Two former bands with origins in the ’90s and just north of Cincinnati — 12 Rods and Brainiac (formed in Oxford, Ohio and Dayton, Ohio, respectively) — are the subjects of a pair of intriguing music documentaries. Finding their groove on a club circuit that also included many Cincinnati visits, both groups had interesting, Behind the Music-worthy storylines as they progressed up the music-industry ladder, with varying levels of creative, professional and personal triumphs, disappointments and tragedies.
following in clubs and house parties throughout the college town, while also often venturing into Cincinnati’s music scene. The band moved to Minneapolis in 1994, after which its EP Gay? was released and nabbed an extremely rare perfect “10” rating from the notoriously picky Pitchfork, when the outlet was also in its embryonic stage.
Becoming one of the biggest bands in Minneapolis, 12 Rods signed to V2 Records (Richard Branson’s post-Virgin Records label) and put out two full-lengths, including Separation Anxieties, which was produced by Rock legend Todd Rundgren. After getting dropped from V2, 12 Rods put out Lost Time in 2002 before breaking up in 2004. Lost Time was reissued in 2015 through Chigliak Records, the label founded by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, a 12 Rods superfan who called the album “one (of) my most listened to albums of all time” and has heaped effusive praise on incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitarist Ryan Olcott.
The band played a reunion/final show timed to the rerelease that drew a sold-out crowd to Minneapolis club First Avenue. It also attracted the attention of Oxford native James Flynn (brother of original 12 Rods bassist and longtime Cincinnati musician Matt Flynn), who filmed the concert after requests on Facebook for video of the show flooded in from fans. The concert footage would eventually become the basis for Flynn’s documentary film on 12 Rods, Accidents Waiting to Happen.
Made possible by a Kickstarter campaign, the pulse of Accidents Waiting to Happen is its beautifully shot multi-cam footage from the reunion show, which included members of 12 Rods from throughout its history. (During the concert, Matt Flynn sports a shirt from Cincy band Oyster and elsewhere there are some local landmarks and icons referenced via the stories, photos and fliers like Sudsy Malone’s, SHAG and Lizard 99.) But the heart of the film is the group’s story, which is told through current -day interviews with the musicians.
Obviously, a band has to have a compelling backstory for a retrospective documentary to even remotely be considered, but there have been plenty of weak documentaries about groups with epic storylines. Besides the great production value, the magic of Accidents Waiting to Happen is James Flynn’s storytelling abilities. He perfectly captures the hopeful, wandering spirit of 12 Rods’ early years; the frustration that came with working with V2; the disappointment of realizing the dreams we have when we’re young are rarely the fairy tale imagined; the interpersonal bitterness that damaged lifelong friendships; the weight Olcott felt carrying the band’s burdens; and the pride and fulfillment that comes with taking the reins and doing your best creative work without music biz assistance/interference.
Highlights are plentiful, including the tale of entering the seemingly ideal experience of going to Hawaii to record with Rundgren, only to discover their high-paid producer was more interested in crossword puzzles and far less talented than hype indicated. There’s also an appearance by the author of that “10” Pitchfork review, who reads his review on-camera, at first embarrassed, but ultimately seeming to come around to the fact that he was absolutely right in his opinion of the band.
Meanwhile, the 2015 concert scenes — with the songs presented largely in chronological order — show Olcott’s remarkable and continuous development as a songwriter, which adds another layer of melancholy to the film; we’ll never know if 12 Rods’ full potential was realized and it’s largely because of a fumbling music industry’s lackluster support. There’s also a brief post-credits, post-reunion-show scene that makes for a perfect, tear-jerking epilogue.
The film premiered earlier this year at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. This Saturday, Accidents Waiting to Happen screens at The Carnegie (1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky., thecarnegie.com). The 7 p.m. event also includes a Q&A with James and Matt Flynn and 12 Rods’ preternaturally gifted original drummer Christopher McGuire (he was followed in the band by another jaw-dropping beat-keeper, The Bad Plus’ Dave King). Tickets ($12) are available at thecarnegie.com. DVD copies of the film and other 12 Rods merchandise will be available for purchase at the screening.
• Dayton’s Brainiac seemed to be on the verge of becoming Ohio’s next band to explode on a massive scale when things took a tragic turn. The innovative band’s albums on Grass and Touch and Go — as well as one of the most explosive live shows of any act from the group’s generation — had already made them superstars in the Indie and underground music worlds (frequent shows in Cincinnati made them instant sensations in the Queen City). Its unique fractured-electronics-meet-Art-Rock-and-Post-Punk drew many high-profile fans and influenced scores of other musicians.
Then, in 1997, with a soaring career that found the musicians touring with Beck and being earmarked for a major-label deal, Brainiac’s brilliant, live-wire frontperson, Tim Taylor, died in a tragic car accident in the band’s hometown. The ripple of sadness in the Alternative music touched many, including fan and peer Jeff Buckley, who reportedly dealt with the tragedy by ranting about Taylor on stage during a Memphis, Tenn. show. Buckley drowned just three days later.
Taylor and Brainiac’s legacy will be celebrated in a forthcoming documentary by filmmaker Eric Mahoney, another Gem City musician (he fronted the Dayton-spawned band Murder Your Darlings) who’s now based in Brooklyn and has worked on and produced several acclaimed films and TV shows. Mahoney launched a Kickstarter campaign in April to fund the film, and world spread quickly, leading to more interviews for the project with friends, family members and fellow musicians like Steve Albini, Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta, The Melvins’ King Buzzo and comedic actor and multi-instrumentalist Fred Armisen. The crowd-funding campaign was bolstered by attention from the music press and also social media support, including the endorsement of Luke Skywalker (aka famous Brainiac fan Mark Hamill) on Twitter.
The untitled documentary is still in production, with more footage being compiled at a Brianiac tribute show on Dec. 9 in Brooklyn. Girls Against Boys, which includes Eli Janney (who produced Brainiac), are among the acts on the bill. The 8G Band from Late Night with Seth Meyers (which also includes Janney) will be the backing band for the night under the name The Heist. Brainiac members Juan Monasterio, Tyler Trent, Michelle Bodine (whose brother Scott performed with Mahoney in Murder Your Darlings) and John Schmersal will join The Heist during a set of Brainiac songs, alongside members of The Dismemberment Plan, Hole, Delta 72, The Wrens and the Cincinnati-born Chrome Cranks. (UPDATE: A similar tribute show with the former Brainiac musicians took place in Dayton shortly after the Brooklyn show.)
UPDATE: Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero will premiere at 2019's South By Southwest on March 12. As the project has grown, Mahoney has been able to add several more interviews to the film, including with Cincinnati native Matt Berninger of The National.
Contact Mike Breen: [email protected]