By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Bands come and go — some without a trace. Jack Buck, on the other hand, spent three years painstakingly perfecting and documenting its craft, leaving an indelible impression on record. On Friday, December 27, the band plays its last St. Louis performance at Apop Records. The following day will see its final show at Mojo's in Columbia.
When RFT Music met with members of the band to gather any last words, guitarist Chase Macri was notably absent, phoning in from his desk in Nashville, Tennessee. Last summer, he moved out of state to pursue professional endeavors, which led to the group's upcoming disbandment. The noisy rock quartet's stint seems far too short-lived to those familiar with the group, but substantial physical evidence exists in vinyl form, carrying on Jack Buck's heavy impact.
Exhibit A: Eight-inch-by-eight-inch slabs of smooth plywood have the words "JACK BUCK" and "UGLY" uniformly routed into each surface in clean, bold lettering. Within each nontraditional sleeve, a randomly colored record awaits with the group's first songs, "Rue Teen" and "Bliss Beach," pressed into its glossy marbled grooves. Jack Buck debuted UGLY at its first show, in October 2011, and has since sold more than 300 copies, prompting a second pressing.
Proceed to Exhibit B, released in June 2013: Similarly sized, precisely cut blocks of clear acrylic house transparent seven-inch records containing two more of Jack Buck's deep cuts — "Proud Mary" and "Slave Driven." The cover features the same sleek and simple aesthetic as UGLY, with the word "SOFT" etched below the band's name.
"It is our most obvious homage to the Jesus Lizard," says drummer Daniel Ruder, referring to his favorite band's knack for naming its releases with four-letter words. And while Jack Buck bears some resemblance to the renowned Touch and Go band's spatial tendencies, it'd be a disservice not to note all the intricacies that make Jack Buck unique.
Through an innocuous Craigslist correspondence listing key tastes that included Young Widows and Harvey Milk, Ruder and Macri met up and began writing. Soon after, Ruder recruited Colin Webb, a long-time friend from college, who brought on his former bandmate from Columbia, Michael Gerhardt.
For those who haven't had the chance to take Jack Buck's cuts of wax out for a spin, its sound employs sweat-drenched ruthlessness that pummels loud-yet-controlled volumes into the listener's chest. Its brand of noise-rock bends angular elements of hardcore and metal influence into the mix. Subtle rhythmic variation provides a layer of complexity, sandwiched between the purposely off-kilter repetition of riffs.
Gerhardt's driving bass lines and Ruder's precise drumming, rooted in heavy-hitting rock standards, provide a solid foundation. Meanwhile, Macri deliberately maneuvers manic guitar slides, spliced with the occasional hook, to ensnare ears. Webb takes on an intense and fearless persona the second a set starts — his sinewy yells scrape gristly words against speakers.
"The longer the project went on, the less I felt like a frontman until we started playing. A switch flipped, and I would become that guy again," says Webb, who performed in the hardcore group Texas Chainsaw Mass Choir in the past, which toured with the Blood Brothers for a period. "But I don't really feel like that guy when I'm not onstage. The music demands that transformation, and I oblige."
Webb's lyrics often wax historical rather than personal, with a focus on storytelling. "Bliss Beach," for instance, tells the tale of the Times Beach catastrophe from the point of view of Russell Bliss, who Webb feels was a patsy during that canard of local history. "Donora Greyhound," on the other hand, was written about an attempt Webb's father made to convey reverence for his boyhood hero, Stan Musial, and the generational bridge crossed to understand the legend's significance.
While seemingly dogmatic in nature, the group collectively aims to dial down the machismo it so often sees in specific scenes. In fact, the band chose its name specifically due to its surface-value ambiguity. "With a lot of bands in heavy music, you can pick out what genre they are by their name. We didn't want to be obvious," says Ruder. "We just wanted to be somehow monolithic or separate from genre tropes or aesthetic tropes."
That said, the group certainly suffers from the trap of the in-betweener band, always either the heaviest or the softest group on any given bill. "We'd play a show with the Conformists and we sound like AC/DC next to them. And then we'd play shows with hardcore bands and sound like Captain Beefheart in comparison," jokes Ruder. "But in general, we do love to play with bands we don't necessarily sound like."
All in all, Jack Buck composed eleven songs since its inception. Eleven songs might not seem like a lot over a few years of dedicated practices — until one reviews the process of how all the pieces came together.
Ruder, an audiophile by trade, dedicated much of his time to creating demos throughout Jack Buck's songwriting process. Currently an adjunct faculty member of the audio department at Webster University, Ruder spent time studying under engineers Steve Albini and Greg Norman at Electrical Audio in Chicago. He also records projects — everything from rock bands to classical and choral groups — on a freelance basis both remotely and in his home studio.
That same third-story space in south city served as Jack Buck's practice space over the years, wherein the members would meet up for grueling day-long practices at a time, poring over alpha-numeric song structures on a chalkboard and constantly tracking demos. Sometimes, they'd track songs ten, or even fifteen times in a row, tweaking parts and making small revisions before settling on a completed composition.
"Part of the reason we demoed so much is because it required so much focus to perform the songs correctly that we couldn't hear them or feel them in their broader context," says Macri. "When you play a riff, sometimes you don't know what a person is thinking in terms of how the riff should flow or where the beats are emphasized. Sometimes riffs would feel backwards until we were able to listen back. It would take multiple demos until we were all hearing the song the same way."
After a full year of incubating, Jack Buck hit the ground running with a new release and four shows over the course of two consecutive weekends. Out of the total of 41 shows the band will have played by the end of this year, half were in St. Louis and half were out of town, in Columbia as well as the upper Midwest. Bills were shared with bands including Coliseum, Ken Mode and Jack Back's steadfast tourmates, Fake Limbs and Coward.
When asked which experiences stood out as most memorable throughout the traveling and performing, Macri says it's all about the friendships forged. "Being on tour with people you really like is fun. You get kind of giddy watching your friends' bands play for the third night in a row. After a show, we'd get drunk and tell each other our feelings. You get really cute and cuddly. That's probably my favorite part: the camaraderie," he says.
Looking forward, Webb and Gerhardt have new, nameless projects in the works, of the garage-rock and thrash varieties, respectively. Meanwhile, Macri learns how to repair and build guitars, and Ruder continues to break in his home recording studio. And who knows? The latter duo could find other successful musical Craigslist connections someday.
Until then, see Jack Buck's last stand at the spot where it got its start, at Apop Records on Friday. Local snark-rock group Black Panties opens, along with Chicago's Fake Limbs and Columbia's Coward. The same lineup will play the following day's show, with Columbia's Bald Eagle in place of Black Panties. Grab a piece of local history on vinyl, and look forward to hearing Jack Buck's last three recorded tracks sometime soon in a free digital release — also yet-to-be named.
"For the record," says Webb, "I hope it's called GONE."