Thursday, August 8, 2013

Small Brown Bike

In 2003, the members of Small Brown Bike decided that they could no longer continue as a band and, having spent so much time together, it was time to separate and reclaim their identities as individuals.

"Even when we were home [from tour], we were Small Brown Bike," guitarist and singer Travis Dopp remembers. "We were always practicing and always with each other. We were getting too lost as this unit and weren't becoming who we were supposed to be as people. We were like, 'Are we going to be rock guys forever, or are there other things that are more important?' Maybe we missed an opportunity, but we made a choice." In 2004, when Small Brown Bike disbanded, its members went in different directions—to Chicago and Florida and scattered throughout Michigan—and took time to nurture the other relationships in their lives. 

During this break, though, none of the band's members were prepared to stop playing music; they started bands like LaSalle and Able Fox Baker and the Fencemen, pursued solo projects. And then, three years later, they all found themselves itching to play together again. After reforming for a few shows to support a sick friend (plus an appearance at Fest 6), Small Brown Bike decided to resurrect itself—albeit in a limited form.

It took two years for them write, record, and release Composite, Volume One and Composite, Number Two, the seven-inches that signaled the band's return. "As we were doing those seven-inches, it was like, 'Let's see who we are as writers, as a team,'" Dopp explains. "I think the first seven-inch was a lot different than what we did [just before we broke up]; it actually when back to the old ways, what we were in the late-90s. Then we did the second seven-inch and that was a little darker—that was a winter seven-inch. And then we started writing, every week, and were like, 'Well, shoot, I think the next step is to put a record out.'"

During a time in independent music when reunions seem contagious—when bands, desperate to bask in the reception that they didn't feel the first time around, reunite for a fleeting tour or festival—Small Brown Bike's reformation is more about their need to release, to persist, and their most recent records speak directly to this desire.

Produced by J. Robbins and released by No Idea Records in 2011, Dopp describes Fell & Found as a record about journeys rather than destinations. Songs like the title track speak to this theme. "Fell & Found (The Walk)" begins with a droning wall of distorted guitars and Dan Jaquint's thudding drums, but it quickly tightens so that its lyrics snap in the forefront: "Tried my silence / And all you asked / 'Over the hill, is it safe to pass?'" Dopp's roars against sharp shards of guitar, "For the thrill / We knew the deal / Follow the path / And don't sit still". Singer and guitarist Mike Reed joins Dopp during the song's chorus, their burnt voices blurring as they sing, "And so on, and so on / Pushing the days to stay awake / And so did I, and so did I / Barricades can't stop my search for stone." Combined, this verse and chorus could serve as Small Brown Bike's thesis statement: Pressing forward to fulfill one's purpose.

Fell & Found is full of persistence—musically, in songs like the opener "Onward & Overboard" when Jaquint's jittery beat and Ben Reed's restless bassline propel the melody, but also lyrically. Mellow and enormous, its rumbling chords punctuated with piano, "Just Bones" features Dopp as he ponders life as a parent some day. "That's one of my battles," he says, "if I ever become this man that I want to become. Am I capable of becoming this person, of getting rid of the selfishness, of carrying myself in this certain way and feel completely whole and being okay with everything that's going on? Would I continue to keep going?" For Dopp, the songwriting process is not only just another journey, but also a means of releasing (and resolving) difficult ideas.

In many ways, Recollected, Small Brown Bike's most recent record, is the ultimate expression of the band's need to release. Consisting of Collected, the rarities record released by No Idea in 1999, and a second set of unearthed music, Dopp describes the double LP as a kind of time capsule that tells the story of Small Brown Bike through both music and pictures, as the release also includes a 16"x24" poster full of fliers and postcards capturing memorable moments to the band. "I wanted to showcase everything that we did as a band—not just musically, but creatively," he says. "Every part of the band was really important to us. We somehow wanted to capture ourselves. If we were going to release this music, we wanted a picture of what it meant too." 

Still, as much as Recollected intends to represent Small Brown Bike as a band, Dopp explains that these songs could no longer be buried in the band's discography. "We needed to share them," he insists. "We hand-picked the ones that we felt deserved to get out. We just had to let them go."  

Though Small Brown Bike is a band that's only sort of reformed—"We're still a band," Dopp says, "but one that doesn't have any plans to do anything right now"—its members continue to create, whether it is related to Small Brown Bike or not. Dopp is ready to release We Travel Light under the moniker Travis John, a channel for his folkier, stripped down style of songwriting. "We Travel Light is about getting rid of it," he says, "about not letting it weigh or keep you down." Dopp, who has been writing continuously since Small Brown Bike's break in 2004, says that We Travel Light will include tracks that have been waiting in the wings for years. "They should have been released," he says. "I just have to do it for myself to put it out there. It knocks the weight off my shoulders, like, 'Okay, I've got that done and now I can move to the next thing.'"

Whatever their next thing is, whether it's intimate and delicate or rivals Small Brown Bike's enormity, Dopp and his bandmates will pursue it wholeheartedly not merely because they want to, but because they must.

Dopp recorded these songs from his girlfriend's parents' house in Battle Creek, MI on a late-summer afternoon. Despite the phone cord's surprisingly short length, Dopp was able to position the phone so it captured his guitar and voice clearly.

"Bad Anthem" originally appears on Small Brown Bikes 1997 7" No Place Like You, but also appears on the band's 1999 collection Collected and their 2013 collection Recollected. "Hourglass" appears on Small Brown Bikes 2009 7" Composite, Volume One record titled Album. "I Don't Want It This Way" and "Drowning Victim" are both intended for Travis John's 2013 full-length We Travel Light.

If you are interested in Small Brown Bike or any of Travis Dopp's projects, please consider looking into Four Ways to Heal, a digital multimedia series (including music and film) whose the proceeds will support the American Cancer Society and to the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center. There are four ways that you can see and hear the future projects:

1. Songs recorded onto a four-track that will be passed around.
2. An unreleased song
3. A sketch video
4. A action sport video

This project will raise money through an online membership on the Old Point Light website. Members will pay $15 for a one-year membership or $2 for a monthly membership. Each month the members will be able to download the four projects we offer and tracks from thirty different albums.

Visit the band's website for more music.

To download these tracks, click on the song titles and download them from the player at

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