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My Last Bloomington Band: A Q&A With Jason Groth
Posted September 18, 2015 by Taylor Peters
WRITTEN BY
Taylor Peters
ON
September 18, 2015

Cadmium Orange, performing at Rhino's in Bloomington

I came across Cadmium Orange by accident. Sometimes, when I'm putting together my weekly playlists, I turn on the MFT radio function to explore stuff that I might otherwise miss. One day, an especially catchy little track from some band I'd never heard of called Cadmium Orange came on, and I was hooked. I did a little research, and saw the name Jason Groth attached to the project. It seemed familiar, but I wasn't exactly sure how until I peeped the related artists at the bottom of the page, including The Impossible Shapes and The Coke Dares. "This dude's been in all the good bands!" I thought to myself. I've got an especially fond memory of seeing the Coke Dares at a house venue called the Clinic in what must have been 2008 or 2009. I wanted to talk to him. 

 

Groth lives in North Carolina now, but he put in a lot of time in Bloomington's music scene from the mid 90s through the 2000s. During that time he was in more bands than most of us can probably count and many of them still have float in the ether down in Bloomington. Talking with him about his own bands, the bands he loved, and what it takes to get a band actually going, it was exciting to hear him still so pumped about everything he did and experienced as a part of Indiana music's history. And, because our time in Bloomington overlapped just enough for me to have a lot of questions about all the stuff I missed, we covered a lot of ground when we spoke over the phone. 

 

Listen to Cadmium Orange's The Story or Rocket Pole

 

Taylor Peters: To start off, tell me how you ended up in Bloomington in the first place. 

 

Jason Groth: I was born in Elgin, Illinois. I lived there until I was four, moved to Florida for a couple years for a job that my dad took, then I ended up Lafayette, Indiana, and I grew up there. In grade school, by the time I started getting in to records and music it was the same time my sister decided to go to school at IU for theater. We would go visit her, and going to Bloomington the first time it was so different from the engineering culture of Purdue. The college itself was so different. I believe the first time we went there was a punk show in People's Park. As soon as I saw her go there, I made my mind up I would also move to Bloomington for school. I didn't know what I was going to do, but it seemed like all the stuff I was in to, music and theater and not science, was there. I moved there in 1996 to be, I don’t know what i was majoring in, telecom maybe? I know I graduated with an English and history degree. 

 

TP: How did you get involved with the music scene? Did you come to Bloomington with a sense of what was going on musically then? 

 

JG: In 1994, in Lafayette, I started a band called Cadmium Orange. I was a junior in high school when that started, and me and the bass player both ended up going to IU. It was definitely a high school band. I mean the only people who have the output of that band from 1994 through 1996 are people we went to high school with. It changed drastically when we got to Bloomington. So, our drummer in 1995, he was a year older than us and went to IU, too. I remember he came home for practice one time for like a New Year show or something and brought with him a flyer for WIUS and I got really excited because Purdue didn’t have a student station that I knew of. Not like a classic one that you see in 90s John Hughes style movie, the kinds who were putting out the CMJ charts that I was obsessed with. So, I just sent WIUS a bunch of records that we had made and I included contact info.

That spring, much to my surprise, or maybe in the summer before I ended up going there, I got an email from the then program director, Eric Weddle (who runs Family Vineyard now), and he was really excited about the music I sent. I was like, “That’s weird.” Eric loves local stuff and he said a couple of the songs were in really high rotation in particular this one called “The Long Punk Song.” It was charting at WIUS, which was crazy because it was the only place I sent records, and I only did it because I thought we’d have an in because our drummer went to school there. Communicating with him, that sort of introduced me to the culture of, “Oh, you can just write songs,” and if you’re in a band and take initiative to send them to people, you can probably do stuff. So Eric was a big reason I felt validated in moving the band to Bloomington, and Eric is probably the main reason we didn’t change that awful name. We had this idea as 18-year-olds: "Well, they’re going to know who we are so we better not change the name.” You know, because like 10 people knew one song. 

