Bands to Watch: South Bend and Beyond
By Nathaniel Fitzgerald
Growing up in the late 90s, my home town of South Bend, Indiana was the type of place meant to be escaped. The greatest thing any local musician could hope to do was leave. After all, the most famous band from South Bend’s history—the Rivieras—scored a major hit with a song about moving to California.
That dream of leaving town for greener pastures was a driving force in my life-planning, and after graduating college, I struck out for Chicago to pursue a proper music career. But after a few fruitless months of open mic nights, phone tag with industry contacts, and attempts to connect with other musicians, I realized that I had left a rare community of artists, poets, and musicians that weren’t going to be replaced anytime soon.
And so I moved back, and made an intentional effort to invest more time in the music scene. That was twelve years ago, and in that time, our city has become home to a diverse, talented community of musicians that absolutely should not be missed.
Oh, but one disclaimer before I get on with it: due to our unique geographical location (we’re situated on the Michigan border and within three hours of a number of large metro centers, including Indianapolis, Chicago, and Detroit), we catch a fair bit of overlap between bands in Northwest Indiana, Southern Michigan, and even as far as Fort Wayne. A few of these bands play in South Bend more often than they do in their own hometowns and have become integral to the fabric of our scene. Didn’t feel right to leave them out.
On to the bands.
You literally cannot talk about South Bend bands without bringing up The Indie Rock Elders. I first saw The Rutabega open for Taking Back Sunday in a local coffee shop during the Tell All Your Friends tour in 2002. Since then, frontman Joshua Wayne Hensley has taken his scrappy, lo-fi solo project into a veritable alt-rock tour-de-force, bringing on local mainstay Garth Mason of South Bend punk legends The Urinal Mints as his partner, playing the floor pedal section of an old organ along with his drum set..
If the Rutabega was around in the 80s or 90s, they would be called “college rock” and lumped in with bands like Built To Spill, Dinosaur Jr, and Pavement. Their two-piece guitar jams often include extended meditative sections and gleeful singalongs. They also did a split with Owen (solo project of American Football’s Mike Kinsella), so that’s rad.
Speaking of power duos, we also have the two-piece instrumental post-rock band analecta. And though there’s only two of them, their stage set up has more hardware than just about any other act in town. To watch analecta is to watch a pair of architects build incredible structures in real time, just to set them on fire and watch them burn.
The duo spends their sets navigating through racks of synthesizers, multiple guitars, stacks of amplifiers, a drum set with loose pieces, and one of the most massive pedalboards you’ve ever seen. They build songs one intricate loop at a time, blossoming into gorgeous soundscapes that erupt in massive climaxes. Post rock is one of my favorite genres, and analecta is objectively one of my favorite post-rock bands.
Few people I know love rock and roll more than Nathaniel South. As a high schooler with punk rock aspirations, South was a guru. As an employee of our Hot Topic—one of the few outposts of underground culture in turn-of-the-century Suburbia—he was quick to steer impressionable youths (like myself) away from mallcore acts like Hawthorne Heights and gently nudge them towards bands like Fugazi or Jawbox.
His own band, Lune, began life as a folksy solo project, occasionally aided with other players. But over time his bluegrass sonic palette proved an insufficient medium for his whiskey soaked, punk tinged angst. Structure-wise, the songwriting is very similar, but the guitars are turned way up and the drums are played loud. They don’t play all that often, but every Lune show I’ve ever been to has been filled with an adoring crowd singing every word.
Full disclosure: this is my own band. But I wouldn’t be able to paint a very accurate picture of the musical landscape if I were to omit us.
I won’t waste too much time—we’re a four-piece that plays an atmospheric, heavy blend of post rock, shoegaze, and alt rock. We released an album last year. You’d like it.
The Flying DeSelms/Joe Baughman and the Righteous Few
Have you ever been watching a band and said, “this is great, but they really should have a bari sax. And some noisy Moog synths. And a mandolin. And they should be wearing marching band uniforms. And at some point, someone should dance across the stage in a giant papier-mache head”? If the answer to this question is, “yes, of course,” then you need to see The Flying DeSelms.
