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Having built a fortress out of their loyal following, the five members of Absinthe Blind (guitarists Adam Fein, Tristan Wraight, and Yichel Chan, keyboardist Erin Fein, drummer Seth Fein and bassist Mike Zolfo) now preside as a royal court overseeing the twin cities' music scene, but such was not always the case. The Fein brothers recall the band's beginnings, as a quartet in 1996, "when Tristan was just 15," just when the local music scene began to break onto the national stage behind the strength of bands like the Poster Children, HUM, Menthol, Braid, American Football, et cetera. As the area's established acts began to swell in popularity nationally, new bands moved in from out of town and set up shop, hoping to cash in on the boom, but the spotlight shone so bright on a select few that attention was initially hard to come by. Under the radar, at times in complete darkness, Absinthe Blind developed their sound and paid their dues, releasing several raw but promising albums on the local Hammerhead label. Then things began to change. HUM's second major label release, Downward Is Heavenward, was a critical success but flopped commercially, perennial also-rans Menthol disappeared, the members of the Poster Children - the town's de facto elder statesmen - delved into various non-musical side projects, and underground staples like Braid, Castor, and Hardvark dissolved. The local scene that had been building up momentum for years suddenly had its bottom fall out, and it was Absinthe Blind who stepped up to fill the void. Having evolved into a six-member space rock orchestra capable of washing the listener away in a tsunami of sound only to turn at speed and drop a lifeline of melody into the mix, the band began to see their sonically expansive ideas becoming realizations. After their original label folded, Absinthe Blind jumped aboard the ship of local distributor and underground tastemaker Parasol, releasing this year's phenomenal full-length, The Everyday Separation, on Parasol's MUD imprint.
With their albums regularly charting at College Music Journal stations around the country and their fan base continuously expanding, Absinthe Blind underwent a process of transforming themselves into something more than just a local powerhouse. Now the band plays out of town regularly, which has its perks. "Out of town we sometimes get free food," Adam Fein reports, tongue in cheek, on the fringe benefits of packing up the group's massive 15-passenger van.
But the life of a touring band isn't all fun and games, especially when siblings are involved, a fact to which Adam's brother, Seth, can attest. "On the road you eat, sleep and shit with the same people for a month and you get annoyed pretty fast. Add your family into the mix and you come out with some tough moments." Absinthe Blind's experiences, both at home and on the road, have contributed to a maturation process that can only help the members of the band continue to grow. "It takes a long time to draw a solid fan base and most musicians want instant gratification. I can't be any more adamant about [the fact that] longevity is the key to success," says Seth. "If you write good songs and make your presence known, you'll go far." His brother Adam agrees, adding that the only way to get things done is to "do it yourself and do it well. No one will do it for you."
Self-reliance is a lesson the band has learned well, having developed in a market where, outside of the local alt-weekly The Octopus, there is very little support for local music in the media. WPGU, the local radio station notorious for being unable to pick up on new talent unless it's faxed in from a corporate office, only recently began giving limited spins to the track "Rising," from The Everyday Separation. "Although we're very appreciative of this," says Adam of the commercial station's decision to put Absinthe Blind in rotation, "we still feel it's disappointing that a local band has to practically scream in their face to get noticed. They're missing a lot of local talent."
Local media support is something that is always good to have, but when a band is talented, dedicated and confident, it isn't a make-or-break necessity, especially in such a tight-knit community. Absinthe Blind have been doing things their own way all along and continue to do so, bringing in touring bands they've met on the road to play in Champaign, and building a following in Chicago and other cities in the Midwest. "We still believe things can change for the better," Adam remarks, optimistically, and having heard songs written after The Everyday Separation, it is hard not to believe that Absinthe Blind's upward trajectory will continue unimpeded. SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/absintheblind
SEE ALSO: www.parasol.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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