I had a bandmate there who was talking to us about bands. I don't know, what bands did I know about before I got there. I knew Johnny Socko, and Homunculus, and Sardina. It was really exciting, thinking that maybe we might have a chance to become a part of the scene that I was admiring from afar, because we didn’t really have one in Lafayette. 

So we kicked out our drummer; he ended up going to Purdue anyway. So our first semester in 96 was Chris and I just figuring out what new drummer to get. That semester, the year before we moved, in 95-96, I had become obsessed with Guided By Voices and four track recording, and the summer before we came to IU, we made our first four track album which was unfortunately called Bitch Corea. We thought that was funny, I don’t remember why. We made that four track record and there was a song on it that was the first song I wrote that got me out of the crap I was writing in high school. It’s probably still not that great, but it felt, it didn’t feel like it was a love song about some high school girl. It felt like a song that just had a melody and harmonies. It was a song called "I Wanna be the Universe.”

So, our first semester there in the dorms, our RA gave us a flyer for Live from Bloomington, the compilation Union Board did. I got the flyer and I realized I had a day to send the song, and I just randomly picked this song from the four track record, and later they called and told us we had made the comp, which was surprising and exciting. It felt like the biggest deal ever to me. 

From there we realized we needed a new drummer, and we found this guy named Lee Mantle. We found him because I was in a telecom class with the guitarist from Homunculus. We had sort of become friends, and I happened to mention we needed a drummer, and he said, “Well, there’s this one guy who’s really solid, good back beat, and then there’s this other guy, he’s really tall, and he’s left handed, and he loves prog rock.” I said “That’s the guy I want to meet." So, by February of 1997, I think that was the month we played our first Rhino’s show. 

 

TP: So when I went to IU, I was pretty involved with WIUX, the student radio station, called WIUS when you were a student. I know you've got a few Cadmium Orange recordings from Culture Shock (WIUX's annual outdoor festival) up on the archive, and I remember seeing The Coke Dares there one year. Could you tell me about your inolvement with the station? 

 

JG: Yeah, when I got there, I remember emailing Eric when I got there, “Dude I don't want to miss the callout!" I didn't realize it wasn’t the most popular thing to do on campus. I figured there would be a line out the door. My first shift was terrible, it was Saturday mornings at like 6am I think. 

 

TP: Yeah, my first shift was at like 7am on a Sunday, I think. 

 

JG: Ugh, so bad!

 

TP: It was a real nail biter for me the whole week I was waiting to find out if I got a show, too. I think at that point you had to send them a list of songs you might play on your show and I really spent too much time on that, thinking it was a hardcore make or break kind of thing. 

 

JG: I can’t remember, I think they asked me to do that. I remember that my show was right after the metal show, and the two dudes who ran the metal show would just drink bottles of Jim Beam while they were there. One night, I showed up and I got into the control room and one of the guys was passed out on the board and two CDs were just playing on repeat at the same time. The other guy was in the bathroom just throwing up into the tub that was upstairs over and over. I had to call Eric Weddle. I was like, “Dude, I have no idea what to do here." I just kind of shuffled them out and told them they had 15 minutes to get off the property or else Eric was going to call the police. I think they didn’t have a show any more after that. Eric and I kind of bonded over that. 

 

TP: I started my undergrad down at IU in 2007, and I remember catching a few shows of your bands, but I never knew about Cadmium Orange. I actually came upon them randomly through the MFT archive, and was doing some research and saw your name and was like "Hey wait, I think I know who that guy is." Could you tell me a little bit more about how you got involved with all your bands like The Impossible Shapes, Magnolia Electric Company, The Coke Dares, and so on? 

