Student band survives breakup

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

On Bozeman’s northern border, just shy of the interstate and barely inside the city limits, there’s a storage unit quietly playing a crucial role in keeping the city’s music scene alive. Thanks in part to the high cost of housing, many local acts have difficulty finding a good place to practice — their neighbors are too close or their apartments too small. Easily solved problems with more money, but in the meantime, Bozeman’s fledgling bands flock north to Lux Transfer and Storage Inc, where they can split a storage unit with another act or two while they wait on their record deals.

“Those are the only storage units in town with both heat and electricity,” Paul Bennett said, gesturing across the parking lot towards a low row of storage units. The sound of drums floated back — another band practicing late into the night.

Bennett and his band, Liv, plan to move across the way by the end of the month. At the moment, however, they practice in one of the larger but unheated units. The rolling door is coming off the hinges, forcing the group to blow on their hands for warmth between takes.

All three Liv members attended MSU’s music technology program. Bennett, built like a pencil, tall and thin, graduated last spring, as did Graham Owen. Jeff Strock, bald and bearded, clad in his trademark tight leather jacket, spent two years in the program before deciding to go another direction — “I’m not a classroom kind of guy,” he said.

Strock and Bennett have been bandmembers together before. They performed together for years with Birdie Bowie as Rose Gold, which recently broke up. Rumors of trouble and breakups had circulated for months before, but this breakup smacks of finality.

“When we started Rose Gold, we were all new to making rock and pop … there was this universal spark, and somewhere along the way that energy went away,” Bennett explained. The group had been around long enough in Bozeman to have earned a small following and the respect of other local musicians, but “there just wasn’t the motivation,” Bennett said.

Despite Bennett and Strock’s pains to paint a picture of an amicable dissolution, Bozeman’s rumor mill has a less friendly version of events. Other local musicians tell stories of shows canceled after one member or another would unexpectedly not show up, rehearsals falling apart in shouting matches and, of course, complaints of not enough mutual respect.

On this night, however, the trio is looking forward, not backward. Their first show with the new lineup is just days away and they are only satisfied with half of their original songs. Strock settles in behind the microphone and tunes his guitar as Bennett begins playing a simple riff on his bass guitar, then, with a glance, they’re off. The newest member, Owen, on drums, nods nervously for a few bars. He seems almost too big for the purple drum set as he glances back and forth, looking for all the world like a nervous freshman at his first high school dance. That disappears as soon as he jumps in, however — despite playing with a simple, stiff-armed style, it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing.

Their first track calls to mind the best of Silversun Pickups, one of the bigger names in “shoegaze.” Originally a dismissive term meant to insult the performers, “shoegaze” grew out of the United Kingdom in the late 1980s and is characterized by a wall of sound, blurring instrumentation with feedback and distortion and obscured vocals. “The guitar is almost overpowering,” Bennett described, “it creates an atmosphere. It creates a backdrop for the other sounds to move around.”

“I think we’ll learn the rest of the songs tonight,” Strock said nonchalantly, sipping from a PBR tallboy. Owen had arrived with a pack of his own, ready for a late night of practice.

Despite everything — lineup changes, bitter cold, sharing a shed with floor-to-ceiling files on one side and a hoarder’s trove on the other and more — Liv has a casual confidence. And why shouldn’t they? With a mix of academic training and real practice, experienced crew and fresh blood and a new spark for music, Liv is perfectly positioned.

Liv will be performing Friday, Oct. 9 at The Filling Station and Monday, Oct. 12 at Whistle Pig Korean.