Locals Only: : Loose Morals

Local Indie Rock quintet guided by beer, bourbon and a great melody

Dale M. Johnson

Morals Galore

You'd know them if you've seen them on stage — five bodies of various shapes and sizes flailing at their instruments and making a delicious, melodic mess. Local Indie Rock combo Morals Galore come off as a more innocent version of The Replacements, with all the boozy sincerity, looseness and ample chunks of melody that made the latter group stand out among its more polished peers.

The Morals (Benny Stegeman, Kevin Gulley, Matthew "Smitty" Smith, Charlie Lester and Timmy Vogt) are childhood friends from Northern Kentucky who shared an early love of prank phone calls, tomato-throwing vandalism and honest, Brit-influenced Indie Rock. An early friendship with Guided by Voices' major domo Bob Pollard imparted an appreciation for the finer parts of Midwestern living — basketball and Budweiser — and provided an initial version of the group with an inspired name for their fledgling band.

"We were playing basketball, grilling out and drinking beer at (Pollard's) infamous Monument Club and asked what would be a good name for the band," bassist Vogt recalls. "He recommended The Soft Red Helicopters or the Knuckle Draggers. We chose the Soft Red Helicopters."

After adopting what could have alternately been the title to one of Pollard's many new releases, bands or songs, the Copters fizzed out. But the band that would become Morals Galore got a boost when vocalist/guitarist Stegeman returned from living in Tampa, Fla., and brought a host of new song ideas to the singer-less band. Being old friends helped the group gel right away, according to drummer Lester.

"We were able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary bullshit by being friends before we were bandmates," he says. "We're also bound by a common love of beer and bourbon."

Together for a short time, the Morals have already released an excellent debut disc (Donerail) and been featured at a number of regional and local music festivals. The band has even tried its own hand at organizing big shows, including a successful multi-band bill at the Southgate House in Newport featuring all Northern Kentucky groups.

"The Northern Kentucky night was patterned after MidPoint and Popopolis," Vogt says. "We just wanted something like those festivals that screamed 'Kentucky,' which is where we're all from (and) which we're fiercely proud of."

Loyalty is a tenet the band adheres to — their CD release last December was a benefit for the Starfire Council, a nonprofit organization that provides recreational activities for teens and adults with disabilities. Vogt and his wife work for the organization and count the staff and beneficiaries as some of the Morals' biggest fans.

While the group maintains some GBV-isms from their early tutelage — band rehearsals are open to the public, beer is consumed in mass quantities and live shows degenerate into fun, booze-fueled cover tributes — their take on 21st century Indie Rock is surely their own. Their debut disc is hummable and catchy, slightly distorted and angular but infectiously good and simple in its approach. And that suits Stegemen just fine.

"I don't like pussies who beat around the bush," he says. "Give it to me solid with a good melody, because that's what I want."

Further retaining the DIY work ethic of their Dayton mentors, the band recently wrapped up a mini East Coast tour that ended early as a result of an untimely blizzard trapping the band in their hotel room. But Mother Nature isn't dissuading the band from hitting the road again soon.

"A lot of people (out of town) were really complimentary, which is heartening to us since they were and still are complete strangers," Vogt recalls.

The band has a busy slate of regional shows scheduled to spread the Morals' gospel around. They also remain busy working on ideas for a new disc to further flesh out their ever-developing sound. It might or might not bring them fortune and fame, which is just fine with Vogt.

"Bob (Pollard) always told us, 'Do what you want and the world will come around,' " Vogt says. "That's our approach."

MORALS GALORE play Friday at Northside Tavern with Giant Judys and Stardrop. For more information, check out moralsgalore.com.

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