School of Rock

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

Like many college towns, Bozeman has a thriving music scene. The unusually large percentage of young residents creates a demand for live musical acts of all sorts and a supply of talented musicians to meet that demand. While not every Bozeman band is associated with MSU, many local favorites are formed of either current students or alumni. Some bands form in the halls of the School of Music in Howard Hall, while others grow out of informal jam sessions when students are relaxing from their studies. The Exponent sat down with two local favorites with close ties to MSU to hear about their inspiration, how they formed, and whether they could capture the national spotlight.

 The Bent Bones: Friends first

Bozeman funk group The Bent Bones owes their existence to MSU’s music classes. Juniors Kurt Binder (bass guitar) and Anthony Gaglia (guitar) met during freshman orientation and quickly became friends. After meeting Cody Lindblom (lead vocals), who was singing in the MSU Chorale and was in several of their music classes, all the trio needed was a drummer. Sophomore Hunter Hessian is the odd man out as an engineering major, but after hearing about him from mutual friends, The Bent Bones quickly added him to the lineup — his six years of professional drumming in Portland and Seattle were more than enough musical training.

Gaglia, who has a scholarship to MSU to play classical guitar, writes the band’s lyrics before passing them to Lindblom to put to a melody. Once that is accomplished, the group collaborates on fleshing out the rest of the song, drawing from a diverse range of influences. Binder, Gaglia and Lindblom are majoring in music education, music and music technology, respectively, which frequently requires them to study classical music and music history. While they listen to more recent releases in their free time, the group agrees that their required classes have influenced their original compositions. “It keeps us more open-minded,” Hessian said, adding that he thinks “good music is good music, and we all appreciate it.”

The Bent Bones completed recording a three song EP over winter break and have since recorded another single. Lindblom put what he has learned in his music technology classes to work, handling all the production himself to spare the group the expense of a professional. “I love working on the production and making the song come to life,” he said. “I’m always checking in with the other guys like ‘hey, what do you think of this? Is this mix good?’ until we’re all happy with it.”

In support of the EP, The Bent Bones spent last semester playing house parties to hone their craft and help build their fan base. With 14 original songs in their repertoire alongside a number of popular covers, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Suck My Kiss,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot,” the group recently started booking more shows at larger venues. In addition to upcoming shows in Bozeman, they have also booked shows around the state and the West Coast.

While the group is beginning to play bigger shows and is in the process of recording their first full-length album, they are under no illusions that international fame and fortune are right around the corner. “We’re serious, but realistic,” said the group.

For the moment the group seems happy to be able to indulge their passion. They are currently practicing in Hessian’s basement, a space small enough that singer Lindblom has to crouch to avoid hitting his head and cold enough that Hessian warms his hands by blowing on them before playing. These inconveniences seem minor as soon as they begin to play, however. As Gaglia began the opening chords of “The One I Want,” a wide grin crept across his face, soon spreading to the rest of the group.

“[The Bent Bones] helped restore my faith in music and make it fun again,” said Hessian. Lindblom also stressed the friendship between the members, saying it helped him continue “doing the thing I love most.”

The Bent Bones will be playing two free shows at The Zebra at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 30 and Saturday, Feb. 7. They can be contacted at facebook.com/thebentbones, and you can listen to their music at reverbnation.com/thebentbones7.

Panther Car: A team effort

Another local rock group, Panther Car, celebrated their first anniversary with their current lineup on Jan. 23 with a show at The Zebra to help raise money for The Warming Center, Bozeman’s temporary homeless shelter. The group was formed two-and-a-half years ago when Connor Smith and Scott Merenz met at a party. Both guitarists, the two became friends while talking about the music that was playing.

Merenz, who graduated from MSU last year with a degree in cell biology and neuroscience, was friends with Christopher Kurtwood and brought his name up when Panther Car’s previous drummer moved. Smith enthusiastically agreed to bring the drummer on board without asking for an audition: “I knew [Kurtwood] was right when [Merenz] said he didn’t play — he danced behind the drums.” After Kurtwood, a senior in anthropology, entered the group, the last addition was Andrew Cornell, the bassist. Cornell graduated MSU last year with a Bachelor of Arts in music but had focused on the guitar. He had been playing the bass guitar for only two months when he auditioned for the group.

Panther Car places a premium on democracy, saying they “try to make [songwriting] as collaborative as possible” and “vote on everything.” The group usually has some or most of the melody completed before Merenz begins writing lyrics to accompany the music. Because the songs are worked with an emphasis on collaboration, they rarely turn out as the progenitor envisioned. “They have to kill their [favorites] on sight,” laughed Kurtwood, “with me at least.” While the process can occasionally cause tension, the group members remain good humored and civil: “We’ve only gotten physical once,” Cornell said with a smile. By working collaboratively on every aspect of every song together, Panther Car ensures that each member has a stake in everything they play. “It makes it everyone’s baby,” the group said.

The group jokingly calls itself “pre-algebrock,” a play on “math rock” — an experimental subgenre of rock which often features unusual time signatures and places less focus on the lyrics than most rock. Panther Car doesn’t stray far from traditional rock — they describe themselves as “experimental, but not super off the deep end.” The group draws influence from a number of musical groups peripherally connected to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, including Warpaint, Dot Hacker and the solo work of John Frusciante.

Finding a place to practice has proved difficult for the group. For some time they were renting a storage unit in Livingston just for practice. Today they are working out of a storage unit in Bozeman with less than perfect conditions: the cold has forced them to fill the space with five heaters to stay warm.

Last June, Panther Car spent time touring the Northwest, including Seattle, Boise and Portland. Since then they have been busy writing new songs and are almost ready to begin playing shows again. Their Jan. 23 show was their first in several months, and they took the opportunity to debut a new song with a promise that more shows and songs are coming soon.

Panther Car can be contacted at facebook.com/panthercar and listened to at panthercar.bandcamp.com.