Some bands work for years for even the smallest scrap of national attention. For Cincinnati’s Bad Veins, that recognition came just after their second show in 2006 and has hardly abated in the subsequent six years. Their early demo received airplay on Seattle heavyweight KEXP, they were the breakout band at 2008’s CMJ fest, bloggers sang their praises and dozens of labels wanted to hear more from multi-instrumentalist/tape operator/songwriter Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastien Schultz.
In 2009, the acclaim heaped upon Bad Veins’ eponymous debut was an amplification of their atypically quick start, with TV and movie placements and a tons more press and online exposure. The band’s national fanbase also continued to grow thanks to frequent touring.
Bad Veins were already a local hit at their packed inaugural show at the Courtyard Cafe. The release of Bad Veins in 2009 was further evidence that hundreds of industry wonks couldn’t be wrong (well, they could, but not this time).
Still, following a well-received debut can be intimidating, with much second-guessing along the way. Thankfully, Davis and Schultz deflected such daunting considerations as they were fashioning their self-deprecatingly titled second album, The Mess We’ve Made.
“You hope that everyone that loved your first record loves your second record,” Davis says. “You hope you can grab 100 percent of your old fans and add to them, and that may or may not work.
“But when you’re sitting with your guitar or piano, you’re just writing about how you feel. It’s impossible to think about anything else. I think the second you start thinking about those people when you’re being creative, you’re probably doomed.”
“Going into this album, I didn’t have any sort of outlandish expectations,” Schultz adds. “I just enjoyed as much of the moment as I could and I think it paid off.”
The Mess We’ve Made finds Bad Veins in an overtly Pop mindset, as opposed to the first album’s more frenetic personality. The albums aren’t radically dissimilar, but Mess has many melodic moments that seem suited for Top 40 airplay.
“Whether that was intentional or not, I can’t say, but the end result is what happened — who cares what I’m trying to do?” Davis says with a laugh. “The songs that pile up are what they are, and there were a handful of songs that felt more like ‘Gold and Warm’ from the first record. There were a lot of Pop hooks in the bunch so it seemed natural that we were going to end up a lot more poppy.”
“I don’t think most people realize how much Ben and I collectively enjoy Pop,” Schultz says. “We don’t shy away from creating melodic songs.”
The gritty energy of the Bad Veins debut was almost universally praised, so there’s some hesitation concerning the cleaner, prettier atmosphere of The Mess We’ve Made, the duo’s debut for Austin, Texas, label Modern Outsider.
“I think we’ll turn on a lot of new people with the record, but I worry that we might turn off a few people who were into the dirt and distortion of the first record,” Davis says. “Most of that, for now, is gone. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say, ‘This is a new direction for Bad Veins.’ It could be a tangent. It really depends on what the next record is, I guess. No matter how much we stray or deviate, we’re still going to be who we are. It’s impossible to change our sound too much, but it definitely has a different flavor, and part of that is being reactionary. We’ll try something different. For our third record, there are already interesting ideas that weren’t around for this record.”
Davis and Schultz are accustomed to going their own way. With World and then The Giant Judys, Davis distinguished himself as a singular songwriter and performer. By 2006, the Judys became a one-man band through attrition and Davis renamed the solo entity Bad Veins. He and Schultz (former drummer for Cathedrals) connected through a mutual friend and the duo’s trajectory immediately tilted upward.
The songs on The Mess We’ve Made are similarly unique in their inspiration and creation. Using their live experience as a template, Davis and Schultz fashioned the new songs accordingly.
“We started performing those songs (from the first record) from day one and we saw what worked and what didn’t in the live setting,” Davis says. “I don’t know if it was intentional, but I think we steered this record more toward our live shows. It’s a lot of bombastic Pop stuff, and maybe it’s because that’s the stuff we’ve found works well live.”
The other consideration is that Bad Veins has spent a good deal of their touring time in a support capacity. It’s challenging to weave a complex sonic tapestry in a half-hour opening set.
“We play 30 minutes and we’re done,” Davis says. “We can’t take the live audience on an emotional roller coaster: ‘Let’s take it down and play smooth jams for a while and then build it back up.’ We don’t have time. Live, it’s the banging Pop numbers to win over the people that have no clue who we are. I don’t think we did it intentionally, but I do think we knew what was going to happen; we’re going to play for people who won’t know who we are, so let’s write some attention-getters.”
That approach continued when the duo hit the studio.
“We knew going in we had a Pop record,” Davis says. “If you have a big, awesome stereo, you’re going to hear crazy low-end sub-bass and really high-end frequency, intricate idiosyncrasies and details that were not on that first record.”
“There are enough moments in each song to insert memorable bits and dynamically make shifts that people will hopefully remember after the show,” Schultz says. “Every time I see my dad he brings up the big crash at the end of ‘If Then,’ and he’s repeated himself five or six times, but those are the little moments that stick out to people, so I think that did matter in the studio.”
As Bad Veins prepares to hit the road with The Mess We’ve Made, they’re once again steeling themselves to win over what is becoming an increasingly smaller percentage of an audience that doesn’t know who they are.
“All we want to do is play for sold-out crowds,” Davis jokes, “and get fans that we didn’t earn.”
BAD VEINS will host an album release party April 21 at The Ballroom at the Taft with guests Lightning Love and The Guitars.