BELFAST — The room or garage set aside for band practice should never be spotless, according to musicians. If it is, that’s a sure sign that the music is going to be too sanitized. A little too polished—a little too adult.
So when I find Hunter Finden, 18, Wes Sterrs, 19, and Molly Samuels, 18, the Belfast trio who propel the punk rock band Jim Dandy, I’m glad to find myself in a familiar place I’ve been many times in my life: a run down, off-the-kitchen alcove with bright yellow walls sporting a faux sponge finish and a single wall decoration, an American flag. There’s a piano against the wall, musical instruments, amplifiers and pedals scattered around the bare floor. The dingy brown couch is completely covered with stuff—no place to sit but on the arm of it. And I’m fine with that.
Before getting down to talking, the band members first launch into a cover of Pixies Where Is My Mind. The song is tight, brash and loud. Kind of like an ape beating on its chest. They don't know what to make of me; they’re fairly new to this interviewing thing, with two of them just out of high school. It takes a little time to break through the awkward barrier of having someone sitting there evaluating them, which they know and I know, but we’ll get over it. A couple of songs later, including one of their originals, called Milk Street, helps them ease into it.
Out on the back deck, I pull up a cooler and sit down. Time to get to the talking part. Sterrs and Finden had been playing together for a couple of years when they decided to form a band called Jim Dandy. Those in the Midcoast familiar with Opera House Video will know there is a real person in Belfast named Jim Dandy as well; he happens to own the video store.
“The band name had everything to do with the real Jim Dandy,” Finden explained. “We named it after him.” They’ve said the real Jim Dandy was pleased with this. “Jim’s just awesome, he’s the coolest dude ever,” said Finden. “We’ve known him since we were kids,” added Sterrs. “We’d go into the Opera House and he’d always give us CDs and movies to watch.”
“He’s like Santa Claus,” Samuels broke in.
“Like Santa Claus, but way cooler,” added Finden.
As with most fledging bands, they experimented with their sound (blues rock, psyche rock), their band name and revolving band members before gelling into their authentic sound, punk rock. Asked what they wouldn’t catagorize themselves as, Sterrs and Finden rapid fired off adjectives: “Rock and roll. Dub step. Folk. Easy listening. I wouldn’t call it hi fi. Not New Wave. Not shoegaze.”
What is shoegaze? “It’s like late ‘80s/’90s rock and roll, like The Smiths,” said Finden. “You put an echo and reverb on everything. It’s like you're in a dream, really spacey, alternative rock.” What’s interesting is they’ve had a lot of time to define exactly what they are by what they aren’t. Finally they agree on what it is: “Lo fi sound, garage punk style,” said Sterrs.
The band finally got grounded when they asked their friend, Samuels to join. She was a constant presence at their practices anyway, hanging around listening as they wrote their songs. ‘We originally wanted Molly as our bassist, but she wouldn't be in our band,” said Finden.” At this point, Samuels, curly-haired and bespectacled, breaks out into a wide, spontaneous grin.
“Because I didn't know how to play the bass! I played it in sixth grade and never played it again and I was too scared because they’re intimidating musically,” she said.
The guys don't like the term ‘groupie.’ To them, she was their Dandylion. “We eventually convinced her to be part of the band and taught her to play bass,” said Finden.
Now, the three of them have their game down and are about to drop their first self-produced and self-titled album at the end of the summer. It was done, not in a studio, but the old indie way of making punk music, with the barest of instruments and equipment, using an Mac and Garage Band to layer in individual tracks. At first, the band bristles at the word ‘indie’ because in this generation, the word has been mangled and maligned by hipsters, but its true essence derives from creatives who used their energy and talent to create something from nothing. Indie artists don't sit around waiting for opportunities to happen; they make them happen with whatever they can beg, borrow or steal. Besides their sound, this is their ethic: to organize shows or places to play on their own. Or, like in the case of the Belfast Musical Festival, not bother going through the registration process to be able to play in a pre-ordained area, but to simply throw their instruments out on a sidewalk and just play. That's why it’s punk, not folk rock.
All self-employed, the band members have worked continuously to put the final touches on the album. “In reality we threw this thing together very, very quickly,” said Sterrs. “We are trying to release two albums in one year. This sort of fits into the whole 'indie' thing because we aren't following that linear model that most bands follow of taking two years to polish a perfect album. It took us less than a month to produce the whole debut album and we're going to start the second one as soon as we finish the first.”
They describe it is a concept album, telling a story, about a character named Jim Dandy—but not the real Jim Dandy—who gets kicked out of his house and “is convinced by his dog to kill his girlfriend.”
“It’s a parody. It has nothing to do with the real Jim,” said Finden, with a smile.
“It’s like Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage,” added Sterrs. “We have audio skits and conversations with characters in between the songs which tell the story.”
On Aug. 15, they’ll be playing at the Waterfall Arts Fallout Shelter with Pleasant Street (from Blue Hill) and Earth Person (from Bangor).
“There’s not a whole lot of places to play around here and we just we wanted to throw a show,” said Sterrs. “This will be the second show that we've thrown at Waterfall Arts in hopes of getting the ball rolling on consistent live music in Belfast. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. with a $5 cover.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wes Sterrs is an occasional contributor to Penobscot Bay Pilot.