by J. Hubner
Photo by Adam Garland
So let’s say you start a band with some of your best pals. You work hard and write some great songs. You play some shows, decide to cut an album and really go for it. Then, right after you give the world the gift of music one of those pals(the pal that does most of the singing and a good portion of writing) moves away. A lot of bands would find it hard to keep the forward motion going and continue on, but none of those bands is Ordinary Van.
Ordinary Van did all of the above, and indeed lost a key voice and good friend in Paul Bates when he moved to the West Coast last year. But instead of packing up the amps and calling it quits, remaining members Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard got a new thing going with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. That new thing is March On, Comrade. The guys sat down to talk with me about the band recently.
J. Hubner: So tell me about how March On, Comrade came to be? It seems there’s some similar personnel between March On and Ordinary Van, correct?
Ryan Holquist: Three of the five of us were in Ordinary Van, and when Paul Bates moved to California fairly abruptly, the rest of us decided we’d like to forge on. John Ptak had been an ancillary member of Ordinary Van on and off. Between the five of us, we’ve been in five or six of the same bands together for the past 8 years or so. So while the lineup is new, it’s also very much established. Ben is the newest member, and while none of us have been in a band with him before, we’ve all known him personally for years.
Charles Davis: The origin of the band stems directly from Ordinary Van. Paul, for a variety of reasons, moved to California which removed the principle songwriter and vocalist from the band. We had just finished doing a Radiohead show with John Ptak playing bass and had been working on bringing him on as a full time member anyways, so the fact that he was also a great vocalist worked well for us. We wrote and rehearsed for about 6 months as a 4-piece and then brought on Ben to fill everything out.
J. Hubner: With March On, Comrade being Ordinary Van without Paul Bates plus John Ptak and Ben Robinson, where does the sound lie? Is this a continuation of Ordinary Van’s vibe, or are you going in a different direction with the music? March On, Comrade has a post-rock ring to it, which makes me happy. What or who is influencing the direction the band is heading in?
RH: March On Comrade’s sound has some definite similarities to Ordinary Van’s – still ambient, lots of reverb and delay – but is overall a little more dynamically varied and less poppy. We all have different influences musically, but we’re not hesitant to draw some perhaps obvious inspiration from the post-rock stalwarts like Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, etc. Being a drummer first, I’m personally having a great time writing songs and navigating arrangements from a different instrument.
CD: For the folks that liked Ordinary Van, I think they will find similar things with MOC that they will gravitate towards. In OV, Paul basically wrote the songs and then presented them to us to fill everything in. The writing in MOC is much more group oriented. One person may present a general idea but everything is basically built up as a group. Our goal musically was to take the direction of OV and push it to much further extremes. The standard post-rock giants definitely serve as influences but we all bring our own musical backgrounds and likes to the table which has helped us write songs that don’t sound exactly like copies of another band.
Ben Robinson: I recently joined the band when I saw the influences on the what was minimal Facebook page. Right up my alley, ambient post-rock music with and ethereal flow. That’s what I look for in a band.
J. Hubner: The material you guys are currently working on, are they new songs you guys as a band have worked up together? Or is their material left from the Ordinary Van time frame? How does the songwriting process work within March On, Comrade? Are you working out songs live or is their one or two main songwriters bringing ideas to the band?
RH: All of our material has been newly fleshed out, beginning in February 2015. Some of the songs originated from demos that have been laying around since 2008, and others have been written by the group on the spot, sparked by a single riff, chord progression, or even guitar tone. We do all of the arranging as a group, which is much more rewarding than being handed a fully thought-out recording and essentially learning someone else’s song.
CD: Everything we’re playing is technically new. During OV, we were essentially playing Paul’s songs, but the rest of us were still writing on our own. I personally had a good half-dozen song ideas hanging around, as did Ryan. So some of the songs we’re playing now came out of things we wrote during OV, but anything we played live or recorded with OV is no longer being played. We all still love those songs, but it is a new group so we’re moving forward with all new material. Given his role in the writing, it definitely would have been weird to play any of those songs without Paul.
J. Hubner: March On, Comrade recently had their live debut at the Brass Rail on November 7th. Tell me about the show. Great turnout? You were on a bill with Void Reunion and The Meat Flowers, right?
Chris Leonard: The first show was incredible. Everything went pretty smoothly and the amount of people crammed in there was nuts. You know you’ve had a good turnout when it’s difficult to move around!
RH: It was a lot of fun to play our first show along with Void Reunion, who were playing their first show. Our styles aren’t particularly the same, but we both have a good vibe. It was great to mutually support each other on our new ventures. We’re also similar in that every member has previously been in other bands that have played shows together. Same with Meat Flowers, for that matter! The show was sold out, which is a great and humbling display of support for the music scene in Fort Wayne.