The Flying DeSelms is an entity built on chaos, restrained within the virtuosic mastery of its players, and made palatable by the incredible songwriting of lead singer/keyboardist/acoustic guitarist Rosco Baggins—the paper-bag-masked alter ego of Joe Baughman. Their live shows are a mix of art rock antics, theatrical drama, and good ol’ fashioned rock and roll.
If you’d rather skip the chaos, the same group plays more conventional (but just as lovely) tunes under the name Joe Baughman and the Righteous Few, which is costume free.
For a time, it seemed like every musician in South Bend had the same favorite band: and that band was Infinite Buffalo. The admiration we all share for their hypnotic songcraft is only matched by our frustration at the sparseness of their live appearances.
Infinite Buffalo tumbles through angular rhythms, atonal melodies, and bizarre lyrics with such grace and dexterity that even the strangest moments are catchy. Songs change on a dime, singer/drummer Dustin “Shaggy” Speybroeck plays the drums like they’re a part of his own body while guitarist Kahlil Smylie makes truth of Theolonius Monk’s old proverb that there’s no such thing as a wrong note. Seriously: listen to this band.
A few years ago, my college friend Joe Ruiz messaged me to help him write and produce a song for his wife’s anniversary. I haven’t had much experience in hip hop and R&B, but he liked the beat I made. He wrote a nice little love song to it, and his wife liked it.
But that simple proiect seemed to light a fire under him. Shortly after, he was hiring producers off of Fiverr and releasing them under the name Rhymer/Educator (Joe is also a teacher in LaPorte, IN, and wanted to reach his students). Now, “Rapping Teacher” isn’t a trope that usually finds much success, but Ruiz has the passion and talent to actually make it work.
After a few months, he had hired a live band to reimagine his electronics-heavy studio work: the band features a piano, drum set, occasional electric guitar or saxophone, and an upright bass. This lineup adds a sophisticated palette that shines a spotlight on his clever lyricism. This live sound led him to slots opening for Vanilla Ice and Pitbull on regional slots. There’s something about his lyricism and delivery that’s reminiscent of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and not just because they’re both history buffs of Puerto-Rican descent. He communicates with passion, wit, and a natural talent, which is good news considering the steady stream of singles, regular guest features, and neverending feed of TikTok duets he’s always posting. This is one teacher who gets it.
After Ours is often described as a jazz two-piece, but that’s really selling them short. The duo is drummer Arthur Schroeder and guitarist Eli Kahn, who uses a slew of effects pedals and a custom guitar/bass hybrid. The two blend jazz conventions with elements of hip hop, psychedelic rock, and post rock—often improvised.
This broad palette is a big part of the reason why they’re a go-to for such diverse sets as restaurants, festivals, art openings, and modern dance ensembles.
If you’re looking for some dirty, sloppy punk rock, Leather Phase might scratch that itch. This trio plays psychedelic-soaked garage rock. Phasers, spring reverb, and fuzz pedals abound as they shred through noisy tunes with cooler-than-cool attitude, borrowing from Dylan’s electric period, old school surf rock, and CBGB artistic anarchy.
Frontman Jared Herron is also the founder of Sibilance Records, a cassette tape label that issued a wonderful South Bend-centric comp called Free Wi-Fi.
Speaking of old school surf rock…
South Bend isn’t going to show up on any list of best surfing cities. While we’re a short drive to Lake Michigan, which does have a number of great beaches, those beaches don’t usually get much in the way of waves.
That doesn’t stop the Tentakills, which channels the same spirit of legendary acts like Dick Dale and The Ventures. Pompadours included.
Sarah. Happy. Abby. Melody. If you were to take a microscope to each of these individuals (Happy and Melody are both first names. Yes, really), you might not find anything to catch your attention.
But when they combine, Voltron-style, into the beast that is SHAM, the sum is much larger than its parts.