 

JG: Something that you asked earlier made me think of a point I wanted to make. The way that we got in to it was so weird, those bands that I mentioned knowing about from Bloomington, many of them weren’t really from Bloomington. They were good bands, but they weren’t really the kinds of bands that were similar to the kind of music I was writing or trying to make. I actually had no idea what a scene was supposed to be coming from a town where there was really no basement show scene or all ages club scene. My band would end up playing these shows in armories with all hardcore bands and then us. It would often kind of work in our favor because sometimes we'd be the only pop band. Everyone else was screaming and dudes in black t-shirts, compared to three nerdy dudes playing loose, highly melodic, R.E.M. and Guided By Voices-inspired stuff.

So, when I got to Bloomington, I didn’t realize I didn’t have any context for how you navigate the scene at all. So when we got the Live From Bloomington thing, I was like, “Oh, so now we’ll get a show.” And playing that first show in February of 1997, that show was with Intro to Airlift, and it was Marmoset’s first show in Bloomington, and another band I can't remember right now. I remember the bartender that night, he knew we were real young, and he said to us that we had to get out of there when we were done, no fucking around. So I guess we were immediately a known entity because of Live from Bloomington. "I Wanna be the Universe" was the lead off track to that comp, and no one had ever heard of us. It felt like a huge deal to me, and I guess it was enough of a big deal to generate local interest to start getting us shows.

So it just kind of started to happen. We were playing Rhino's and Second Story, and people would just ask so I had no idea. I really didn’t know how it worked. We knew that we had to practice a lot, What we thought you had to do was practice like 3-4 times a week, and you had to learn covers, and you had to have one new song every show, because why would people care otherwise? And like, we made that up, we weren’t reading books that told us those things, we just kind of decided that was how we would do it. Once we met our new drummer, we were practicing like four times a week. If we didn’t write a new song, we would learn a cover. We were just like, “Oh, you just have to work hard.” 

 

TP: That's so awesome that as college kids you were able to get it so well together like that. I remember, with my bands in college, it was like pulling teeth to get practices organized even once a week. 

 

JG: Yeah, I think the three of us at the time, because we were a three piece from 1996 through 1998, and we were a three piece in high school too, even though I didn't know about the Minutemen then, it it was really the "econo" philosophy of just getting three dudes together. All three of us, all we wanted to do was be in a band. We were all liberal arts majors, and our drummer was a recording arts major so we had access to the studio. But I was obsessed with four tracks, and so was everyone else, so we could just record and write and play shows, and kind of just make it happen.

We were pretty naive. We just made this up and it happened to work in our favor. Suddenly we decided we weren’t just a pop band anymore, we wanted to be a loud noisy rock band where suddenly melody would emerge, it was fun. We were trying to do all that aggression with noise while still keeping the melodies and harmonies there. I mean, really we were trying to emulate the lo-fi ness of crazy bedroom psychedelia on stage, and at the same time we got obsessed with The Who, so that was coming in to it. 

We were so insular we didn’t realize there were other things we could be doing. We didn’t know how to push out records. Other bands from Indianapolis and surrounding towns eventually took notice of us and we played a few shows out of town, but we had no idea how to book a tour. I think we all wanted to tour but we had no idea how to do that and, in 1998, our friend Jim [May] who we had gone to high school with, he graduated from college and he moved to Bloomington to be in the band. He didn’t know what to do, so he came there and that was a huge thing. We ended up with a front man, a three piece with a front man, so we could have two and three part harmonies. Suddenly we were just emulating all of our favorite 60s rock bands, essentially The Who for the next two and a half years.

So, by 1999, Paul Mahern was contacting us because he really wanted to do a record with us, which felt like a big deal. So we did six songs with him for the last record we made, and that was cool because none of us had really been in a studio like that. I ended up working with him a lot after that, so it was a good way to get introduced to him.

 


Listen to I Kill You Scum, Cadmium Orange's final album, recorded by Paul Mahern 

 

TP: Did you feel sort of validated or accepted in to the scene during that time?

