Cover Story: Ready, Steady, GO

Local band Readymaid puts the 'art' back in Art Rock

 
Michelle Blades and Jason Snell



It's Friday the 13th, but there's little gloom and doom this evening. A gaggle of drinkers file into a Clifton bar and onto the outdoor patio for beer and a grill out. The weekend is upon us, it's happy hour and the light cloud covering makes the withering humidity of just a few days previous seem like ages ago.

Jason Snell, singer and guitarist (among other things) for local Indie Rock juggernaut Readymaid, bounds onto the patio with an extra skip in his step. He's cheery about a good workday at his graphic design job and the promise of a busy fall, but he's also just received some startlingly positive news about a great friend of his and the band.

"Did you hear about Thomas?" he asks.

The person in question is local artist Thomas Condon, who's been doing time upstate for taking photographs of corpses in the Hamilton County Morgue (allegedly without permission). Snell had just gotten a phone call from Condon's sister, the band's main liaison to the artist during his five-month imprisonment, telling him that Condon had been freed pending the appeal of his conviction.

It's not a complete victory, but it's enough to put a smile on the faces of the other assembled multi-instrumentalist Readymaiders, Joe Suer and Gregg Wilson. (Andrew Higley is on a fishing expedition in Canada, and Dave Roller is out of town at a wedding.)

"Someone should definitely have a party," Wilson enthuses.

The band met Condon when they became involved in a benefit concert to raise funds for his defense. Once they met the artist, they were so knocked out by his warmth that they readily agreed to play. The benefit ended up falling on the weekend following the Sept. 11 tragedy, so Condon re-routed the money raised to the Red Cross.

"He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met," Snell says genuinely. "He's so kind; he'd give you the shirt off his back. Anyone who meets him is just like, 'Boom. Done. Friendship.' That's it."

The friendship led to further involvement in Condon's case, on both a personal and a creative level. Snell attended some of the court hearings, and the band made a very public stand at the annual street music festival Pepsi Jammin' on Main. There, where they played opposite Classic Rock has-beens Journey, they sported "Free Thomas Condon" T-shirts and invited his wife, Kelly Blank, to read a message from the photographer during their set — which, oddly enough, happened in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse. Though only a handful witnessed the show — hey, freakin' Journey was playing — it was unquestionably a highlight of the festival.

On the creative end, the band is hoping to do a conceptual EP about Condon's case, with artwork provided by the man at the center of it all. And for Condon's next art showing, group members and friends have been helping with things like printing and framing.

The synergy of the relationship is framed by art, but when the members talk about Condon, it's clear their biggest connection is on an almost fraternal level.

"Today is a good day," Snell smiles, knocking back a draft beer and gearing up to talk about Readymaid's ambitious future, humble beginnings and current position as one of Cincinnati's most original bands.

Jets to the beginning
Readymaid's relationship with Condon began through an introduction from Chuck Cleaver, singer and guitarist for Cincinnati faves The Ass Ponys. But it just as easily could have come through a fellow visual artist, given the band's ties to the local arts scene.

Like Wire, Talking Heads and numerous other great bands, the genesis of Readymaid came together in art school. Snell and Roller were childhood friends in Dayton, but the core of the band was formed when they met Higley while attending the University of Cincinnati's design school, DAAP.

Higley was already a "veteran" musician in Delaware, performing with the likes of George Thorogood and Bo Diddley and dabbling in a wide range of music. He came to Cincinnati to study photography at DAAP, while Snell was pursuing video animation and Roller was majoring in urban planning.

Roller and Snell had an acoustic music project going, but the urge to start something, well, louder, was growing.

"It was two guys and acoustic guitars, like Tenacious D," Snell says about his early playing days. "We just did like 10 shows and then we were like, 'Let's get a band. Let's go electric and be stupid and ignorant.' "

In 1999, they enlisted Higley and since-departed drummer Carl Buckner and began to bash it out. Snell says they really didn't have an idea of what they wanted to be and certainly never expected things to turn out as they have.

