In Columbus there’s no lack of hubris when it comes to wide-eyed musicians starting bands, playing shows, and gassing up the tour van.
Our music scene is defined and dominated by bands of all stripes. But what of those who choose to go it alone each and every night? Those solitary souls who can only command the ear of a crowd at a noisy bar or an intimate art gallery with their own two hands? Now that takes guts. It can go either way—you either have them in the palm of your hand or you have their complete indifference. Fortunately, Columbus has been of late a healthy place for those who have more singular, personal ways of expression. It’s not as if the folksy/coffee shop/journeyman scene of open mics and neck harmonicas has never existed, it’s just now it’s becoming the feature rather than the wallpaper. As a primer, here are three artists spearheading a growing community of solo acts.
When asked what he admires most about being a solo musician, Andy Cook instinctually said it was the “artistic freedom” that being with oneself allowed. Cook’s vision as a songwriter is kaleidoscopic. Though most nights he’s on stage alone with his guitar, in his head and in the psychedelic pop of his latest release, All Turns Blue, he’s exploring a world of sound. Perhaps that’s why Cook rented a warehouse, which he calls the “Final Frontier,” where he hid away for two-and-a-half years to complete the album. For what he wanted to express, he needed a place bigger than an apartment and more personable than a studio in which to create.
“This record kicked my ass. It drained me both emotionally and physically,” said Cook about making All Turns Blue. “Right now, my soul and everything feels beaten down and dead. But it’s all in this record, so it’s worth it.”
Cook’s enthusiasm and drive have never been in question. He learned guitar at an early age in his hometown of Oberlin from Kevin Jones, a teacher of the delta blues, and as soon as Cook could leave the “boot-camp” that was the liberal arts campus, he and his first band, the Ghost Town Trio, migrated from Ohio to “make it” in Los Angeles. Cook found the band a constraint on his songwriting and his aspirations to tour constantly. Soon he found himself hanging out at the Stink House, a house show house in Columbus, scrapping to make a name for himself.
In recent years though, his persistence has made his craft a viable endeavor, and he returns frequently to L.A., “hungry for advice” on how to reach the next level in a music industry that has changed dramatically.
“I just want to make pop in the sense of what it used to be,” said Cook, referencing Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Randy Newman as spiritual guides. “I just want to let the art that comes out of me do its thing.”
For music and tour dates visit
The Saturday Giant
On whatever day you’re reading this, Phil Cogley and his one-man band will likely be steering toward cities as far-flung as Wasau, WI or Carrboro, N.C. Who knows for sure if it’s a dive bar, a coffee shop, a living room, loft, or backyard? The Saturday Giant is a beat-centric, indie-rock party in a mileage-guzzling hatchback. Cogley can play anywhere, anytime, and he’s already accumulated 70,000 miles on his latest ride.
When The Saturday Giant started in 2010, Cogley’s goals were both modest and ambiguous. The project began as a trio, but after a few months of complications and an itching wanderlust to get out on the road, Cogley bought a loop pedal and trimmed the operation to one.
“Playing with other musicians was great—don’t get me wrong,” says Cogley. “But it just wasn’t working. I wrote that first record by myself because I didn’t want to deal with other people’s bullshit and here I was dealing with other people’s bullshit. I needed to figure out once and for all how to do that.”
He’s the first to admit that what you see on the stage these days—a seamless stream of catchy songs assembled from loops played live by Cogley—took some time to master. He credits his performances to muscle memory; it’s an intricate patchwork of pedal clicks and twisted knobs to compose with spare parts. That most of the tunes materialize as if being played by a fully orchestrated band is quite mesmerizing.
For Cogley, going solo means he’s a “one-person committee.” In the various small towns The Saturday Giant has played all over the country, Cogley can decide at a moment’s notice what kind of show it’s going to be. It’s something that he calls “incredibly freeing,” whether it’s the intricate loop miasmas that can entrance a deliberately listening crowd, or stripping it down and turning up the drums for an atmosphere of revelry at an after-party. As soon as you bring in a live drummer, or a second guitarist, that luxury Cogley gets on the road becomes skewed.
For music and tour dates visit
Though she’s been playing and writing songs since she was 16, Maria Levitov didn’t find her footing as an artist until a decade later when fate landed her in Columbus. On a trip from New York to our city to help out her brother with photography (her craft by day), she found herself never leaving, ending up living in a studio that produced records for the DewDroppers and Forest and the Evergreens. Eventually the inspiration surrounding her every day encouraged Levitov to record what would become Hold, her debut album released earlier this year.
“If you would have told me that I would be living in Columbus I would have laughed,” remembered Levitov. “Looking back, and living here for a while, I can’t imagine it any other way.”
Hold is definitely a product of Levitov’s current environment. Though she got a little help from her newfound friends in our buoyant music scene on the record, what’s most striking about the songs therein is Levitov’s mercurial voice. Hers exudes a warmth that is the perfect foil to the icy atmospherics that surround the words. On her last tour, which Levitov called an “art” tour due to her dabbling in photography, videography, and collaboration with other musicians along the way, her audiences dubbed her heartfelt performances “winter folk,” and indeed, much of Hold could be the ethereal cousin to Bon Iver.
As Levitov moves forward, she doesn’t want to be painted into that soloist corner though.
“What’s expected is for it to be moody, slow, and lyrically driven,” said Levitov of what’s next. “The new stuff is a lot different. It’s got rhythm, movement, and I think now I have a lot more confidence.”
For music and tour dates visit