 

JG: Yeah, it was really validating to know that we were suddenly part of a scene. So it really happened without us even knowing what we were doing just by practicing a lot and sort of forcing our way in there. We didn’t do it the way I would ever really recommend it. Even, at some point we just started having shows at our house. Once a month, we would just have a show and just us and whatever band we knew around town, and we would invite people over. Our house became a destination to see our band play. It was almost like we were an exhibit at our own place and we didn’t realize how vain that was, or what kind of opportunities we were missing to invite other people to play. Luckily, we had people who helped us shepherded us toward the end of our career to be more of a local band that worked with other bands.

So, by the end of 2000, our singer really wanted to go to New York, and we were so young that we were just like, “Well, we have to end the band.” We probably could’ve kept it going if we wanted, but ultimately it was probably good that we decided to move on. So, right before Cadmium Orange broke up, I joined the John Wilkes Booze Explosion. And then, in the spring of 2001, I had an English class with Chris Barth from the Impossible Shapes, and I had seen their band play, and I think it was Eric Weddle who was like, “You should be in that band. you should stop writing songs for a while and just play guitar in that band.” Then, one night somebody form JWBE was at one of the Shapes’ shows and form stage Chris Barth said, "Hey, we’re looking for a bass player." And I saw Chris in class, and I said, “Hey man, I heard you need a bass player. I don’t really play bass but I'd love to try." And he was like, “Oh, aren’t you in JWBE? Yeah, I heard that band is awesome, yeah you can come to practice.” And so I showed up at practice and Mark [Rice], who ended up being in The Coke Dares and Magnolia with me, he was never told was coming. So this dude that he’s never seen before just shows up at his house with a bass that’s missing a string or something and we just immediately became friends. That's sort of how it worked. It was all Cadmium Orange for like four years, and one other band that played a few shows in town, but that kind of imploded because it was just too weird. All of that made Chris from the Impossible Shapes hear about that and that was what made him say yes for me to come to practice. And that's how it all got started.

 

TP: How long were you in the Shapes?

 

JG: I joined in the spring of 2001. That was also the year I graduated, and I was in that band full time through the summer of 2005, and then I would be in that band sporadically until 2009 when they officially broke up. It’s crazy to think that I was in that band for 8 years.

 

TP: As a really broad closing question, I was wondering if you could talk a bit about what it's like to be someone who was so involved with Indiana music and to now live in a different state. What's your involvement/connection/relationship with what's going on here now?

 

JG: I think I’m going to end up answering that in a really long way. After I joined The Shapes I suddenly had gotten the bug of just being a musician in a band. So that year, in 2001, John Wilkes Booze started up again properly, involving all the members of The Impossible Shapes, and that was also the year that The Coke Dares started. And then in 2002, that was the year that Jason Molina asked 2/3rds of The Coke Dares to join Songs: Ohia. Then, in 2003 it became all of The Coke Dares in Songs: Ohia, and that became Magnolia. So the change from being really focused on one band into wanting to experience all sorts of different music was totally possible in such a fertile place like Bloomington. And all of that hard work from Cadmium Orange really paid off, because I learned how to be a really good band mate. I would work really hard to be good in those bands.

So, all of those bands toured too, and then joining up with Jason Molina and his stuff, that was in 2003, around then I started being on the road a lot. And there was a moment when I wasn’t sure if i wanted to be in Bloomington anymore. My band broke up, and when I joined The Shapes, I was like, “Oh, I'll give it a year or two.” But then I met my wife, and she was in school and in a band, and then I started touring and it was easy to come back to Bloomington.

But, to begin to answer your question, I feel like I started to lose touch with the scene in like 2005 or 2006 mostly because we were on tour all the time. 2005 was the year I got married. I was also on the road for five or six months that year with various bands, so until Magnolia called it quits, or thought we were just temporarily calling it quits to let Jason try and dry out, my job was touring. I would get really excited when I would connect with bands i thought were cool that were just starting, like Push-Pull for example. And I was in a band called Whippoorwill for a while in Bloomington, that was from the ashes of a band my wife was in before.