"Not at all," Snell recalls, his raspy voice cutting through the bar chatter and Classic Rock bumping out of the jukebox. "I wanted to be like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I wanted it to be loud and drunk and smashed up."

But, as college often goes, the diverse listening habits of his friends and bandmates helped expand Snell's horizons. The band began experimenting with guitar sounds and, most importantly, unusual (at least for Rock) instrumentation. At the time, Higley's brother Steve, a french horn player studying at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, was also in the group, introducing the band members to the concept of orchestration.

(Steve Higley, whose french horn was a delicious additive to the band's sound, left Readymaid this year to pursue a career in politics in Boston.)

Drawing on their art studies, the group chose the name Readymaid, taken from an art movement spearheaded by Marcel Duchamp in the early 1900s. Readymade was based on the concept that any ordinary object could be art in the right context — i.e., this banana is my lunch but, put on display, is my art. After discovering a few other bands with the same name, the group simply changed the spelling.

Snell says the band liked the concept of putting together the seemingly ordinary to make the extraordinary.

"Each individual might be good as a musician or artist, but put together it's a higher art," he says. "It's not just a table and a bicycle wheel — put them together and it's claimed ground."

In 2000 Readymaid held a release party for their first EP, 3 Things That Make the World Go Round, and offered Baltimore transplants Godholly (with Suer) an opening spot on the bill. Godholly had to pass, but the contact ultimately led to Suer joining Readymaid when Buckner left for med school.

The band began to build momentum on the local scene, releasing the vinyl EP, Jets to the Beginning, and building a following among more adventurous local music fans. One of those fans, Martin (who'd played with Suer in a few local bands), went to see the group a few times and was especially knocked out by the band's rendition of a song by Indie Rock icons Built to Spill.

"For anybody to play a Built to Spill song, especially in Cincinnati — I was interested," Martin says. A few jam sessions later, he found himself a full-time member. "It was all over the place, which was what I was looking for."

Instrument swingers
"All over the place" is as good a way as any to describe Readymaid's sound. On the band's debut CD, This View Should Never Change, self-released earlier this year, the band moves from orchestrated, melodic near-Pop to wild-eyed, noise-laden experimentation, usually from track to track.

In 2000, before the release of their first EP, when the band still wore their then-more-narrowed range of influences on their sleeves, Snell told me that one of their main focuses was to develop their sound. While most bands have a pretty good idea of what their band's identity is and should always be, Snell was refreshingly willing to concede that Readymaid was a work in progress.

"I'd like to see us become a high-concept Art Rock band," he said back then.

While the band members themselves still admit they're always learning and progressing as musicians, there aren't many who'd argue that Readymaid is a damn fine "high-concept Art Rock band." Like a local version of like-minded Brits Radiohead, the group has moved from a more traditional style of AltRock to a sound that thrives on experimentalism.

The diversity of the band's songs reflects the artistic approach they take to songwriting. There's no "head songwriter" who brings in an entire piece and dictates each subsequent move. In fact, their process is the direct opposite, fueled by a collaborative energy with few boundaries.

The band often schedules "new idea nights," where band members meet up at the rehearsal studio to go over various song parts each has brought in. Within that climate, everyone is free to offer up an idea, but they also have to be willing to take no-holds-barred criticism, both positive and negative.

"We have been a lot more critical of each other in the creative process," Martin says. "It's been completely open, not in a bad way. If you hear something, there are no boundaries to what you can say. We make it comfortable to bounce ideas off each other. If you don't like something, that's fine."

Suer says the openness has also resulted in his first songwriting foray on guitar, something he seems somewhat shocked by.

"Most of the other bands I've been in, I'm the drummer and I just play the drums," he says. "I come in with an idea on guitar and most guitarists, well, I won't go into what most guitarists are, but they don't want to hear what the drummer wrote."

Wilson snaps to attention. "It's only because it sounded like Steve Vai," he says.

Snell is quick to get in on the joke.

"And Joe's been singing more back-up, too," he riffs. "It's like Phil Collins back there."

Besides channeling Heavy Metal virtuosos and balding Top 40 imps, another creative spark in the Readymaid process is their willingness to throw out the map altogether and find a new way. Each member is a multi-instrumentalist, so when a song doesn't seem to be clicking they simply put down their "main" instrument and move on to another.

