Standing atop memories can leave a person struggling to create a cohesive pattern from fragments of events—happenings and the emotional tugs of the past, based off what came before and after them.
It was only fitting, then, that Times New Viking rose from the ashes of toppled musical experiments of the ’90s. The three-piece, of whom all are now in their mid-30s, waved a checkered flag of styles patched from sounds they culled from extensive record collections; the splattered-art-scene of CCAD meets High Street, and the uncanny ability to forge hooks out of feedback and the found noises of their basement practice space. Elizabeth Murphy, Adam Elliott, and Jared Phillips met while in college. All art students, they were perhaps the most singular sound of Columbus in the 2000s, winning over fans from Yo La Tengo, The Clean, and Beck, as well as playing such prestigious institutions as The Walker Art Center, The Whitney, and (burp) Bourbon Street. After releasing a handful of records on the best indie-record labels over the course of eight years (Matador, Siltbreeze, Merge, and Columbus Discount Records), the band packed up their instruments and spread out across America. Elizabeth moved to Memphis, Jared ended up in Cleveland via NYC, and Adam stayed in Columbus forming the band Connections with his older brother Kevin and Andy Hampel.
It would appear that time had breathed its charcoal breath on TNV after their last tour in 2012, but suddenly, with the help of Bobby Miller and the Fourth and Fourth Festival, they will play another show in Columbus—their first since playing at the Wexner Center in 2012. TNV has now climbed the rarified air of past Columbus bands such as Scrawl, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, and the New Bomb Turks; bands now held in greater esteem than when they were making brilliant, if often largely unheard, music from the basements that lined High Street over 20 years ago. Let it be known though, this is not some cash-grab for four-track nostalgia as all three members have continued to grow as artists. Beth paints and write frequently, Adam continues to make visual art as well as create music with the mega-catchy Long-Odds, and Jared assists on the Ron House-fronted Counter Intuits. Funneled with fury through the lo-fi recording techniques of Columbus producer Mike “Rep” Hummel, TNV forged songs that were closer to the touchingly raw sounds of New Zealand’s The Clean, The Puddle, and The Bats as well as the sounds of contemporaries as Eat Skull, Psychedelic Horseshit, and the sticky sluggy-floor of Café Bourbon Street. In retrospect, the records sound timeless even when they are channeled through shiny platforms such as Spotify and Pandora. These methods of accessing music serve a great avenue to track their growth as a band—starting with the hissy-static-y sounds of Dig Yourself (2005) to the beautifully crafted melancholy songs of Dancer Equired (2011), which stands taller than most any record in the past 16 years.
From the day Adam met Jared at CCAD in his Sleater-Kinney t-shirt, the two were inseparable, as they put it. Beth, Jared’s girlfriend at the time fit perfectly to round out the trio.
“We were artists, so everything was our material—from the tapes we used to record to the handmade videos we made, to how we approached our live show. People didn’t quite get that, and they criticized how we sounded, but there was always an idea around it,” Adam said.
This approach to music reflected their lifestyle and their vast knowledge not only of musical history, but also art. As an “art band” living in what they and their peers would help characterize as Washington Beach, they were elevated by an organic confluence of artistic projects in town—which includes now Grammy-winning artist Michael Carney, CCAD alum and brother of Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney.
“We never wanted to be famous,” Beth said. “We were really carried to every level. It was like, ‘What? You want us to do this? Okay.’” It was as if the band was collectively picked up and carried by some of the most influential players in the underground music scene, but was also given the space to continue with where their creative energy took them. That creative space spared them from some of the pressures faced by their peers, like Jay Reatard and Kurt Vile, who were getting signed to bigger labels, with creative price tags attached.
“People were telling them what they needed from them—we never had that,” Adam said.
Yet still they got the praise and backing of reputable labels like Siltbreeze and Matador. The former’s leader, Tom Lax, never achieved much from of the band’s releases financially, but that was hardly the point.
