Locals Only: : Digable "Underground"

The Spectacular Fantastic makes the leap from studio project to live Indie Pop juggernaut

Sep 28, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Sean Hughes/photopresse.com

The Spectacular Fantastic

If you want to know how Mike Detmer's doing, you could call and ask him. Or you could just pick up a copy of whatever CD he's released most recently. Whether with The Spectacular Fantastic, folk?, Infinite August or solo, Detmer's music has proven to be the window to his soul, expressing heartache, silliness, depression or love-stricken bliss. Judging by his latest effort, The Spectacular Fantastic Goes Underground, he's feeling great and ready to kick some serious ass.

This is the third album from TSF, and each has a distinct character based on where Detmer was in his life. His first two, New Equations for the Simple Mind and Vortex of Vacancy, were written, played and recorded exclusively by Detmer in his home studio in southeastern Indiana (Detmer is also co-founder of the Vibrating Needle Recording Collective). Hearing the tight, Country-tinged Psychedelia, no one in the world would have guessed him a one-man band. From a songwriting standpoint, New Equations embodied loss, introspection and hardship, while much of Vortex brimmed with the giddiness of new love.

In between the release of these albums, Detmer's work started to receive some attention. A couple of superb songs on local label compilations and playing some key shows as a solo performer had opened many eyes to his talent.

A Best Singer/Songwriter Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nomination, a 97Xposure Top 3 berth and a load of positive reviews from various webzines followed. Unfortunately, the band he had assembled to interpret TSF's music was not quite up to snuff.

"We weren't ready," admits Detmer. "It was right when folk? was folding down, and The Spectacular Fantastic, as a band, was just getting on its feet."

Judging by a string of powerful performances and the inclusion of the rest of the band on several tracks from the majestic new disc, it's clear that the TSF is now ready for anything. Featuring Roger Pott on bass, Bryan Dellefield on drums and Jon Williams on guitar and backing vocals, this lineup has fully realized the live potency of Detmer's incredible songs. Pott has been with the band for some time, but the others are fairly recent conscripts.

Recalls Williams, "I first met Mike at a show my old band played along with TSF last fall. Vortex of Vacancy was already one of my favorite local releases. I just thought that the music had so much quality to it, that certain something that makes a great song you can't seem to get out of your head."

Dellefield and Williams met working in the recording section of a local music store. They played together as part of IamIs and decided to give TSF a try. As Dellefield says, "It was a matter of just jumping in to see what happens and loving what has. Our first show in town was definitely a great moment. We had learned the songs in a short amount of time, and I think we really played them to their potential."

The band has also written a tune together that has become an audience favorite. Despite misgivings about relinquishing his solo writing MO, Detmer concedes that he's willing to consider letting the band go in that direction, saying of the new song, "It's fun to play. I think it sounds a little too modern, but who knows, maybe that's what we'll end up sounding like."

Even so, Detmer certainly won't put the brakes on writing his own songs. "I want to have a huge catalog," he confesses. "Like Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields. He has thousands of songs. Hell, I'd like to write kid's songs someday; I'd like to do a Christmas album, too."

Based on his already bursting-at-the-seams catalog, Tin Pan Alley could be his next stop. But the personal aspects of his songs make them hard for him to let go. Many artists cringe at their early work, but Detmer enjoys re-listening to his as sort of a sonic diary.

"I knew I wasn't any good!" he laughs. "But I got lucky and wrote some good songs early on. Why would you record something if it doesn't remind you of a special time in your life, you know? I've done a lot of things, and the songs connect it all."

THE SPECTACULAR FANTASTIC (spectacularfantastic.net) hosts a CD release party at The Southgate House on Friday.