Whether it's someone picking up the mallets and stepping up to the vibraphone, someone pulling out a bow and heading for the saw or simply the drummer handling vocal duties, the band will do whatever it takes to get a song right.

That kind of tweaking — which also finds its way to the performance stage, with members switching off throughout the set — has resulted in even more depth in the Readymaid arsenal. And it's led to the band becoming amazingly prolific, with an estimated 50 or so new songs ready to be recorded and released.

Snell says the songs, written in thematic bunches, range from "beat-oriented material" to "straight-froward Rock & Roll in the Pop vein" to, most unexpectedly, Country-flavored ditties. Suer says the wide range of new material is largely a result of them being instrument swingers.

"I think it comes from discovering new instruments, too," Suer says. "The Country songs came when (Jason) came in with a banjo. We'd been playing those songs for at least six months."

"It feels like a new band every day," Snell adds, noting his recent acquisition of a sitar. "Someone gets a new instrument, and it's a new band. I think our instrument count is up to 100 now."

The "come when you can" rehearsal policy has been key to scheduling time for the extensive writing outbursts. But the necessity of day jobs still puts the band in a hole, time-crunch-wise.

"We are so ahead of ourselves with ideas," Martin says. "And it takes so long to catch up and get them recorded and then get them mixed and the whole process behind it. And then promoting and playing shows — it seems like we're always trying to play catch up."

"It's two full-time jobs," Suer says of the band's performance and creative lives.

Talking to the band, though, you get the distinct feeling they wouldn't have it any other way. Well, except for losing those pesky day jobs.

The group is ready to release a series of different-themed EPs, the first of which, Images of the Floating World, will be out in mid-November on the local Essence of Now label. Then, after some Midwest tour dates and an early December local gig, the band plans to take a three-month hiatus from live performances so they can have enough time to catch up with their intended recordings.

"We need to all not have day jobs," Snell says, laughing. "Then we'll be like Guided by Voices, with 50 albums."

Piss buckets and monkey suits
AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" is now wafting over the increasingly boisterous crowd assembled on the bar patio. The Readymaid cats raise their eyebrows collectively as a woman lets out a shrill squeal at a neighboring table. Being close to the UC campus, the members don't exactly stand out from the rest of the patrons, with youthful college-student looks and a propensity for words like "awesome" and "cool."

But, despite the focus on their art, these guys have had their "Rock Star" moments. Readymaid's reputation for eclecticism and professionalism has made them the "go-to" band when it comes to opening slots for touring national Indie bands.

They've shared the stage with underground phenoms like Apples in Stereo, Papa M and I Am the World Trade Center, but a crowning moment was their appearance before Guided By Voices, the aforementioned Dayton-based sensation that practically defines "Indie Rock." GBV, who sell out most every show they play in the area, are internationally renowned for frontman Bob Pollard's hyper-melodic Rock anthems and their marathon, booze-soaked live shows. For Snell, it wasn't the Readymaid moment — "I don't think we've reached that yet," he says — but it was his favorite memory so far.

"I got so drunk that night I tackled Bob Pollard," says Snell, who later reveals that Pollard keeps a secret "piss bucket" on stage so he doesn't have to leave the stage to recycle all of the beer he drinks during a show. "I got kicked out, went around the front and walked right back in and was partying right up front. We ended up getting drunk with them at the hotel afterwards. I've got to say, for me, it was a stupid night, but that was my thing that was like, 'Dude, this is cool.' "

The band often cites Guided By Voices' career as their ideal. While GBV has had a fruitful record deal with TVT Records, they've mostly persevered with the support of various independent labels and a fervent international fan base. When asked if they have any desire to sign with a major label, the Readymaid members pause as if they'd just been asked it they ever felt they'd play a concert on the moon.

"You can't turn anything down," Snell concedes finally. "I'd listen."