 

TP: Oh, that band name triggered a memory for me. So, before this interview I had a vague sense that we had played a show together but I couldn't remember the band name, But, do you remember at one point, we played a show at Fester's, or it might've been 902s at that point, Dunkirk now, and I was in a band that was either called Varsouviana or The Silent Era at that point. We were sort of cabaret-y sounding, and it was with Vincent from Murder by Death and a few other people. 

 

JG: Oh yeah, I remember that!

 

TP: Yeah, I played upright bass in that band. 

 

JG: I remember being like really enamored with your music and I think Vince and I talked about Whippoorwill and you all should've played together more. It was fun to be in bands like that, and the reason that band existed was we all wanted an outlet. Many of those people were like Secretly Canadian employees, or my wife was teaching at IU at the time, and so our road life wasn’t great, but it was awesome to be at home.

I would go on tour and new bands would be around that were awesome, and bands that I loved would be gone. And so at some point it would be hard to keep up. There was like Medusa, or Throwing Stars, or the Broderick, or The Calumet Reel, or Gravitas, and a lot of other bands I never got to see just because I wasn’t in town. But anyway, I tried to keep up as far as I could. I knew so many people in the scene and I would say, “Hey, I’ve been gone, who should I go see?” And they’d be like, "Oh, you should go see the Country Death," or something. 

 

TP: Oh man, I loved the Country Death. They had a song on one of the Live From Bloomingtons that I was obsessed with. 

 

JG: Yeah, Kyle [Burkett] wrote really good songs. I liked that other band he was in, Secrets Between Sailors, they ended up as a nine piece I think. This is all a very long way of saying that I got used to not being able to keep up because I was just getting older, and wasn’t able to go out as much, but at the end of my tenure in Bloomington in 2010, I ended up being in this Wipers cover band called the Swipers, which turned into this band called The Sands, and we made a record that I really liked. It was really fun being in that band. Actually, leaving Bloomington, coming to Raleigh to work as a librarian at NC State, which is what I was going to grad school to do, I was really excited to come here, but I was really sad because The Sands had just made a really good record that I was proud of and it was getting good reviews, and I was the guy who had to dip out. And who knows if it could’ve worked out, and we’ve been able to tour a little bit, and I was really happy with that record, but that was my last Bloomington band. Or actually, I'm lying, I'm still in a Bloomington band. The Sands never really broke up. We still talk about trying to get back together. 

 

TP: So are you able Indiana stuff much these days? 

 

JG: I do try to follow it. When I left there, The Sands were playing with a bunch of other great bands. I sometimes forget that Vacation Club is from Indianapolis, and they're great. I’m interested in what Peter King is up to because we played in The Shapes together, the stuff that’s coming out on Magnetic South is really cool to me. You know, the thing is, I don't really post that much, but I follow Facebook to see what bands are doing in Bloomington and around there, and occasionally Heath Byers, who owns Landlocked, he and I will chat about what’s going on in Bloomington music-wise, to hear who is the hot shit or whatever. 

It's fun, when you tell people you spent so much time in Indiana bands, everybody remembers playing in Bloomington. There's always a moment. Forgive the name-dropping here, but I'm going to do it because it was so cool. I got to play with the Big Star Third thing that happens, it's where Jody Stephens form Big Star and Mitch Easter and Mike Mills play all of Big Star's Third record. It happened in Chapel Hill a couple summers ago, and I've been playing music here in Raleigh with a woman who was involved with that, and I got to go play guitar in some songs, and I was so star struck. Backstage, Mike Mills was the there and Mitch Easter comes over and asks me where I’m from and is like, “Hey Mike, remember when R.E.M. and Let’s Active played in Bloomington?” These guys just remember being in Bloomington and hanging out there. I think Bloomington, Knoxville, Lawrence, Kansas and so on, there are certain towns that have these dedicated people who want the scene to be good. And by all accounts the scene is always almost great, and is often great especially when you’re in it, but then there’s always the feeling that like, “Oh man, if we could just take it one step further.“ In Indy too, and that’s part of like, the hope of the scene. That makes it really appealing, and it makes out of town bands really respect and want to play there. 

 

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