CD: The show is was incredible and we got a lot of great feedback from the people that came out. It was a great experience and let us get a good guage for what we’re doing right, and what we’ll need to work on. Overall, the show sold out, which I had only seen happen a couple of times so it was great to see so many people come to see new bands. Void Reunion was excellent also.
BR: It was my first time at the Brass Rail. I heard its not normal to sell out there and was really happy and surprised by the turnout. Everyone enjoyed it and actually listened to the music. You don’t get that often!
John Ptak: I thought the show went really well. We didn’t really know what to expect for a turnout with most of the bands being relatively new, but we couldn’t have been happier with how things went. With nobody hearing us before, I was really excited that people seemed to be interested in it.
J. Hubner: How has the overall feedback been from friends and fans? I’m sure there’s expectations to some degree from folks that loved other bands you’ve all been in before. Are they digging the new band and new tunes?
RH: We had been working away in Charlie’s basement, and really only a handful of friends and our girlfriends had heard a couple of sloppy iPhone recordings. I don’t think anyone had any real specific expectations, but I was humbled by the positive reception. Our hard work was very politely rewarded; now that we’ve set an expectation, the challenge is to keep the ball rolling and keep the bar set high!
CD: The feedback has been excellent. I think we’ve found a way to write songs that have some hooks, but still push boundaries and challenge a listeners expectations. And it seems like people seem to have an appreciation for that.
J. Hubner: To date, how many songs do you guys have worked out? Are you looking at possible studio time to record? What’s the plan for recording? An EP or full-length?
CL: We have 5 songs completed at the moment, with a 6th in progress. We’re at a point where if we were to record the 5 songs, we’d probably call it an EP. But if we added a 6th, with the length that post-rock songs tend to be, we could probably call it a full-length. So it’s yet to be decided.
CD: We’re going to start recording in December and the idea now is to record 5 or 6 songs. That would typically be an EP but again, with our song length it will probably have the feel of a short full-length.
RH: We’ve all been in bands who work hard to prepare one 40-minute set’s worth of music, and then just sort of slow down. I don’t want that to be the case for March On, Comrade. I think it would be fun to have something new for each show, whether that’s a new song, something new with the light show, an intro, interlude, whatever it is…but something new to keep it interesting for us and the people who see us.
JP: All of us have been in enough bands that have waited a while to record that we’re all on the same page about not making that mistake again.
J. Hubner: As far as other band gigs, is March On, Comrade everyone’s main thing now? Are you guys still dabbling in other bands?
RH: I’m always pretty busy musically, but March On, Comrade is certainly what I’m putting the most work into at the moment. I’m still playing with 2 Before Noon, and I recently recorded an album of Lee Miles’ new material. But March On, Comrade is new, so it needs the most work, and the positive reception at our first show was very motivating to keep pushing forward even harder. It’s also the only band I don’t play drums in, so it’s very new and interesting for me. Jason Davis knows how the story goes…
CD: Ryan still plays in his jazz group, Chris is playing in another post-rock group, although slightly heavier I believe. I fill in for a cover band in the area occasionally and I’m sure John and Ben are working on other things as well. Overall, I think we’d all agree that this is our main focus going forward.
BR: Of course we all work with music on a daily basis so projects come up and we help other bands and musicians out locally when we can.
JP: For me, this is the only band I’ve been working with. That may change at some point, but I’m really enjoying focusing on just one thing instead of juggling multiple bands.
J. Hubner: Now that the band has gotten that first gig out of the way, are you guys filling up the calendar with more shows? Any dates you could share with us?
RH: We’ll be back at the Brass Rail on December 10 with Eric McMiller and the Dashville Sound from New York, along with Barky & Speaker. We’re also putting together a hell of a bash at CS3 on January 2, where we’ll play with Void Reunion again, as well as Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.
CD: We’re definitely getting more gigs booked. As we continue to write new songs, we want to play them out and get feedback from listeners.
J. Hubner: So what’s the long term goal for March On, Comrade? Where do you see the band in a year? Five years?
CD: I see this band having some longevity. I expect within the next few months we’ll have an album recorded and we will have a handful of shows under our belt. Our goal is to not fall into a rut and keep playing the same songs every show. We want to keep writing and let the band/music evolve. As long as that happens and no one gets bored, I don’t see any reason why we would stop. Obviously, life happens and sometimes the unexpected can disrupt your plans, but overall we have a really good group of guys who have a lot of history with each other so the foundation is in place for a long term project.
BR: Rich and famous! But all joking aside, I really want to make music that relates to people on an emotional level. Whether it’s lyrics, music, the feel, the speed, everyone reacts and interprets music differently. I want it to matter.
RH: Just keep swimming.
Make sure to check out March On, Comrade at the Brass Rail on December 10th and clear January 2nd for that CS3 show with Void Reunion and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. Seems like a pretty stellar way to kick of 2016. Keep up with the band at https://www.facebook.com/marchoncomrade/?fref=ts.