But it's obvious that Readymaid's unconventional sound would have a hard time breaking through in an industry built on the quick "hit song." The band certainly has some accessible, melodic songs, and there are some exceptions to the rule (weirdo Pop researchers The Flaming Lips have survived on a major label for years). But the label home to, say, Destiny's Child probably wouldn't have much patience for a Country album from some upstart "AltRock" darlings.

"Artistic control, that's it," Snell says when asked what the deal-breaker would be. "If they're going to throw money at us and we've got to wear a monkey suit, fuck that. I want to pick the monkey suit, you know what I'm saying? I know these guys wouldn't do it, no way. They want to have their freedom."

"I'd just want to be on a label that's reputable enough so that people who really know about music would buy something from that label because they know it's going to be good," Martin adds, citing indies like Sub Pop, Matador and Kindercore. "It's more name recognition so we can get more people to know about us nationally and internationally. So we don't have to just play shows to get people to hear us."

But, despite the artistic reservations, could Readymaid's music transfer to the mainstream?

"I don't want to dismiss that," Snell says. "I mean, what is mainstream? Mainstream, for what we're looking at, is being on a respected indie label, and you get to go to Portland and there's 500 people there. That's mainstream. There's people at the top, figureheads that are doing things, but there's room for people to get up there and elbow around a little bit. Some of the guys I love, like Beck or The Flaming Lips, I would call that mainstream. I would love to have that opportunity and, with all the hard work we've put in, I think maybe we could."

Hold on hope
Jonathan Davis, the lead singer for Metal heavyweights Korn, was recently quoted as saying, "I don't like painting flowers with my music. I like painting guts and pain." If Readymaid's music were visual, it would likely be a series of abstracts. The colors would range from bright fluorescents to worn silver metallic. They wouldn't fit into any "movement," which would make their work all the more intriguing.

So, Readymaid, what do you like painting with your music?

"Oh, guts and pain," volleys Suer. "Bloody stool."

Oookkkay. That could be part of it. There's a theory that great art comes from turmoil, which would certainly explain the current wealth of unique talent in Cincinnati's arts and music scenes. While the band doesn't submit that its musical existence has been affected by their hometown's arch conservatism — though they'd like to see more adventurous concert-goers — they do allow that it might be a factor in what they do on a creative level.

"You take art from the 21st Century and it reflects George Bush winning the election and the whole apocalyptic feeling that everyone has right now," Suer offers. "It depends on the amount of frustration and what you do with it. Do you want to bash it out or do you want to take it out in a different way and turn it into something else, something beautiful?"

Readymaid's artistic modus operandi is turning a negative into a positive. Their most vivid adventure with artistic struggle has been their proximity to the Condon case. But instead of anger, Snell says that, ultimately, the oppression they've witnessed with the case will find its way to the surface in the form of amazing, beautiful art from Condon, Readymaid and anyone else who's been moved by the debacle.

"A lot of art (that is inspired by negative things) is about hope," Snell says. "Lately, Thomas has been a focus for us and it's been like, 'It really sucks, it sucks, it sucks!' But you know what? There's always light at the end of the tunnel. There's always hope."

Readymaid's approach to music is, on a certain level, very similar to the way a painter or sculptor works. But instead of one person controlling all of the moves, each of the five members has a hand on the brush, a say in what color to use or what texture to add.

"Every time we switch an instrument, you get a different perspective on what you're creating," Martin says. "Like when I'm playing bass, I'm creating a foundation. I'm starting off the house along with the drums. And then we start determining how everybody else works. On guitar, you're looking to make the icing on the cake. You write textures and sounds to make it fit together as a piece."

What separates Readymaid from most other bands is their palette. There's a full spectrum of colors in the world, and Readymaid's not afraid to use them.

"I think it's time," Snell sums up. "People around here are looking for more colors. It's like, let's bring out the whole 64 Crayola. A lot of bands, who I still love, they're still using that pack of 16. Let's bring out the 64 — you even got the sharpener in the back!" ©

Readymaid Highlights MidPoint
Readymaid performs at the MidPoint Music Festival Saturday at the Madison Theater starting at midnight. For more on MidPoint, see CityBeat's picks of the "must-see" bands, an interview with festival founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian,

 
Michelle Blades and Jason Snell



It's Friday the 13th, but there's little gloom and doom this evening. A gaggle of drinkers file into a Clifton bar and onto the outdoor patio for beer and a grill out. The weekend is upon us, it's happy hour and the light cloud covering makes the withering humidity of just a few days previous seem like ages ago.

