Spinning Mind Spiders
The funny thing about buzz in the internet age is that the attention a band gets is seemingly disconnected from a sense of place. Chances are you haven’t heard of Mind Spiders –– heck, this fine publication has mentioned the Fort Worth/Denton proto-punk group only in passing. And yet each time Mind Spiders releases an album, including the recent Meltdown (Dirtnap Records), praise from trendsetting indie-music outlets, underground punk blogs, alt-weeklies around the state, and now even Texas Monthly comes pouring in. The old rock mag SPIN even previewed the entire album last month on www.spin.com (even though the magazine botched its description of the band). The sextet is again one of a few Fort Worth acts to score a sanctioned showcase at South By Southwest.
Here’s why Mind Spiders, despite all that, might have slipped your locally tuned radar: Frontman Mark Ryan said the group’s recent slot in the grand opening of Doc Records & Vintage’s new location was probably his first show in Fort Worth in 10 years. “I love Fort Worth,” he said, “but even though I live here, there just aren’t venues for the kind of music I play.”
A sense of place has still been crucial to the band. The punk environs of Denton and Austin have proved hospitable. Aside from South-by, Mind Spiders gets love from other events like Chaos in Tejas and the Austin Psych Fest. Denton looms large in the band’s origin stories –– indeed, as a small town with a big indie-music scene, Denton is more frequently cited as the band’s hometown than is Fort Worth. (In all fairness, besides hosting more of the band’s shows, Denton also is home to several of Mind Spiders’ members.)
While the non-local buzz continues to surprise Ryan, more practical concerns ultimately guide the group, like its unwieldy size and each member’s other commitments. Everyone else in the group is in at least one or two other bands, and Ryan has a full-time job. “I’m trying to schedule shows, and we’ve got six different people,” he said with a laugh. “We’re sorta limited on what we can do.”
Still, following SXSW, the group will embark on a week-long tour across the country.
The band’s eponymous debut album, released early last year, wasn’t actually produced by the same group of musicians together now. The music on Mind Spiders was performed mostly by Ryan. But when the disc drew so much interest, he assembled a band to accompany him onstage. He asked Mike Thorneberry, a member of Ryan’s previous band, the defunct Marked Men, to join on drums. Bassist Daniel Fried and additional drummer Greg Rutherford (both of Bad Sports), Peter Salisbury on organ and synth, and Stephen Svacina on guitar joined shortly afterward.
In February 2011, not long after Mind Spiders dropped, Fort Worth was hit by an ice storm that kept Ryan at home for a week. While waiting for the ice to thaw, he wrote and demo’d the tracks that comprise Meltdown. At that point, the band members had been together just long enough to gel live, and buzz began building around them. So Ryan conceived the new batch of songs with the band in mind, and the guys pieced together the album over the year, often recording their parts separately. (Despite the impetus for a more cohesive live sound, conflicting schedules took precedence.) Still, the album is remarkably tight and, at about half an hour in length, compact.
In a way, Mind Spiders is Ryan’s stepping-out project. With Marked Men and another outfit, Reds, he and a friend, Jeff Burke, wrote all the material together. Marked Men came to an end when Burke moved to Japan, but Ryan said that after so many years, that band might have also hit a stylistic dead end. This gave him the opportunity to explore other musical interests. It also forced him to write on his own. “Until Mind Spiders, I was always working with someone,” Ryan said. “I like all styles of music: mostly pop music and old rock ’n’ roll. ‘I wonder if I can do a song in 3/4 that’s a Roy Orbison kinda thing?’ I would just keep pushing myself.”
Mind Spiders’ mix of ’70s rock and punk (think: T. Rex and The Ramones), ’50s pop (Buddy Holly), and kitschy sci-fi imagery is big on Mind Spiders but is toned down a notch –– but only a notch –– on Meltdown. If integrating all those disparate styles presents a challenge, Mind Spiders pulls off the feat seamlessly. The dizzying mad-scientist organ and synth work, the distorted guitars, and the fuzzy, slightly lo-fi nature of the recordings serve to blur (and blend) the sounds instead of jarring the listener.
Ryan has said there’s a darker tone to Meltdown, but for all of the ominous pronouncements on tracks like “You Are Dead” and “Upside Down,” the music is propulsive and fun, not cacophonous or dismal. Though he has the punk sneer down, Ryan isn’t too angry a singer –– he alternately registers detached, sinister, and bemused while occasionally hinting at the operatic drama of someone like Orbison.
For the most part, Ryan is intent on sticking with his original mission for the band. For Mind Spiders to become a full-time working band, he said, there would need to be a drastic line-up change. Instead, he said, “my only plan is to keep recording. I want to do something a little less layered, but that could change.”
He and former bandmate Burke (who appears on one Meltdown track) recently recorded a couple of songs for a forthcoming 7-inch.
But Ryan is also indulging in some of the spectacle, producing a music video for the album track “Wait for Us” with Jason Reimer, the director of Dallas’ Texas Theatre and a budding filmmaker. “He went all out for this,” Ryan said of Reimer’s video. “It’s like a mini-movie. It has a two-minute intro before the song even starts.”
Ryan said that, in the wake of Meltdown and its much-deserved buzz, more Fort Worth venues are reaching out to the band. Given the band members’ erratic schedules, a Mind Spiders performance in the Fort should be a can’t-miss show.