Friday, October 22, 2004
Straight from the bottle.
That's how Josh Berwanger, lead singer and songwriter of The Only Children, takes his whiskey.
And in a couple of months, a vodka ad in Jane Magazine will reveal how the rest of The Only Children take their liquor. Concurrently, an ad in Teen Vogue Magazine will encourage fans to download a ring tone for the band's first single "Change of Living."
All of which points to one thing...
"I really am at the point where I don't give a (expletive)," said Berwanger, as he knocked back a Budweiser and a slice of pizza a couple of hours before his new band embarked on its first tour. "If I have to do a vodka commercial ... I know my songs are true and I know our band is true and I know that I'm not selling myself short.
"If someone who's a fan of ours reads ("Jane") I'm going to call them a (wussy) anyway."
No more Anniversaries
These days, Berwanger and company need all the exposure a new band can get. After a seven-year run with The Anniversary, Berwanger watched his band internally disintegrate in the midst of playing 1,000-seat venues with the likes of Guided By Voices, Dashboard Confessional and Cheap Trick. Sensing the imminent collapse of The Anniversary, Berwanger did what any smart singer/songwriter would do: He stole the rhythm section and split.
"Jim, Janko and I were always kind of hanging out together, so when (The Anniversary) broke up, it was natural that us three play together," he said, referring to bassist Jim David and drummer Christian "Janko" Jankowski.
While The Anniversary excelled at molding multiple songwriting visions into a coherent whole, the band's delicate balance of power may ultimately have signaled its demise. The final home recordings indicated that Berwanger and Roelofs were headed in completely different directions, with little room for compromise.
"Someone told me a long time ago, 'You're in a band with two songwriters -- it's not going to work,'" Berwanger recalled.
"It kind of seemed towards the end like, 'I got to get my five songs on this record and he's got to get his five songs on this record' ... and that just kind of sucks."
- Saturday, October 23, 2004, 9 p.m.
- Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire, Lawrence
- All ages / $6
By the time word spread of The Anniversary's official breakup, The Only Children -- then known as "Josh Berwanger and the Holy Ghosts" -- were already hard at work on a new batch of songs. Longtime friend and blues guitarist TK Webb offered to move back to Lawrence from Brooklyn and join the band as a full-time member, and Hot Rod Circuit's Casey Prestwood -- an accomplished pedal steel guitarist -- volunteered as much time and effort as he could expend.
With the last-minute addition of singer/keyboardist Heidi-Lynne Gluck (via Indianapolis and a veteran of Juliana Hatfield's Some Girls), The Only Children were ready to hit the studio and record an album. The band caravanned to a remote mountain studio in Colorado and spent three weeks recording its debut album "Change of Living."
By all accounts, the experience was as much a spiritual awakening as a recording session.
"We'd wake up and someone would make breakfast for everyone, and we'd all make a fire together," Prestwood remembered. "If Josh was working on a song, me, Jim and Janko would hike up to the peak of a mountain."
The resulting album is a celebration of newfound friendship and rebirth. Its 10 songs recall Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" or The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- heartfelt songs of love, rambling and yearning performed with a rock-solid rhythm section and an authentic tradition-steeped twang.
"I felt like I finally had something to really sing about," Berwanger said. "On some Anniversary songs I was more writing from after like reading a book -- you know, coming from somewhere else instead of myself. This record is more personal for me."
First tour blues
The current tour -- which began Sept. 14 at The Hurricane in Kansas City, Mo., and ends Saturday at The Bottleneck -- has served as a wake-up call for a band that's essentially starting from scratch.
According to Berwanger, who checked in as the band was passing through Myrtle Beach en route to a show in Greenville, N.C., the tour has been tough so far.
"It's our first tour -- I wasn't expecting it to be (expletive) awesome or anything," said Berwanger, who estimated the group was playing for an average of 20 people a night. "The good thing is that every show we play at least half the audience buys CDs ... the bummer is, half the audience is usually seven people."
Spirits figure to pick up as The Only Children visit the CMJ Festival in New York City and return to Lawrence to close out the tour. The album will come out nationwide on Nov. 2.
A band of their own
At the urging of the band's new label Glurp Records (also home to Grand Champeen and The Deathray Davies), The Only Children are still being promoted with the "featuring former members of The Anniversary" tag.
Though Berwanger is sympathetic to doing whatever it takes to gain a new audience, it's a tag he'd just as soon leave behind.
"If 10 more kids are going to get to hear these songs because of that's on there, then that's fine," he said. "In three years, if that's still on there ... I'm throwing the sheets in -- I'm done."