Jason Snell, singer and guitarist (among other things) for local Indie Rock juggernaut Readymaid, bounds onto the patio with an extra skip in his step. He's cheery about a good workday at his graphic design job and the promise of a busy fall, but he's also just received some startlingly positive news about a great friend of his and the band.

"Did you hear about Thomas?" he asks.

The person in question is local artist Thomas Condon, who's been doing time upstate for taking photographs of corpses in the Hamilton County Morgue (allegedly without permission). Snell had just gotten a phone call from Condon's sister, the band's main liaison to the artist during his five-month imprisonment, telling him that Condon had been freed pending the appeal of his conviction.

It's not a complete victory, but it's enough to put a smile on the faces of the other assembled multi-instrumentalist Readymaiders, Joe Suer and Gregg Wilson. (Andrew Higley is on a fishing expedition in Canada, and Dave Roller is out of town at a wedding.)

"Someone should definitely have a party," Wilson enthuses.

The band met Condon when they became involved in a benefit concert to raise funds for his defense. Once they met the artist, they were so knocked out by his warmth that they readily agreed to play. The benefit ended up falling on the weekend following the Sept. 11 tragedy, so Condon re-routed the money raised to the Red Cross.

"He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met," Snell says genuinely. "He's so kind; he'd give you the shirt off his back. Anyone who meets him is just like, 'Boom. Done. Friendship.' That's it."

The friendship led to further involvement in Condon's case, on both a personal and a creative level. Snell attended some of the court hearings, and the band made a very public stand at the annual street music festival Pepsi Jammin' on Main. There, where they played opposite Classic Rock has-beens Journey, they sported "Free Thomas Condon" T-shirts and invited his wife, Kelly Blank, to read a message from the photographer during their set — which, oddly enough, happened in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse. Though only a handful witnessed the show — hey, freakin' Journey was playing — it was unquestionably a highlight of the festival.

On the creative end, the band is hoping to do a conceptual EP about Condon's case, with artwork provided by the man at the center of it all. And for Condon's next art showing, group members and friends have been helping with things like printing and framing.

The synergy of the relationship is framed by art, but when the members talk about Condon, it's clear their biggest connection is on an almost fraternal level.

"Today is a good day," Snell smiles, knocking back a draft beer and gearing up to talk about Readymaid's ambitious future, humble beginnings and current position as one of Cincinnati's most original bands.

Jets to the beginning
Readymaid's relationship with Condon began through an introduction from Chuck Cleaver, singer and guitarist for Cincinnati faves The Ass Ponys. But it just as easily could have come through a fellow visual artist, given the band's ties to the local arts scene.

Like Wire, Talking Heads and numerous other great bands, the genesis of Readymaid came together in art school. Snell and Roller were childhood friends in Dayton, but the core of the band was formed when they met Higley while attending the University of Cincinnati's design school, DAAP.

Higley was already a "veteran" musician in Delaware, performing with the likes of George Thorogood and Bo Diddley and dabbling in a wide range of music. He came to Cincinnati to study photography at DAAP, while Snell was pursuing video animation and Roller was majoring in urban planning.

Roller and Snell had an acoustic music project going, but the urge to start something, well, louder, was growing.

"It was two guys and acoustic guitars, like Tenacious D," Snell says about his early playing days. "We just did like 10 shows and then we were like, 'Let's get a band. Let's go electric and be stupid and ignorant.' "

In 1999, they enlisted Higley and since-departed drummer Carl Buckner and began to bash it out. Snell says they really didn't have an idea of what they wanted to be and certainly never expected things to turn out as they have.

"Not at all," Snell recalls, his raspy voice cutting through the bar chatter and Classic Rock bumping out of the jukebox. "I wanted to be like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I wanted it to be loud and drunk and smashed up."

