Totally In Tune
Guys in Thin Ties Rock '80s Memories
Playing a slew of 1980s favorites that you’d find in the jukebox of a really great bar, the members of Guys in Thin Ties don’t see the ’80s as a bygone era of excess, neon and big hair, but rather a great time for music. For the past year band members Mark Amberg (guitar), Bill Blythe (bass), John Coghill (lead vocals), Jim Ford (keyboard) and Dave Kramer (drums) have played gigs all over Frederick, establishing themselves as one of the most fun live shows in the area.
The band came together when Blythe and Kramer, who work together, began playing with Blythe’s neighbor, Ford. They played various genres for a while, but things really came together when they chose the ’80s as a focus. “We played and played and it was time to do a change,” Blythe recalls. “So I asked Dave and suggested being an all-’80s cover band. When I asked Jim the same, he looked at me with the widest eyes and said, ‘Oh yeah!’ I’ll never forget it.”
Amberg joined the band after the genre switch, answering an ad for a guitarist, and the band played as a four-piece for about a year, Blythe says.“We were working on our catalogue and getting our songs built up. Mark, Jim and myself would trade lead vocals. One day I threw everyone a curveball and said, ‘What do you think about having an actual lead singer?”
Blythe says the band began auditioning singers and saw many performers, none of which were a good fit. Before the final audition, the band members decided if there wasn’t a good match, they’d continue as a four-piece. But Coghill’s audition made a major impression on his soon-to-be band mates. “He just blew us out of the water,” Blythe says.
Coghill then spent three months learning all the band’s songs, and they played their first show as a five-piece band in April 2015. Guys in Thin Ties took off quickly in Frederick, which Blythe attributes to the supportive community of restaurants, bars and fellow musicians in the city. “Frederick has an incredible music community,” he says. “It’s a small city, but huge in music. I’m thrilled we’re a part of what’s going on in Frederick.”
The band’s first gig was at Blue Sky Bar & Grill in New Market, where they played a set during an open mic night. Despite it being their first performance together, Amberg counts it as his favorite moment of the band so far. “We knocked it out of the park,” he says. “Apparently it was the largest crowd they’ve ever had, but what I was just so happy and proud and satisfied with was our performance that night. We played really well, we looked professional and the crowd loved us.”
Ford says one of his favorite moments came just a few months later during a set at Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar, when he first noticed the way the crowd was paying attention to the band’s songs. “We’re up there on the stage playing and there were people standing in the booths with their phones out, recording,” Ford says. “People wanted to capture this moment.”
Blythe says the band’s catalogue comes from their favorite bands, and they focus on alternative pop, largely from the early-MTV days. But while they try to feature some slightly obscure tunes (Turning Japanese by The Vapors is a crowd and band favorite), they do mix in more well-known songs. “We’re not going to throw away some of the obvious pop songs,” Blythe says. “We don’t want to dig too deep where people don’t know what we’re playing.”
All members of the band bring songs to the group to try and add to the repertoire, which allows for a mix of styles, as all the members have slightly different musical tastes. “It has to get voted on by Dave and Bill and then it’s OK,” Coghill jokes, drawing laughter from fellow band members.
But mixing various styles of music and playing a host of different artists means the songs keep the band on its toes. Amberg says he and the other members of the band rehearse extensively, both alone and as a group, to make the process go smoothly. “We all do our homework first before we show up at rehearsal,” he says.
“It has really been a pleasure with these guys.” Blythe attributes at least some of the band’s popularity to this amalgamation of styles. “One of the things we’ve heard from our fans—which are unbelievable by the way—is, ‘You guys are playing my college soundtrack’ or ‘These are the songs I grew up with and watched on MTV every day,’” he says.
This summer marks a bit of a growth spurt for the band, as they’re booked to play plenty of shows outside Frederick, including Gaithersburg and Ocean City, among others. “We’re entering a different kind of league right now,” Amberg says. “…We’re getting ready to step up to the next level, but there’s a little bit of wondering what this is gonna be like.”
Ford echoed similar sentiment: “It’s been great to have the support we’ve had in Frederick. It’s important to keep playing for the people here that know us and love us, but it’s exciting to think we’re moving up. … It’ll be a new crowd that doesn’t know us, but we work so hard at getting these songs right I think it’ll be a great way to get way the word out.”
No matter what direction the band’s headed, Blythe says he’s excited to see what comes their way next. “Not even a year as a band playing together, we were voted third-best cover band [in Frederick Magazine’s “Best of Frederick” reader’s poll],” he says. “We didn’t set out to do that. We set out to play the best type of ’80s music that we enjoy; it’s just happening. … We’re middle-aged men and we’re still playing music that we love. I don’t know how you ask for anything more than that.”