Defining Qualities

Old Indian Rocks (and Rolls) Without Missing a Beat of Fun

By David Morreale | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.27.15 – In the Studio, Lifestyles, Music

To describe the band Old Indian is to enter into a maze of contradiction, paradox, incongruity and cognitive dissonance on a scale that makes writing leads for their story difficult, time-consuming and as nearly impossible as true love. This trio of denim-wearing hair-farmers who idolize Motown, outlaw country, glam and garage rock, and who fantasize about touring with Stevie Wonder, are soft-spoken and straight forward, and utterly committed to writing great songs.

They do it wielding the usual tools of a rocker’s craft; they carry the Big Stick of distorted guitar tones, wickedly ripping your eardrums with sweet honey and silky sliding blue notes, like a gorgeous blend of sawdust and King Syrup. And they play. A lot.

Bassist Mark Weeks breaks it down: “This is what we do, you know? We practice and we play. … This is our lives, man. We work construction and we play music. We’re just a bunch of blue-collar guys, really.”

This is at the core of what makes these guys so likeable. In a world of easily defined, self-centered musicians, Old Indian really is rather unclassifiable. They are full of bombast and self-depreciation. Talking to them is like walking into a church and finding a trio of priests delivering individual sermons on the redemptive power of a 4/4 groove and heavy E7 chords. As though all of life’s meaning can be found in the flat-fifth blues note that made Stevie Ray Vaughn’s entire career.

Old Indian entered the cauldron that is the Frederick music scene in 2009, at a time when the band felt that there was a lack of significant music Downtown. “I had Old Indian for about a year when Mark came in on bass,” says Cory Springirth, who handles guitar and vocals. He tilts his head back, eyes open wide to the sky, and remembers, “and [drummer] Evan [Owens] fit good and wasn’t bailing out on practice … and it just worked out.” Owens’ memories tighten things up: “I got to that first practice around 7 in the evening, and Cory and I just started jamming. At some point in the evening, Mark showed up and Cory stopped the song we were playing, and said, ‘You’re timing is perfect!’ and I knew I was in.”

Their mutual love of masculine rock ’n’ roll held them together, and finally, this year, the band released its first disc, Mumble, on vinyl. The vinyl format was a conscious decision by a band convinced that, though CDs sound “fine, I guess, we just really felt that the music we loved the most came from the vinyl era, and that’s how it sounded the best, and so we decided to do the same,” Owens says. “And we were right. The record sounds great.”

It takes a bucket full of courage, foolishness or faith in one’s abilities to open a record with an extended instrumental jam. It looks as though Old Indian possesses all three qualities. Space Connect is just over four minutes of guitar-heavy riffing that escalates through several levels of intensity, building and building until the whole thing careens into a Hendrix-inspired guitar-in-flames freak-out.

From there things become more vocal, with Springirth’s growling, Dylan-on-helium vocals mixed down deep, and his guitar playing that is somehow ultra-clean and blues-ly distorted at the same time. Owens’ drumming seems influenced by Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) and Motown, running through the record in this contradictory way with no sense of effort or irony. His sincerity, without pretension, is in every beat, and one gets the sense that this is a man who believes in every hit, every flam and cymbal crash. Bassist Weeks even speaks in the heavy baritone of a bass player. He is rock-steady, thoughtful in his speech, as though his feet take root in the stage every night, bringing together Springirth’s wild meanderings and Owens’ disciplined frenzy, melding everything together into a kind of super-glue cohesion that keeps feeling as though it might spiral out of control at any moment but somehow never does.

These contradictions—frenzy and discipline, serious laughter, sincerity sans pretension—this is the stuff that makes these guys so listenable and so eminently watchable.

“The goal is to keep writing and playing and getting better, you know? We’ve always grown, and the aim is to keep doing that,” says Weeks. “No one in this band takes precedence. Everyone shares responsibility and no one dictates anything to anyone else. We work together, and we play together, and it’s awesome.”

On Mumble, the band struts its stuff, throwing influences at the wall and, in the process, breaking the wall down until the influences become their own. The belief in rock ‘n’ roll as a force imbued with deeper meaning makes Old Indian squirm, though they clearly believe in the notion. There is a vein of the fanatic in their speech, when talking about their influences, music in general and their own songs in particular. Their belief is expressed most strongly in their admiration for the artists they continue to discover, alive or dead, playing music that not so much as transcends boundaries, but sidles right past them with a sly smile and the un-self-conscious conviction that these six strings can make life, if not a paradise, then at the very least livable.

On the final track of Mumble, Springirth sings of Jolene, a Memphis girl for whom he is longing and who may bring him to doom or enlightenment. It is this muse for whom he closes the record, his extended guitar jam spiraling around Spanish motifs and early ’60s surf riffs with drums driving the band along the coast highway and into the night, leaving behind broken hearts, guitar strings crusted with rust and blood, and a room smelling of burnt rubber and jasmine. Contradictions abound within Old Indian, and they fuel everything. When pressed for definition, they reluctantly lay it out on the table.

“My father calls us ‘blue-collar rock,’” says Weeks, “and I guess that’ll do.”