But, as college often goes, the diverse listening habits of his friends and bandmates helped expand Snell's horizons. The band began experimenting with guitar sounds and, most importantly, unusual (at least for Rock) instrumentation. At the time, Higley's brother Steve, a french horn player studying at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, was also in the group, introducing the band members to the concept of orchestration.

(Steve Higley, whose french horn was a delicious additive to the band's sound, left Readymaid this year to pursue a career in politics in Boston.)

Drawing on their art studies, the group chose the name Readymaid, taken from an art movement spearheaded by Marcel Duchamp in the early 1900s. Readymade was based on the concept that any ordinary object could be art in the right context — i.e., this banana is my lunch but, put on display, is my art. After discovering a few other bands with the same name, the group simply changed the spelling.

Snell says the band liked the concept of putting together the seemingly ordinary to make the extraordinary.

"Each individual might be good as a musician or artist, but put together it's a higher art," he says. "It's not just a table and a bicycle wheel — put them together and it's claimed ground."

In 2000 Readymaid held a release party for their first EP, 3 Things That Make the World Go Round, and offered Baltimore transplants Godholly (with Suer) an opening spot on the bill. Godholly had to pass, but the contact ultimately led to Suer joining Readymaid when Buckner left for med school.

The band began to build momentum on the local scene, releasing the vinyl EP, Jets to the Beginning, and building a following among more adventurous local music fans. One of those fans, Martin (who'd played with Suer in a few local bands), went to see the group a few times and was especially knocked out by the band's rendition of a song by Indie Rock icons Built to Spill.

"For anybody to play a Built to Spill song, especially in Cincinnati — I was interested," Martin says. A few jam sessions later, he found himself a full-time member. "It was all over the place, which was what I was looking for."

Instrument swingers
"All over the place" is as good a way as any to describe Readymaid's sound. On the band's debut CD, This View Should Never Change, self-released earlier this year, the band moves from orchestrated, melodic near-Pop to wild-eyed, noise-laden experimentation, usually from track to track.

In 2000, before the release of their first EP, when the band still wore their then-more-narrowed range of influences on their sleeves, Snell told me that one of their main focuses was to develop their sound. While most bands have a pretty good idea of what their band's identity is and should always be, Snell was refreshingly willing to concede that Readymaid was a work in progress.

"I'd like to see us become a high-concept Art Rock band," he said back then.

While the band members themselves still admit they're always learning and progressing as musicians, there aren't many who'd argue that Readymaid is a damn fine "high-concept Art Rock band." Like a local version of like-minded Brits Radiohead, the group has moved from a more traditional style of AltRock to a sound that thrives on experimentalism.

The diversity of the band's songs reflects the artistic approach they take to songwriting. There's no "head songwriter" who brings in an entire piece and dictates each subsequent move. In fact, their process is the direct opposite, fueled by a collaborative energy with few boundaries.

The band often schedules "new idea nights," where band members meet up at the rehearsal studio to go over various song parts each has brought in. Within that climate, everyone is free to offer up an idea, but they also have to be willing to take no-holds-barred criticism, both positive and negative.

"We have been a lot more critical of each other in the creative process," Martin says. "It's been completely open, not in a bad way. If you hear something, there are no boundaries to what you can say. We make it comfortable to bounce ideas off each other. If you don't like something, that's fine."

Suer says the openness has also resulted in his first songwriting foray on guitar, something he seems somewhat shocked by.

"Most of the other bands I've been in, I'm the drummer and I just play the drums," he says. "I come in with an idea on guitar and most guitarists, well, I won't go into what most guitarists are, but they don't want to hear what the drummer wrote."

Wilson snaps to attention. "It's only because it sounded like Steve Vai," he says.

Snell is quick to get in on the joke.

"And Joe's been singing more back-up, too," he riffs. "It's like Phil Collins back there."

Besides channeling Heavy Metal virtuosos and balding Top 40 imps, another creative spark in the Readymaid process is their willingness to throw out the map altogether and find a new way. Each member is a multi-instrumentalist, so when a song doesn't seem to be clicking they simply put down their "main" instrument and move on to another.