Decked out in matching costumes on a different theme for each show, SHAM yelps through garagey tunes about breakfast, tea, Pee-Wee Herman, and local subdivisions with the ragged energy of Nirvana, the wit of the B-52s, and the irreverence of Beastie Boys. Just look out for beach balls.
The Hatchbacks/City Sun/Cabin 52
Like most music scenes, South Bend has a number of bands that share members. For instance, Lune features the drummer of analecta and the bassist of SPACESHIPS. But this collective takes that trope to the extreme.
The Hatchbacks, City Sun, and Cabin 52 are three separate projects that all share the same four members, each project with a different primary songwriter, the members switching instruments under each moniker.
But each band is incredibly different, though just as wonderful. The Hatchbacks play loud, raw, emo-tinged punk. City Sun plays hook filled indie rock a la Local Natives. Cabin 52 infuses pop craft and funk grooves with hip hop-esque verbal-gymnastics—imagine if Vampire Weekend was even more verbose.
Any city of a certain size is going to have a number of people trying their hand at the rap game. Heyzeus—the self-proclaimed Cutest Rapper Alive—does way more than try. Pairing soul with wit, Marlon Waddell captures old school swagger with new school freshness. You could maybe compare him to Childish Gambino or Kid Cudi, but really that’s just another way of saying he’s an intelligent and intuitive MC worth keeping an eye on.
Ever since Norma Jean and As I Lay Dying made girl jeans and black hair dye popular, there’s been a pretty healthy metal scene in South Bend. But few metal bands have either the technical skills or the compositional skill as the prog metallurgists Nautilus (featuring ex members of The Burial!).
Gleaning inspiration from bands like The Contortionist and Tesseract, Nautilus doesn’t play songs as much as compositions. The tunes are complex, djenty palm mutes playing against atmospheric lead lines. Double-kick drum rhythms drive under the soaring vocals as the group shifts in meter and key. And knowing these guys a bit, I know how hard they work to put their material together. The end result is worth every ounce of sweat.
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what the current status of Properties is. Last I knew, they were still making music even though the lead singer had relocated to a different state, but that was a long while ago. But even though they may not be local or even active anymore, I don’t care. They’re one of my all time favorite bands to come out of South Bend.
Combining post punk attitude, new wave groove, and dream pop haziness, Properties is just plain cool. Most of the members had cut their teeth playing in various hardcore and metal bands, and they bring that same resoluteness to the synth-laden, head-bobbing sophistication of this project.
In This Style
The first time I saw In This Style, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We were playing together in a local bar, but the symphony of guitars, synthesizers, organs, drums, and hand percussion felt pretty alien to that setting. Instead, I felt like I was part of a war caravan marching through a desert, sonic anarchism swirling around me.
It was a transcendent experience, not unlike others I’ve had conjured by Pink Floyd or The Mars Volta. And that experience was guided by a number of deft musicians that tore through wild third-eye compositions with deftness and singularity of vision.
I first became aware of Billy East when he was the MC for an incredible alternative hip-hop group called The B.E.A.T. (which also featured members of After Ours and In This Style). He had no problem navigating the prog rock and avant garde jazz flavors that the instrumentalists would throw his way, his flow weaving in and out of noodly guitar lines and asymmetrical grooves with skill.
Shortly after that, I saw him play a solo set, and for some reason, everyone stayed seated during his set. And let me tell you, that set felt like a seminar by an absolute expert in his field. It was like a TED Talk you could party to. And while his output is almost maddeningly hard to follow (he has two different Bandcamp pages, a separate collab album, and a Facebook page that promises “New music coming soon” without much more info), when the B.East roars, you better pay attention.
The Quiet Things
At first blush, folk and punk rock might not seem like they have too much in common. However, both are intentionally sparse, conveying an angst that only unadorned rawness can communicate.
