The spring and summer of 2007 I didn't listen to much indie rock that wasn't made in Cleveland. I was still living in Texas then, but through intrepid internet searching and I Rock Bill's intrepid blog, I was able to learn a lot, and immersed myself thoroughly. By the time I arrived, I could converse thoughtfully, had I had anyone to have such conversations with, about albums by the likes of Coffinberry, JJ Magazine, Beaten Awake, and Expecting Rain. I was ready to go, ready to live here.
Upon moving here, I discovered Music Saves almost right away, and returned to a national selection of indie music. I still kept up with local artists and had as much fun checking out the weeknight local bills as I did most touring shows, but my focus on recorded music mostly left the 216 area code. By the end of that year, I was touting the brilliance of the latest Besnard Lakes as what I thought of as the most brilliant album of the year.
Actually, it was the co-most brilliant album of the year. The other one was a gorgeous piece of genius by Unsparing Sea. I'd caught them live a couple of times, and picked up a couple of albums at their shows, but always found myself mailing them to friends as gifts. One day, around Christmas, when I was in Music Saves doing some holiday shopping, I couldn't find the record among the other "U" selections and asked whoever it was on duty that day if they were out of it. At that point, they said the magic words - "Check the local section" - and I learned that these dudes were actually from here. How crazy was that?
Since then, I've had other similar discoveries (most recently by checking The Modern Electric's myspace page to see if they'd be touring through Cleveland any time soon, only to learn they were from Cleveland), but the Unsparing Sea folks have kept a special place in my heart. I send them fan mail from time to time, occasionally geeking out with book suggestions, and though he probably couldn't pick me out of a line-up, front man J.R. Bennett has always been kind and tolerant of my goofiness.
When I learned that their new album release party was coming up this month, after I got done cheering, I immediately decided to see if J.R. would want to do one of my proper noun of the week columns. Being the good (and tolerant of goofiness) guy that he is, he obliged. Check the outcome of that conversation out below and DEFINITELY check out Unsparing Sea when they release their newest album, In the Diamond Caverns, on Saturday 10/24 at the Beachland.
1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?
The wifey and I have been in Cleveland for around 5 years now. We're both originally from Nashville, TN. Clevo is awesome and these +/- 1,825 days have really flown by.
2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?
Probably our first Cleveland BLIZZARD!!! Um...we don't get a lot of those in Tennessee. I've seen more snow in the past year than I did in my first 24 years on this planet.
3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?
The most direct influence Cleveland has had in my work is all of the amazingly talented folks that help me make my art on a regular basis. There are so many unbelievable musicians and songwriters here and lots of them have either recorded us or been in the band at one time or another. Since everyone's contributions shape the final product (and our surroundings shape us) Cleveland is literally represented throughout the work.
4) What would be your ideal Cleveland day? Or, to put it another way, if it was your birthday and your nearest and dearest were all willing to do what you wanted, what would your day be like?
I'd start out with breakfast at The Coffee Pot on Madison. Then walk off all the calories in the Metroparks. Then, since it's my birthday and all, someone will have given me a gift-certificate to Music Saves, so I'd go there and stock pile some records. Lunch at Aladdin's, a matinee at the Cedar Lee, coffee at Bella Dubby, dinner at Dewey's Pizza, a show at the Beachland and some drunken midnight breakfast at 'My Friends' Deli in Lakewood. Wow, what a day. I'm tired.
5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?
See above. Throw in the W. 25th St. Market, Edgewater Park, Cosmic Collectibles in Lakewood, Lake View Cemetery, Suite Lorain, an Indian's game. Holy shit, I'm tired again.
6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?
Friends & family.
7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?
I'd ask why they don't make better use of the abandoned warehouse buildings that lay around mid-town and downtown Cleveland. Preferably, encouraging artists and creative types to live and work within the city. It seems like it would be worth it to the economy to fix them up and encourage small business or artists to occupy them. Plus, if one is interested in being "Green" it is much better to re-fit a building that has already been built, instead of building new ones on what use to be farm land. The suburbs are stretching further and further, while the population in downtown dwindles. There must be a way to reverse that. Right, mayor, city council and county commissioners? Of course, since I live in Lakewood, complaining about that part would be kind of hypocritical.
If you want to meet J.R., be sure to catch him on SATURDAY as he and the rest of Unsparing Sea celebrate their new album release by play it all the way through live. They'll be joined onstage in the Beachland Tavern with exciting local newcomers Casual Encounters and Akron's Trouble Books, one of the more intriguing acts currently working in Northeast Ohio. Doors open at 8:30 and tickets are $5, BUT if you elect to check out the Ballroom show (featuring NEO super-group Drummer as well as The Royal Bangs and Other Girls) and pay that cover, you'll get into the Unsparing Sea/Trouble Books/Casual Encounters madness for FREE. See you there!