Whether it's someone picking up the mallets and stepping up to the vibraphone, someone pulling out a bow and heading for the saw or simply the drummer handling vocal duties, the band will do whatever it takes to get a song right.

That kind of tweaking — which also finds its way to the performance stage, with members switching off throughout the set — has resulted in even more depth in the Readymaid arsenal. And it's led to the band becoming amazingly prolific, with an estimated 50 or so new songs ready to be recorded and released.

Snell says the songs, written in thematic bunches, range from "beat-oriented material" to "straight-froward Rock & Roll in the Pop vein" to, most unexpectedly, Country-flavored ditties. Suer says the wide range of new material is largely a result of them being instrument swingers.

"I think it comes from discovering new instruments, too," Suer says. "The Country songs came when (Jason) came in with a banjo. We'd been playing those songs for at least six months."

"It feels like a new band every day," Snell adds, noting his recent acquisition of a sitar. "Someone gets a new instrument, and it's a new band. I think our instrument count is up to 100 now."

The "come when you can" rehearsal policy has been key to scheduling time for the extensive writing outbursts. But the necessity of day jobs still puts the band in a hole, time-crunch-wise.

"We are so ahead of ourselves with ideas," Martin says. "And it takes so long to catch up and get them recorded and then get them mixed and the whole process behind it. And then promoting and playing shows — it seems like we're always trying to play catch up."

"It's two full-time jobs," Suer says of the band's performance and creative lives.

Talking to the band, though, you get the distinct feeling they wouldn't have it any other way. Well, except for losing those pesky day jobs.

The group is ready to release a series of different-themed EPs, the first of which, Images of the Floating World, will be out in mid-November on the local Essence of Now label. Then, after some Midwest tour dates and an early December local gig, the band plans to take a three-month hiatus from live performances so they can have enough time to catch up with their intended recordings.

"We need to all not have day jobs," Snell says, laughing. "Then we'll be like Guided by Voices, with 50 albums."

Piss buckets and monkey suits
AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" is now wafting over the increasingly boisterous crowd assembled on the bar patio. The Readymaid cats raise their eyebrows collectively as a woman lets out a shrill squeal at a neighboring table. Being close to the UC campus, the members don't exactly stand out from the rest of the patrons, with youthful college-student looks and a propensity for words like "awesome" and "cool."

But, despite the focus on their art, these guys have had their "Rock Star" moments. Readymaid's reputation for eclecticism and professionalism has made them the "go-to" band when it comes to opening slots for touring national Indie bands.

They've shared the stage with underground phenoms like Apples in Stereo, Papa M and I Am the World Trade Center, but a crowning moment was their appearance before Guided By Voices, the aforementioned Dayton-based sensation that practically defines "Indie Rock." GBV, who sell out most every show they play in the area, are internationally renowned for frontman Bob Pollard's hyper-melodic Rock anthems and their marathon, booze-soaked live shows. For Snell, it wasn't the Readymaid moment — "I don't think we've reached that yet," he says — but it was his favorite memory so far.

"I got so drunk that night I tackled Bob Pollard," says Snell, who later reveals that Pollard keeps a secret "piss bucket" on stage so he doesn't have to leave the stage to recycle all of the beer he drinks during a show. "I got kicked out, went around the front and walked right back in and was partying right up front. We ended up getting drunk with them at the hotel afterwards. I've got to say, for me, it was a stupid night, but that was my thing that was like, 'Dude, this is cool.' "

The band often cites Guided By Voices' career as their ideal. While GBV has had a fruitful record deal with TVT Records, they've mostly persevered with the support of various independent labels and a fervent international fan base. When asked if they have any desire to sign with a major label, the Readymaid members pause as if they'd just been asked it they ever felt they'd play a concert on the moon.

"You can't turn anything down," Snell concedes finally. "I'd listen."

But it's obvious that Readymaid's unconventional sound would have a hard time breaking through in an industry built on the quick "hit song." The band certainly has some accessible, melodic songs, and there are some exceptions to the rule (weirdo Pop researchers The Flaming Lips have survived on a major label for years). But the label home to, say, Destiny's Child probably wouldn't have much patience for a Country album from some upstart "AltRock" darlings.