That rawness is the heart of The Quiet Things, the project of singer-songwriter Tiemen Godwaldt. His voice yelps out of key against ragged acoustic guitar scrapes, backed by a simple bass-and-drum-kit rhythm section (most recently played by members of the Hatchbacks/City Sun/Cabin 52 group). The songs are almost uncomfortably intimate, hitting on the sort of despair that wouldn’t sound right sung by a pretty voice.
If you love the Chill-Beats-to-Study-To channel but feel like it needs a little more soul, call ecso. Using a combination of samples, drum machines, and synthesizers, producer Brian Blake creates sublime instrumental hip-hop beats that float in the air with a vibe so thick you could almost choke on it. ecso is the perfect soundtrack for a Friday night block party, a Wednesday afternoon pick-me-up, or a Sunday evening cool down.
We also collaborated on a song years ago that has been lost to the sands of time.
Why Not Both
For a long while, I heard rumors about how my friend Kelsie Harmon was an incredible singer and songwriter. After seeing some snuck-footage from a party where she sheepishly played one of her songs for a few friends, I dogged her for years to play for either the monthly open mic I MC’d or the house shows I hosted in my living room, but to little avail.
Until suddenly, someone lit a fire under her to get serious about it. The resulting project is Why Not Both, a low-key, emotional indie rock project in the vein of Hop Along, boygenius, and other witty, tender projects. One of my biggest grievances with the pandemic is that it’s stalled their meteoric ascent through the local scene.
I booked Freeze Etch to play a set at Rebel Art Fest, the arts and music fest my wife and I host every year (provided there isn’t a pandemic). Before the event, he messaged with significant concern about how much time he had to set up. This was a surprise, considering that Freeze Etch is a solo artist.
But when I saw him construct his tower of synthesizers, it made sense.
Then, he spent his sit building sonic structures just as intricate as the physical one. Elaborate synth sequences climb, spiraling around one another with moody elegance. Inspired by industrial and ambient artists like Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin, cut with post-punk menace and new wave swagger, Freeze Etch is perfect for anyone who’s still going through their goth phase but also has to pay a mortgage.
The Standard Model
Djent gets a bad rap for being needlessly obsessed with all the most obscure nuances of music theory and running absurdly detuned instruments through absurdly loud instruments through as much gain as possible. The Standard Model isn’t gonna change anyone’s minds on that, but they’re not stopping anytime soon.
Armed with inhuman chops and more strings than any one instrument should have (guitarist CJ Alwine’s main axe is an eight string, though he sometimes plays a ten-string), The Standard Model plays with mechanical precision that defies understanding. Live, they’re a machine. Alwine and drummer Alex Huffman mind meld with one another, locked into one hive mind, while guttural vocalist Jacob Sowell does his best to translate to the audience.
But even with an interpreter, the depths of their rhythmic barking don’t quite make sense. I don’t know what meters they’re playing in: I just know it rocks.
The Sanchez Agency
B. Jacob Sandock was 43 years old when he started The Sanchez Agency, his very first band. The project would help clear a backlog of twenty-five years’ worth of songs written on basement couches.
I was unaware of that backstory when Sandock signed up for a slot at the open mic night I host. But as soon as he started playing his timeless brand of witty, catchy indie rock (think Elvis Costello singing for Yo La Tengo), I was hooked. I remember locking eyes with Patrick Quigley of analecta, our mouths locked in twin gapes.
I went home and dug deeper, finding that his songs were rightfully given the full-band treatment, even including a saxophone in lieu of a lead guitar. Truly a hidden gem that needs far more attention than they get.
I’ve never torn through the desert on a roaring Harley, but I imagine that if I did, it would feel an awful lot like Chokesetter makes me feel.
With pedal-to-the-metal riffs and powerful, straightforward drums, Chokesetter plays a brand of stoner metal that sounds like Black Sabbath heard Audioslave thirty years early and tried to cover them from memory—and if Ozzy sang about two octaves lower.
