have been called “Viking vaudeville” and “manic gypsy jazz” by one Australian music guide, liveguide.com.au, and its quirky and unprecedented music puts the group into a league of its own.

“Man Man’s level of energy and creativity is a good formula for a quality festival band,” Gould said. “I would highly recommend this show. I think people will be pleasantly surprised with its live performance.”

— by Kristen Peters

Modern Skirts: Unafraid to pop off

Though such acts as Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana may have poisoned what listeners distinguish as pop music, Phillip Brantley of Modern Skirts isn’t shy about using the word.

“I’m not afraid of the sins of that word,” Brantley said. “It’s [the music] melody-centric. Lately, more of our newer stuff, which is the bulk of what we’re playing at these festivals, is a little less structured and a little less pretty but melodic just the same, a bit more rhythmic.”

Modern Skirts will take 80/35’s Mediacom East Stage at 5:45 p.m., following William Fitzsimmons. The band brings an interesting blend of original lyrics and piano-driven rock to the festival.

Brantley, the vocalist and bass player, said the majority of the band’s lyrics are fictional.

“The themes tend to be stories that aren’t necessarily stories related to anything any of us have been through,” he said. “It’s more fun for all of us to write from another person’s point of view, outside of your own.”

The band comes to Des Moines as part of its summer tour of festivals. Brantley believes its live shows are fun because members are continually switching instruments and singing at the same time.

“[Those] are things I like in a live show,” Brantley said. “You get different styles, and it comes across as more varied and energetic, [and] the new stuff is more upbeat.”

Modern Skirts hail from the famous Athens, Ga., music scene. The guys brought the band together during college in late 2002, and they appreciate playing in a scene such as Athens.

“It’s kind of nice when we’re on the road — being from Athens is a badge of honor,” Brantley said. “People are always really fascinated with the culture down here. That one in three people you see in Athens are probably in some type of band — it’s really cool to tell people about.”

Brantley points to influence from the British Invasion, citing bands such as the Kinks and the Beatles as major inspirations. The members hope their success will continue and that they are able to make a full career out of music.

“Plus, we’re not to bad to look at,” Brantley said.

— by Eric Sundermann

Ben Harper and the Relentless7: Big name in the Hawkeye State

Ben Harper and the Relentless7 — despite consisting only of four members — formed in 2008 when Harper met guitarist Jason Mozersky, and together, with two other members, continued making the music that put Harper on the independent-music map.

“Ben Harper is an acoustic player, which can be rare when you are dealing with most music today that is synthesized or lost somewhere in the orchestration,” said Mary Kate Bordewick, a UI junior and assistant jazz music director for KRUI. “He takes a back seat to music and relies on his talent for singing and playing instead of beating your eardrums to a pulp with bass lines.”

Harper’s solo career catapulted in 1994 with his début album, Welcome to the Cruel World, and he has since maintained his signature vocal style with other albums, such as 2006’s Both Sides of the Gun and recent release White Lies for Dark Times.

“Ben Harper and the Relentless7 is one of the headliners and most anticipated acts of the festival,” said Nathan Gould, KRUI’s general director. “Harper has become one of the quintessential festival acts. His longevity as an artist has helped develop a strong and passionate fan base.”

Along with other big names, such as Public Enemy and Public Property, Ben Harper and the Relentless7 is a boost to Iowa’s music scene, aiding in the growth of this state’s reputation in the arts.

“His visit to Iowa is unique and rare,” Gould said. “I imagine there are quite a few people who are excited about this show.”

Harper has, without making much ruckus on the mainstream front, made a name for himself and found a vocal style that suited his ambient guitar riffs.

“He sounds like the guys from the ’60s and ’70s — just playing his heart out to perfectly paired lyrics,” Bordewick said.

— by Kristen Peters

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