"Artistic control, that's it," Snell says when asked what the deal-breaker would be. "If they're going to throw money at us and we've got to wear a monkey suit, fuck that. I want to pick the monkey suit, you know what I'm saying? I know these guys wouldn't do it, no way. They want to have their freedom."

"I'd just want to be on a label that's reputable enough so that people who really know about music would buy something from that label because they know it's going to be good," Martin adds, citing indies like Sub Pop, Matador and Kindercore. "It's more name recognition so we can get more people to know about us nationally and internationally. So we don't have to just play shows to get people to hear us."

But, despite the artistic reservations, could Readymaid's music transfer to the mainstream?

"I don't want to dismiss that," Snell says. "I mean, what is mainstream? Mainstream, for what we're looking at, is being on a respected indie label, and you get to go to Portland and there's 500 people there. That's mainstream. There's people at the top, figureheads that are doing things, but there's room for people to get up there and elbow around a little bit. Some of the guys I love, like Beck or The Flaming Lips, I would call that mainstream. I would love to have that opportunity and, with all the hard work we've put in, I think maybe we could."

Hold on hope
Jonathan Davis, the lead singer for Metal heavyweights Korn, was recently quoted as saying, "I don't like painting flowers with my music. I like painting guts and pain." If Readymaid's music were visual, it would likely be a series of abstracts. The colors would range from bright fluorescents to worn silver metallic. They wouldn't fit into any "movement," which would make their work all the more intriguing.

So, Readymaid, what do you like painting with your music?

"Oh, guts and pain," volleys Suer. "Bloody stool."

Oookkkay. That could be part of it. There's a theory that great art comes from turmoil, which would certainly explain the current wealth of unique talent in Cincinnati's arts and music scenes. While the band doesn't submit that its musical existence has been affected by their hometown's arch conservatism — though they'd like to see more adventurous concert-goers — they do allow that it might be a factor in what they do on a creative level.

"You take art from the 21st Century and it reflects George Bush winning the election and the whole apocalyptic feeling that everyone has right now," Suer offers. "It depends on the amount of frustration and what you do with it. Do you want to bash it out or do you want to take it out in a different way and turn it into something else, something beautiful?"

Readymaid's artistic modus operandi is turning a negative into a positive. Their most vivid adventure with artistic struggle has been their proximity to the Condon case. But instead of anger, Snell says that, ultimately, the oppression they've witnessed with the case will find its way to the surface in the form of amazing, beautiful art from Condon, Readymaid and anyone else who's been moved by the debacle.

"A lot of art (that is inspired by negative things) is about hope," Snell says. "Lately, Thomas has been a focus for us and it's been like, 'It really sucks, it sucks, it sucks!' But you know what? There's always light at the end of the tunnel. There's always hope."

Readymaid's approach to music is, on a certain level, very similar to the way a painter or sculptor works. But instead of one person controlling all of the moves, each of the five members has a hand on the brush, a say in what color to use or what texture to add.

"Every time we switch an instrument, you get a different perspective on what you're creating," Martin says. "Like when I'm playing bass, I'm creating a foundation. I'm starting off the house along with the drums. And then we start determining how everybody else works. On guitar, you're looking to make the icing on the cake. You write textures and sounds to make it fit together as a piece."

What separates Readymaid from most other bands is their palette. There's a full spectrum of colors in the world, and Readymaid's not afraid to use them.

"I think it's time," Snell sums up. "People around here are looking for more colors. It's like, let's bring out the whole 64 Crayola. A lot of bands, who I still love, they're still using that pack of 16. Let's bring out the 64 — you even got the sharpener in the back!" ©

Readymaid Highlights MidPoint
Readymaid performs at the MidPoint Music Festival Saturday at the Madison Theater starting at midnight. For more on MidPoint, see CityBeat's picks of the "must-see" bands, an interview with festival founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian, the full band lineup and the official festival program inserted in this week's print issue of CityBeat.