“When they came out I really started listening to music again,” he said. “I had kind of given up on music and that sort of opened things up for me. They sounded like nothing else.”
Soon, Tom would put out Dig Yourself, which helped jumpstart his semi-dormant legendary label Siltbreeze, and eventually lead to the band signing to Matador records. Matador co-head, Gerard Cosloy was more than intrigued by the band when he first heard the record.
“I thought it was great, but we’d not seen them play or read anything about the band,” he said. “We had no idea if they were in their 40s or 20s. Hearing that first album, you couldn’t necessarily tell if it was a band that had formed six months ago or musicians honing their craft for decades.”
Needless to say, like so many Columbus—or Ohio bands for that matter—TNV’s critical and peer success never really translated into vast sales.
“We knew we were not going to have a ‘hit.’ That was never the intention, but we were grateful to play and feel supported. We would literally play in a basement in front to two people, to playing in front of 4,200 people with Pavement,” Adam said.
Jared echoed the lack of sales with a twist. “We were in a long line of Columbus bands that people lost money on, but at the time, we were in the Columbus bubble. And when people outside the bubble were interested, it was incredible—it was validating.”
It’s also worth noting that the band formed squarely in the time pocket when the record industry collapsed. Thousands of independent record stores went belly-up in the wake of a new I nternet—one that could spurn a band to instant fandom ala Pitchfork, while also creating a shelf life for expired bands sooner than any other time in recorded history.
And yet, they turned heads the old-fashioned way. TNV shows were passionate, intense affairs akin to blisters bursting, a sense of both pleasure and the unreal.
“We took our shows very seriously,” Adam said. “We wanted to always blow the other band off the stage, whether it was The Clean, Guided by Voices, or another local band. We were competitive that way.”
It was that competitive spirit and the band’s imminent shelf life that created an abrupt expiration date.
“I can’t speak for the other two,” Jared said, “but we just got so burnt out. We went very hard at it for a while. We hit a plateau; we needed to stop because we would have hated what we did.”
The mark that TNV left on the music scene is akin to a smooth scar left over from a skateboard accident, its indelible, yet brings about memories filled with high rushes and just a glimmer of disappointment. As with any movement in time, labels are formed and flung at promising bands—whether it’s the NYC punk scene of the mid-’70s or the lo-fi and grunge sounds of the ’90s. TNV found themselves binned by the flippant joke of the “shitgaze” movement of the mid-aughts, a term locally coined as a joke by Matt Horseshit of Columbus’s Psychedelic Horseshit.
Although it was meant to tag a group of bands that made noisy, yet catchy songs slathered in feedback, oozing from blown-out speakers, it was lazy and a hindrance. As if this was the goal over making music. Matador’s Cosloy rejects such classification, calling it “f*cked up.”
“They wrote amazing songs; I never saw a show of theirs that was less than fantastic and they had charisma/chemistry oozing out of every pore. But public, media (and yes, record labels) have all conspired to drop the f*cking ball. They’re some of my favorite people living or dead, but even if all three were total assholes, I’d still call TNV one of the best ever.”
Neither of the band members display any regrets, and Beth describes her time with TNV in bold and gratifying terms.
“We entered an agreement when we first started that we would have 100 percent complete control over what we did—we would all contribute to what we did, what we were good with,” she said. “I learned how to work with every [type of] person because of TNV. We had a couple of collaborative moments where we transcended something that was bigger than ourselves.”
With the in between years filled with other artistic and personal pursuits, is there a future of more TNV shows?
“If someone wants to pay us, why not? But to do stuff we already did… nah, we wouldn’t want to do that,” Jared said. “We would take a trip to Europe, but the days of sleeping on floors and scrapping—no thanks.”
Or, as Beth describes the public end of TNV, in lovely, poetic terms:
“We stopped at the perfect time—it’s like leaving a party without saying goodbye.”
Times New Viking will headline the annual 4th and 4th Fest, held this year at Ace of Cups, along with 10 other bands. For tickets and more info, visit 4thand4th.com.