When he returns to Kansas City for the first time in nearly a year, Ben Grimes will reacquaint himself with more than just old friends. He’ll also revisit some familiar songs, including one that’s getting some local radio airplay.
Above: Ben Grimes
Grimes is a former member of the Golden Republic. Since that band broke up nearly two years ago, its former members have landed in various music ventures. Grimes has moved to a town outside of Nashville; his songwriting partner in Golden Republic, Kenn Jankowski, launched the Republic Tigers, who released the full-length “Keep Color” in May.
The first single off that album was “Buildings and Mountains,” which the band performed on the David Letterman show and which has been in rotation on local radio station KRBZ – “The Buzz -- (96.5 FM).
Tonight (Nov. 26), Grimes’ new band, the Soft Reeds, will headline a show at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, and it will revisit some of the songs Grimes wrote for the Golden Republic, including “Buildings and Mountains.” (Hear the Soft Reeds version and other songs here.)
He’s doing that for a couple of reasons, Grime said. One, the gig at RecordBar unexpectedly turned into a headlining gig after the orignal headliners canceled; and two, his new band doesn’t have enough material to fill a headlining set.
“When I came back to Kansas City, I pointedly did not want a headlining show,” he said recently from his home outside of Nashville. “But it turned into one. So we’ve rehearsed some Golden Republic songs, and we’ll do a few. I’m not sure which ones at this point, but one of them will be ‘Buildings and Mountains.’”
Grimes co-wrote the song with Jankowski, and he has fond memories of both the process and the results. “For me, it’s a pretty sentimental song,” he said. “Part of it had to do with me getting married and getting into that way of life and other things. It was one of those monumental moments, and it became one of those songs that came from a moment of complete clarity.
"So when I wrote it, it really meant something to me. It’s very personal and an important part of my repertoire. Hearing someone else sing it is kind of a strange experience, but at the same time I’m also glad for what it’s been through with the Republic Tigers.
“For Kenn and I, I think it was the pinnacle of our collaboration. That song inspired us: ‘We gotta make the Golden Republic thing work. We have good chemistry.’ It wasn’t as easy to make it work like it did on that song. “At that point, Kenn was very prolific writing songs on his own and my life was changing in ways that were taking me away from doing it as well. So to me, that song is also like a beautiful swan song for that time.”
Grimes said he still looks back on those days both fondly and sadly. The Golden Republic had high hopes for success, especially after signing a deal with Astralwerks. The breakup severed relationships, including one with his cousin, Ryan Shank, the band’s drummer.
Back in August, Grimes told The Star: “It was an amazing experience. In ways, it’s still hard to talk about. It sort of was like the decline and fall of my three best friendships. … I think I learned a lot from my end. I mistreated my band mates and I felt mistreated, too. I’ve since learned to love people for who they are and what you know them to be.”
Last week, he said: “I still reminisce a lot. I miss the times we had. Any time a band breaks up there are difficult changes in relationships. I regret we aren’t as close as we used to be. We had amazing times together. Harry (Anderson) and I are still in pretty close communication. But everyone else – there’s not a lot of contact. We’ve all sort of moved on.”
In November 2007, Grimes and his wife, Katie, moved to Tennessee to start over and be near her family. They have a 17-month-old son, Alistair, and are expecting a daughter in April. His plans when he moved did not include music.
“I was so burned form the whole Golden Republic experience – I love music but at that point it was too painful,” he said. “There were too many wounded friendships and the record label thing was so messed up and complicated.
“But after a while, I started getting some opportunities thrown at me and I kind of re-developed that child-like sense of awe and rebellion about being a musician.”
One of his collaborators in the Soft Reeds is Jon Yeager (above), another Kansas City musician with a well-known past (the Daybirds). Yeager, now a solo artist, moved out to Nashville this summer to assist Grimes in the Soft Reeds project.
“It’s all definitely Ben’s brainchild,” Yeager said. “I’m just kind of like the right-hand man here. We get together once a week or so and through Gargaeband on the side and work on getting the demos ready.”
Yeager will perform with Grimes at the RecordBar show on Wednesday; Billy Brimblecom will sit in behind the drums.
In addition to preparing for the birth of another child, Grimes is helping a friend launch a Web-based business that will provide tour support and advice for bands, labels and booking agencies. “He needed a token indie-rocker,” Grimes said.
He expects the Reeds to issue an album in early 2009. The songs, he said, will be influenced by his affection for several different flavors of music.
“I’ve been burned out on indie rock; I’ve fallen into the arms of world music, instrumental music,” he said. “I’ve been listening to Django Reinhardt and Can for a while. I’ve also been working with this guy who’s an amazing musician, writer and composer. After Thanksgiving, we’ll be moving into preproduction. I ‘ve been taking my sweet time with this record, but I hope to have it a lot done by early January.”
| Timothy Finn, The Star
TONIGHT: The Soft Reeds perform at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, with Hidden Pictures and London Transit. Show time: 10 p.m. Cover is $7.