The first time I saw Autumn Academy, they were a band of high schoolers called 45 to Argos, named after their distance to the mostly notable hamlet of Argos, Indiana. Even then they were surprisingly mature for their age, offering up meticulously made rock songs.
But after rebranding, they took it even further. Their live show is one of the most professional I’ve seen in a dive bar, effects and samples programmed to a T and played with expert deftness. And that level of polish is necessary for their impeccably written material, blending heavy alt. rock riffs with pop hooks, calling to mind bands like Deftones, Muse, and Foo Fighters.
Purists will tell you that punk should be two things: real fast and real loud. If that’s all it takes, then the Flannel Matadors are as punk as it gets. Their songs rarely make it to the two minute mark, and are usually played one right after another without stopping between them. They played a set in my living room once that I think clocked in at 13 minutes.
Not that anyone minds. Flannel Matadors’ brand of aggressive retro punk is potent enough to be lethal in even small doses (and the guitarist sold me their compressor).
Le Blaq Swan
I first met Lwan Easton when we were both volunteering at Rebel Art Fest, a free annual open-air festival here in South Bend. The next year, he performed as Le Blaq Swan, and I was stunned.
The soul of Seal, the precision of Prince, and the meticulous melodies of Michael Jackson were all channeled into one of the most infectious and impressive live shows I’ve seen anywhere, let alone at a local festival. Although I was the stage manager, and they were blowing right into the next set, which put me in a completely unpleasant position. I’ll admit I didn’t try very hard to stop the show. How could I with grooves like this?
Is your biggest gripe with Nirvana that they weren’t doomy enough? If so, Sleepy Jack might cure what ails you. Plenty of bands have tried to channel the flannel-shirted sound of 90s Washington, but Sleepy Jack gets an edge by not forgetting that the Mevlins were from Aberdeen too.
Their dark brand of grunge is underpinned by the rattling strings and walls of amps of bands like Lume, Torche, and Cloakroom.
I know that doomgaze trio Cloakroom is super big now and has been touring with Caspian, Pelican, and Alcest, but they’re from near here, so I count ‘em.
Bailey Williams & The Cherannes
The first time I saw Bailey Williams play, she was sixteen or seventeen, playing sets between punk bands (Lune was there too). Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar playing into a warehouse with no heat, she was commanding and intimate. You would almost believe it of someone told you she had just stepped out of a wormhole from 1960s Greenwich Village.
When she put together her first full length, she was aided by retro equipment, psychedelic production, and tasteful studio trickery. She’s kept telling me she’s on hiatus, but just wait until she comes back…
If ZAF has a guiding principle, it’s “How low can we tune our guitars, and how many fuzz pedals can we run them through?” The answer, of course, is “very low and lots.” Their name is short for Zen As…well, you get it, and when the blast of gory, grindy distortion hits you, it will disconnect your brain, transporting you to place beyond thought where the only thing that matters is rock.
When I found out Spineless, Heartless wasn’t from South Bend, I was shocked. At the time it seemed like the Crown Point, IN band was playing in South Bend at least once a month. But even though it might be a bit of a drive for them to get here, they are an integral thread in the fabric of our scene.
Spineless, Heartless plays a brand of pop punk that has the hooks of Fall Out Boy with the guts of early Green Day, but they also drink deep from the wells of 90s alt rock choruses and the proggy riffs of Coheed & Cambria with hints of djent (guitarist Zachary Pierce even brings out a seven string on occasion). This is all capped off from the pitch perfect voice of lead singer Josh Andrews. I’ve seen them several times, and they are always, always a delight.
Park & Main
Also hailing from Crown Point is the atmospheric indie rock power trio Park & Main. When they changed their name from Oceans Over Airplanes, I was a little afraid that they were trying to move away from the punchy rhythms, ambient guitars, and big emo hooks that made me fall in love with them. Luckily, it didn’t.
I’ve booked these guys for open air pop festivals and punk house shows, and they fit right in every time. Vocalist/bassist Tony Pagorek has a similar sense of pop songcraft to other northern Indiana band The Ataris, combined with lush, effects heavy post-rock guitars reminiscent of Circa Survive. And they’re just the best dudes.
