Student Art: As the Crow Flies

The Bozeman music scene is abundant in creativity; anyone would be hard put to find a genre this town is lacking. After all, we have our very own blues metal band, As the Crow Flies. The duo, with a metal background, plays the blues with instruments and lighting they’ve built almost entirely themselves.

Front man and MSU student Mario Miner built Howling Duke — his guitar — mostly out of recycled materials. “It has [red] LEDs on the inside; my mom made the dream catchers over the sound holes; the bridge and nut are made from cow bone. The leather piece is from a jacket from the 1970s – my mom’s old disco jacket,” Miner said. “The frets are from a broken bass one of our old bandmates busted. The tuning pegs are from my first Gibson guitar; I broke them off at a show so I wanted to recycle them. It’s modeled after the old cigar box guitars.”

Miner said his inspiration came from a guitar builder out of Missoula, Sean Kochel, who uses found wood from the surrounding prairies. The band’s next steps are to construct a set for drummer Nick Hamilton. “We need to find the right materials to make everything work and still uphold sound quality, but also the meaning behind why we are building what we’re building,” Hamilton said.

According to the duo, they want to inspire other musicians to build their own instruments. “We both come from small towns that didn’t have music stores; we couldn’t research what kind of cymbals, what kind of strings were better,” Hamilton said. “We had to save up money, buy these expensive things … and go from there. It’s always been hit or miss. We wanted to motivate the younger generation to just go for it. It doesn’t matter that you have a $2,000 drum set or $500 guitar; you can still make music with things you find around the house.”

Miner’s own journey to building was an interesting one. With no construction or electrical background, he just decided to jump in. “I am not a professional electrician. I’m actually a psychology major,” he said, laughing. He went on to say, “I did a single man thing where I used a suitcase bass drum that I made. I would either play shows or I would just go downtown and play. When I went downtown I had a foldable rack the [suitcase] drum sits in. I would be able to fold it and put my amp and everything inside the suitcase and roll out to Main Street. I’d have that in one hand and [Howling Duke] in the other. People loved it. I’d sit down there for a couple hours or until shopkeepers shooed me away.”

Along with Howling Duke, the suitcase bass drum and an amp made from an ammo can, Miner has made all the band’s stage lights which he manages while playing on stage with foot pedals. “People spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on stuff to create this atmosphere and this is all only about fifty bucks,” Miner said.

Playing at venues like The Filling Station, stage environment is usually limited. Hamilton explained, “The metal genre is used to going big, so we incorporate some of those theatrics with this genre. People are used to seeing musicians up on stage and nothing really spectacular, but we’re under the firm belief that people aren’t just paying to see people play; they’re paying to get an experience.”

Looking forward, As the Crow Flies wants to make more homemade instruments. Hamilton said, “The next steps are to incorporate as much homemade stuff as possible, but it’s all trial and error. There’s a lot of research involved. We can’t just throw anything together.”

They’ll also be recording and filming music videos later this month with the local business A Thousand Arms. “We’re talking about incorporating other genres,” Hamilton said, “Maybe  hip-hop blues. Even in our set list we go from teetering on the metal genre all the way down to Chuck Berry and to traditional blues. There’s always a theme of blues.”

The duo hopes to go on tour later in the year, but no matter what happens, they seek to inspire other young musicians to make their passions come true. Miner said, “you’ve got to take risks sometimes if you want to do what you want to do. So far, that’s what we’ve been doing and it’s been working.”

On Wednesday, Feb 11. at The Filling Station, As the Crow Flies will be playing a show with the duo Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil. “They’re a band that really influenced me,” Miner said, “Another two piece blues band from Portland. We get to play with them, I’m so giddy about it.”