Locals Only: : Spider Man

Cincinnati-based band Theraphosa mesh anonymity with aspiration


Anyone who's ever played music will tell you how ridiculous and painstaking the process of properly naming a band can be. Some groups (Led Zeppelin) get a lucky tip from a friend or happen upon a word in the dictionary that no one else has previously opted for. But, more often than not, a moniker is chosen for better or worse and the troops soldier on. In the most rare of circumstances, a band's name actually describes the music they're making.

Theraphosa are one of the lucky ones.

"Theraphosa Blondi" is the scientific name for the Goliath Bird Eating Spider. Enjoying its status as the largest spider in the world (leg span of 10 inches!), it sneaks up and pounces on its prey, injecting it with poison from its impressive fangs. Guitarist/vocalist and self-proclaimed spider freak Robert Stephen Billups suggested the name to his cohorts (drummer Jerry Dirr and bassist Robyn Roth), who both agreed that if they could make music that sounded like a "big-ass spider eating a bird" they were on the right track.

Their cataclysmic live performances coupled with the sounds on their debut full-length, Blondi, are proof enough that they've succeeded. Waves of intricate drum beats push the pulsing bass and stabbing guitar lines forward while bursts of strained lyrics cut jagged swatches of melody from the overall canvas.

Despite the fact that their co-workers can't pronounce their band name or understand why a band as aggressive and visceral as they are haven't played Party in the Park, Blondi is undeniably one of the most unique and inventive discs of recent memory, and Theraphosa are without a doubt one of the city's best kept secrets.

All veteran players, the members of Theraphosa's roots in the local music community run deep. Billups and Dirr played in Autumn Rising and ran Brass Ass Recordings (1996-2000), which served to release their own music as well as material from Roth's old band, Feasts of Merit. In 2002, with the music bug biting once more, the three began talking about playing again.

"Initially it was just casual conversation," says Dirr. "We talked about just getting together to play and see what happened, not even worrying about whether or not anyone was in the audience. It was very low-key. I think we were together for a year before we even played a show."

Along with the newly formed band, Brass Ass Recordings was resurrected as Save Your Servant Recordings with renewed interest and focus. Although the names have changed, the principals behind both endeavors remain the same.

"For me, it's about writing and creating," Dirr says. "I enjoy the surprises. It's a new experience every day and you kind of get greedy for that feeling — you just want it all the time. And as stressful as it can be sometimes, I really enjoy the process of getting everything together for a release — doing the layout, all the different logistical aspects of putting out a record. Regardless of what avenue, it's always been about sharing the music in whatever form with as many people as possible in the hopes that it could be a catalyst for making another record."

Looking ahead, the band plans to continue writing and recording while playing out as much as possible to support the release of Blondi. Local Sludge Rock act, The Strongest Proof, is slated to do some recording for the label, and the gears are in motion for a split compilation CD between Save Your Servant Recordings and two other local labels, Commonwealth Audio and Tiberius Records. But even as their plates fill up, Dirr keeps things in check with one last poignant, passing remark: "You're a fool if you get into the music business to make money," he says. "It's just impossible."

THERAPHOSA (saveyourservant.com) next plays on April 23 at Radio Down for a benefit show designed to raise funds for the American Indian College Fund