Mark my words. Some day—some day, my band will play a show with stop.drop.rewind. Even before the pandemic hit, we had what feels like dozens of shows fall through (it’s probably closer to three).
It’s just that when I hear a band combine elements of pop punk, prog metal, funk, and post rock—all while creating cohesive, catchy songs, I want to share the stage with them. I want to see how they do it for myself. But as it stands, it’s still a mystery to me.
South Bend sits on Indiana’s northern border, a quick jaunt away from Michigan. And about an hour away (forty-five if you’re lucky) lies the town of Kalamazoo. That is where The Krelboynes make their home.
Irreverent and charming, The Krelboynes are tapped into the same spirit that Built to Spill, Deerhunter, and the Black Lips. This is boutique-amped, retro-fetishist indie rock made to cross your arms to, and maybe bob your head a little.
Once upon a time, Patrick Quigley of analecta and Lune was running a video series called Home Invasion where musicians would get together in someone’s home to write and record a song from scratch. I first met Warsaw native Ian Skeans of joyhouse when he participated in such a session in my living room. That afternoon, he proved to be a brilliant songwriter capable of writing seemingly effortless songs that combine catchy hooks with great rock riffs. He continued to prove this with his daily One Minute Songs series on Instagram (I can’t find them, but they were great).
When we met, he had just disbanded his Weezer-worship project Pink Balloon Band and had moved on to the doomy two-piece Shade (which I loved). These days, both members of Shade play in joyhouse, which takes the same amp-crushing heft of Shade and adds some brighter colors to it. joyhouse plays loud, catchy guitar rock (and I mean guitar rock—there’s no bassist) that should be the biggest thing going.
So many bands have been trying to cop the 90s shoegaze sound lately that it can be a little disheartening to see a band pull out a huge pedalboard with Jaguars and Jazzmasters. But most bands don’t understand the deeper spirit of the genre like Leones.
This Fort Wayne three-piece plays dreamy, gauzy shoegaze so crushingly heavy and woozily hazy that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Creation Records band from the early 90s that everyone missed when they were fawning over My Bloody Valentine.
I first met the boys in Cardboard Highway when they needed a place to crash after a show near my house before they headed back home to Kalamazoo. We introduced ourselves at the venue before their set, and then I watched in exhilaration as the set unfolded.
Guitarist Matt Willsea unleashed sonic hell through a series of delay pedals and fuzz. Bassist Chris Peters alternated between emo grooves and full on funk slaps. And singer/drummer/guitarist Peter Morris stood at a minimalist drum set, his guitar strapped on his back. And then he swung the guitar around, and I swear, the dude played drums and guitar at the same time.
And they were excellent houseguests too, so what more can you ask for? I love these dudes so much that I invited them to play a house show for my thirtieth birthday. I don’t actually know if they’re still making music together, but they should.
Do you ever listen to a great post rock/prog metal/emo fusion band and think, “this is great, but where’s the saxophone?” Then you’re not gonna believe this…
Fort Wayne quintet Dormant is exactly what you’ve needed. As if combining effects-heavy guitars with drum grooves that manage odd time signatures with military precision wasn’t enough (think Scale the Summit playing post hardcore), their vocalist also pulls out a saxophone sometimes. And I know this isn’t exactly the kind of genre that lends itself to big, soaring, singalong choruses, but somehow, these dudes pull it off.
Now, I’m absolutely sure that I missed some folks. Even in a quote, unquote “small town” like South Bend, there’s enough going on that I can’t keep up with everything going on—even though I help organize three festivals, host an open mic, book shows at my house, and gig out regularly. And it’s been a long pandemic—I haven’t kept up with all the new or revived projects that have found new life in livestreams or studio projects.
But one thing is for sure: for being a moderately sized community, our music scene is not to be underestimated. So once everything clears up, make a trip out. You might be surprised.