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Slithering Beast

SLITHERING BEAST

BACK TO THE BASICS

By Tim Roberts

The following is a transcript of a conversation recorded between two unidentified males, one being the head of programming for a major television network. The other someone who has come in to pitch an idea. Again, apparently

VOICE ONE (the NETWORK EXECUTIVE): So, what have you got for us this time?

VOICE TWO (the PITCH GUY, someone who has obviously plopped his arse on this executive's couch one too many times and pitched nothing but lame, unworkable ideas): Well, I'm thinking of bringing back an American classic!

A few beats of silence.

VOICE ONE: Okay, I'll bite. Which one?

VOICE TWO: The Partridge Family.

Long silence.

VOICE ONE (low) Uhhh, listen thank you for coming in today. I'm not sure I. . .

VOICE TWO: No, no. Hear me out, dude. This time we do it with a twist. A real twist.

From left: Spence Taylor, Matt Kovarovic, Nick Dittmeier, Paul Dittmeier. Photo By Laura Roberts

Silence again.

VOICE ONE: Did you just call me dude?

VOICE TWO (clears throat): Uhhhhmm. . ..

VOICE ONE (whipcrack sharp): You've got three minutes.

VOICE TWO: Okay, see, instead of a widowed mom with five kids who look nothing at all alike, we have a dad, his son, and the rest of the band. Probably two or three other guys. See, we've already tightened up the cast, and the band won't be as big.

Another long silence.

VOICE ONE: And then?

VOICE TWO: They play in a lot of rough bars in town, and they take these road trips to play in the worst places. And they rehearse in the dad's woodworking shop out in back of the house. See, it adds a rustic family, an almost Waltons kind of vibe to the whole show. He's got tools hanging all over the place. "Right tool for the right task," he always says. And we work that into the storyline every week. Man, hearts will be melting all over the nation. At the end of each show, they're all back in the woodshop, sharing a PBR. A dad, his son, and his buddies, all having a beer. Real back to basics, back to the earth stuff.

VOICE ONE: A PBR?

VOICE TWO: Pabst Blue Ribbon. It's a beer. The kind of stuff they drink in seedy bars that have big neon letters on a sign that says EAT, hanging on the outside. Jeez, didn't you ever see Blue Velvet?

Yet another long silence.

VOICE ONE (with some ice underneath): I did. Go on. Anything else?

VOICE TWO: Yeah, and they do a new song every week. It'll be pretty raw and kick ass. See, they're kind of a country band. Like that Wailin' Willie guy or that dude they did the movie about, the one who liked to sing in prisons and wear black all the time. Not this bouncy crap with harpsichord that the Partridges did, where everybody made an "O" face.

VOICE ONE (startled): Excuse me?

VOICE TWO: You know, where they'd lip synch the backing vocals and go "oooooo."

VOICE ONE: Oh, that. I get it. That's not an "O" face, by the way. That's … something different. Don't think the kids would be making it.

VOICE TWO: Yeah, whatever. Got a cool name for the band. Slithering Beast. So. Whatcha think?

Slithering Beast. Photo By Laura Roberts

There is the sound of a desk chair rolling back, angry footstomps, then it ends.

So what is it like to have your dad play in a band with you? You could ask Zak Starkey, who used to be part of his father's All Star Band. And for those unfamiliar with the name, Starkey's father is an older guy named Ringo who used to play in a band that was kind of popular in its time.

Or closer to home, ask Nick Dittmeier, lead vocalist for Slithering Beast whose father, Paul, plays Dobro and pedal-steel guitar in the band.

"He's quiet. He drives" Dittmeier said without hesitation.

"He keeps us in line," bassist Matt Kovarovic added with a laugh. "We're a slightly more obscene version of The Partridge Family. "

Indeed, while having your father around in your band might act as an assurance that the general asshattery will be kept to a minimum before and after the band plays live somewhere, it also adds an anchor of sorts to Slithering Beast, a metaphor for their music. Together with recently added drummer Spence Taylor, the band has a sound that is rooted in raw, traditional country music, the kind where all the songs were about trains, heartbreak, jail, murder, God, sin, redemption, tumbleweeds. And whiskey. Always whiskey. Actually, all the stuff that would have made the Partridges leap back and say, "Ewwwww."

"In the bigger sense of things," Nick Dittmeier explained, "hard rock or heavier music was what I liked growing up. I'd gravitate toward that because I thought that was the rawest music, the kind of screwed-up stuff. When I got older, I learned about old country music, and it inspired me to do this band. Those guys are the rawest and hardest guys you could ever imagine. Like Hank Williams or Merle Haggard. There are a lot of people and a lot of bands that play a similar kind of music to ours, and they came from the same kind of background playing heavier music. They opened up and realized there was more.

"Punk rock was trying to get back to the roots of rock and roll. Americana-country is essentially doing that, too."

The return to those roots is clear in both recordings from Slithering Beast, last year's Werewolf Ballads and the recently released Midnight Royalty. Both have the required instrumentation, with lots of acoustic guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, and banjo, but there's that added twist that you'll find in a lot of Americana music: a worldview that lands somewhere between open-road cruising down a forgotten swath of Route 66 running through Arizona and a fight in the parking lot of Bob's Country Bunker from The Blues Brothers.

