Music: Believo or Not

Dayton native John Schmersal garners Indie Rock acclaim with the eclectic Enon

May 3, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Boston, Kansas, Alabama, Chicago, Europe, Idaho, Berlin, Enon. Enon? That's right, you can add John Schmersal's band to the list of those named for places, because apparently Enon is a small town outside of Dayton, Ohio. More important to fans, though, is how awful damn good the Dayton native's band is.

Those who've heard Believo!, Enon's 2000 debut, know what a rollicking slab of head-turning, style-juggling wax it truly is. From the machine shop funk of "Rubber Car," all the way through to the beehive bop of "Biofeedback," Believo! never ceases to entertain. A hydrant's flow of ideas percolate themselves into skewed pop songs. "Come Into" is a rolling, organ-drenched, haunted house ride, maybe the most head-bobbing song about evil since "Sympathy for the Devil." "Cruel," the swampy torch number, conjures the spirit of Twin Peaks' "dream dwarf," with its tremelo guitar, brushed snare drum and whispered vocal.

The catchiest song, at least with my brother's kids (ages 6 and 2), is probably "Get the Letter Out" I couldn't wait to tell Schmersal that not only do the kids sing it, but when the instrumental break occurs they both get their imaginary bottles up, knowing that the broken glass sound that ends the break is coming. To see Calvin, all two feet of him, hit that cue a split second behind his sister (every time) kills me.

Music people will remember Dayton's Brainiac, the tragically short-lived brainchild of its twin stars, Juan Monasterio and Tim Taylor. Formed in 1992, the 'Niac fused explosive Punk Rock energy, raw sexuality and quirky-jerky Dexter's Laboratory-smarts into a rocket-fueled machine that bands of today have yet to match.

Schmersal replaced original Brainiac guitarist Michelle Bodine and was a major contributor to both '96's Hissing Prigs in Static Couture and '97's Electro Shock For President. The band had attracted the keen interest of several major record labels before the heartbreaking end came suddenly. Brainiac had just returned from a European tour supporting fellow pioneer, Beck, and were on the verge of consummating a yearlong courtship with Interscope Records when Taylor was killed in a gruesome car wreck. Given the circumstance, it's all the more astonishing that Schmersal has come to make the robust music he does.

Following the band's demise, Schmersal relocated to New York City, where the pieces that make up Enon would begin to fall into place. First, producer David Sardy, who runs a label called See-Thru Broadcasting, was interested in doing a solo record with Schmersal. His demos were great, and John could do a lot of the playing himself, but in order to tour, he would need a band. Enter Skeleton Key drummer Steve Calhoon, and junk-pilist Rick Lee, (whose live set-up included trash can lids, saws, hammers, a red wagon and other industrial sounding clatter that John knew would fit his concept). Work on Believo! began almost immediately.

The newness of the project resulted in Schmersal calling most of the shots. "I was pretty precious about the ideas on that record, and I got to do almost everything just the way I'd wanted to," he says.

Understanding that albums can lose a little luster over time, in the eyes of their creators, Schmersal adds, "We're all still really happy with it. I mean, if I could change anything, maybe we could have sequenced the songs differently, but that's a small complaint. All of the songs themselves came out exactly the way I wanted."

The band's line-up has seen changes, with Toko Yasuda from the band Blonde Redhead enlisted to play bass and Let's Crash drummer Matt Schultz replacing Calhoon on the drums. Rick Lee's role expanded to include guitars, keys, and additional electronica. As 2000 wore on, the band's live playing became a greater component of its sound, so by the time work commenced on a new record it was less of a solo project and more of an ensemble.

"Believo! sounds like a studio project. It sounds embellished to me in a lot of places, and we tried so many different things," Schmersal says. "These days we sound more like a band, more straightforward, more Rock."

Although Schmersal acknowledges that "straightforward" for Enon is a relative term, and that, to many ears, it may sound pretty crazy. The new record, just completed and titled High Society, comes out in September on See-Thru.

Brainiac always had the knack for cultivating interest from the powerful major labels, and that ability seems to have carried over with Enon. I asked Schmersal if they thought such a step might be in their future.

"That stuff will always be out there, but involving majors has its drawbacks as well," he says. "Take the Toadies (with whom the band have toured with this year). They had a platinum record in '95, and it's only now that they've been able to get their second one out. For now, at least, we've got a great thing going, right where we are."

ENON perform Monday at the Southgate House with Dismemberment Plan.