Photo by Chris Conti

Guardian Angels

The Haynes Boys didn’t want to dig. In conversation a few years back, bassist Aaron Rice, guitarist Phillip Park, and drummer Jovan Karcic thought it might be a good idea to resurrect the band’s one and only album, but wondered what it would look like logistically. Would anyone care? Was time kind to the record? Would everyone, including songwriter and relentless troubadour Tim Easton, be on board when it came time to reintroduce it to the world?

“It was then that I had a change in my attitude for the record. I sort of warmed up to it,” says Rice from his home in a small village south of Canterbury, England. “It hadn’t occurred to me, outside of our little group, that the record would have had any impact. I was touched. I thought it would be cool for selfish, record-collector reasons to have it on vinyl.”

Eventually all doubts were erased, and Joe Carver, owner of Re-Vinyl, a label specializing in reissuing albums the CD age forgot, swooped in as a “guardian angel” and requested to release the self-titled record in its proper form with the originally intended artwork and mastering in place. The vinyl comes out this month, and the original lineup will round the bases with a slew of homecoming shows, including a slot at ComFest.

Twenty years later, the album holds up quite well and serves a twofold purpose in the history of Columbus music. On one hand, the sessions from the band’s sojourn to Nashville form a classic document of the then-nascent alt-country scene. The second purpose was the “otherness” a group of young Columbus misfits could provide for that sound. Though the Haynes Boys would support touring acts of that ilk, including Son Volt and the Jayhawks, and songs like “Jackie” and “Hell on Earth” were blueprints for Easton’s folk-inflected solo career, they were also playing in the same circles as the titans of the weirdo High Street underground thriving in 1996.

“Given perspective, I think it was a lot heavier than we first thought,” says Rice. “Phillip’s guitar was actually grungy, and his parts are my favorite noises on the record. We had our feet in  both camps. We used to play punk rock softball. We hung out with the—what Bela [Koe-Krompecher] may have called—“gunk” punks. I’m not sure if we fit in, but I don’t think we were especially popular with either.”

With the initial release of the album, the Haynes Boys original label, Slab, certainly had a niche market to push the record toward, but in retrospect, the debut had a grimier, rawer veneer that was emblematic of the intramural character of the city that birthed them. To wit, Park was soon recruited to play in Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, and Karcic was already a member of Gaunt—which was just about to be signed to Warner Brothers.

Listening again, songs like “Anybody” and “Maryhaven Family” are equally as Columbus “pop” or “punk” as Gaunt’s best moments—just bit with a smidgen of the country bug—a coed’s (or recently ex-coed’s) obsession with the Basement Tapes. Or as Easton described the record, “basically Blind Lemon Jefferson rewritten with some Midwestern-styled rock and roll dirt.”

“The term Americana wasn’t even being thrown around by that point yet,” remembers Park. “I’m proud of the record because I think it’s a really good example of that approach, but it was also punk rock. We were pushing out from that type of record.”

Soon though, the record and band didn’t match expectations and life happened. Rice moved away, Karcic was replaced with another drummer after needing to be with Gaunt fulltime, and Easton went his separate way. Still, the Haynes Boys lived on aesthetically with the P.J. Olsen-fronted Burn Barrel and begat a healthy string of twang and Western bands in Columbus including Big Back 40 and the Bush League All-Stars.

“We had a very diverse record collection between us—from Doc Watson to Gram Parsons, the Stones, Velvet Underground, and Prince,” concludes Easton. “It’s all in our sound. Playing together again is not about nostalgia for me. I get to play music again with my friends. I may talk a tough game now and then, but I’m not really tough. I like to jam with my buddies and talk music.”

The Haynes Boys will reunite for two shows this month, including Friday, June 26, at Ace of Cups and Sunday, June 28, at ComFest.

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