Nick Dittmeier formed Slithering Beast as a solo project after having played in a score of punk and hard rock bands for a few years beforehand with bandmate Kovarovic. They were in a band called Bodies. Dittmeier's final days with them came with a cease-and-desist order from another band with that same name. When the band was trying to choose a new name, Dittmeier suggested Slithering Beast. The rest didn't like it, so Dittmeier took the name for himself and started his new project.

"When I started I never really had the complete intentions of having a full band," Dittmeier admitted. "It feels better that way. I started recording everything myself. Matt came along when I wanted to do a full band. He was one of the first guys in. When we recorded the first CD he'd never played with us before, and the guy I recorded the CD with kept pressing to get him. He's on two songs on the first album. Then we asked if he'd like to play live with us. He just kept learning more songs. As other people in the band kept quitting, he kept playing."

Dittmeier claims that at one time Slithering Beast had up to seven members, including guitarist Scott Gibson (another musician who plays in a band with his father, Kevin) who later left the band on friendly terms. After whittling itself down to three core members, Dittmeier father and son and Kovarovic, the band placed an ad in LEO and found their new drummer, Spence Taylor.

"We've had a lot of people come and go," Dittmeier said. "We're used to having people quitting."

Paring the band's size down to something that could fit easier on a barroom stage also changed the way they sounded on Midnight Royalty: tighter, rawer, just like they wanted to.

"We recorded this last one all ourselves," Kovarovic said. "We had the time to do a lot of pre-production and arrange everything before we did the final stuff. It was just more relaxed. More maturing."

Dittmeier agreed. "It is more mature. I wanted to put a lot of instruments you traditionally wouldn't hear. The first track has a trumpet and a glockenspiel. The first record probably has a lot more instruments on each song. We wanted to be more stripped down on this one. We wanted to do only the most basic things."

"And no matter how many people we add or having playing with us," Kovarovic said, "it just always ends up being the same four."

And so far the same four has been bouncing around the region playing shows in Nashville and Lexington. This month they are booked for shows in Chicago and Evansville, plus they are playing shows at Derby City Espresso after each Waterfront Wednesday concert through June.

One memorable show was a recent in-store at ear X-tacy where they met a new fan who discovered their music in the trash. Literally.

"It was a group of guys from Corydon," Dittmeier said, "real red-necks. And the way they'd heard about out band was because of our Werewolf Ballads CD. We recorded it in Georgetown, Indiana. And the guy we recorded it with (he's not in the band anymore) threw away a bunch of mixes that he had. Tons of mixes that he had burned and listened to over and over. This one guy was a trash man. He was doing pickups in Georgetown and found a CD in the trash and took it home with him. I guess he really liked it."

"So he came to see us and made it a point to tell us that story," Paul Dittmeier said.

"I guess we're one of his favorite bands now," Nick Dittmeier added.

Slithering Beast currently uses Paul Dittmeier's woodshop behind his Jeffersonville home as a rehearsal space. With exposed insulation in the walls, a high ceiling, and wood stacked high in homemade shelves, it is acoustically solid and traps sounds within an inch after they're made being made. They could run an engine from Danica Patrick's Indy car full out, and the neighbors probably couldn't hear it. The elder Dittmeier was building cabinets for lap steel guitars that were being manufactured in Brooks, Kentucky by the late Charles F. Stepp at Derby Steel Guitar. Now that Dittmeier's craft probably will not be used since Stepp's death, he plans to convert the entire space into a recording studio, which will most likely be used by his son to create the next Slithering Beast recording.

"I've got songs written for a new record," he said, "and I'm starting to record those. Probably we'll record more at the end of the year and do another record, probably an EP."

"Taking our time with it," Kovarovic added.

"The old songs, even the stuff from the record, the more we play, the more they develop. We get more comfortable with it. Most of the songs on the new CD we did not play live before it was released. But we've been playing the stuff from the old record for a while. So we're going to let the new songs develop."

"Because it seems like once we record something every practice," Kovarovic said, "something else changes. Something else will pop in our heads, so we'll just add that and probably re-record it."

"Matt and I bought the equipment we recorded our last record on, so we can record as we go. We won't have to go to a studio. We can do it all on our own time here. At our own pace."

There's a Haiku about country music that goes:

Johnny Cash sang this:

"I hear that train a' comin'"

All else is so small

There's a cussedness in that genre of music that withstands whatever window dressing someone decides to throw on it. Its history is also the history of people who work hard, work their land, face life's heartaches, fall in love, drink a lot, spend nights in cheap motels with dead moths in the ceiling light fixtures, and know how to rely on themselves to get something done. When young bands like Slithering Beast take their turn with the genre, with their own instrumentation and interpretation, it is always left richer, no matter how twisted the lyrics are. Like a good relationship between a father and a son, it is anchored in the raw basics of earth and home and work.

And all else is so small.

Stay rooted with Slithering Beast at www.myspace.com/slitheringbeast