It was a cool, crisp Nov. night, and I found myself taking refuge inside a small garage in Ashland, Oregon. A well-worn wooden skateboard half-pipe occupied half of the floorspace. Sketches of nude figures drawn with black paint smothered the white walls, creeping upwards and outwards like lurching tendrils of ivy. Purple-green light washed over the space, bouncing off of a bronze-coated mannequin and piercing the outside world through the gossamer of an aged floral curtain.
It was this abstract temple of do-it-yourself art ethos that served as the birthplace of the Ashland, Oregon based band Slow Corpse. Formed the fall of 2015, the five-piece indie band is comprised of musicians Mitchell Winters, Brenton Clarke, Cole Zollinger, Dash Curtis, and Kelvin Underwood. Over the past three years, Slow Corpse has grown from a collaboration between two musicians to a mainstay act in the Ashland music scene.
“Mitchell met Brenton,” Slow Corpse keyboardist Dash Curtis explained, “and they started making songs together.”
“The songs were heavily influenced by Modest Mouse,” Curtis added with a smirk, “although I don’t know if they’d want me to say that.”
The pair began practicing in the garage of their manager’s house, and from there Slow Corpse began to grow into a fully formed band. “Everyone kind of just showed up,” Curtis said. “It was very organic.”
Slow Corpse was slated to play a fundraiser show alongside fellow Southern Oregon bands the Juniper Berries and Derek Deon on Friday, Nov. 16th at the Marion Ady on Southern Oregon University’s campus. The show was championed by Curtis, who arranged the concert for a class project to raise money for the Maslow Project in Medford, Oregon.
“A lot of people were doing, like, bake sales and shit [for the project],” Curtis said, “and I was like, I don’t want to do that. I want to do a concert.”
The Juniper Berries jumped on the opportunity to play an on-campus fundraiser concert. “We all have been talking about wanting to do more on campus shows,” explained Josh Stirm of The Juniper Berries. “There’s never really an opportunity,” Stirm continued. “It just doesn’t really show up that much.”
Derek Deon of Derek Deon & The Vaughns was also excited to play with fellow Ashland musicians in support of a good cause. “Honestly, my thing was just- good cause, and also Slow Corpse and the Juniper Berries are just like my two favorite bands around here,” Deon said.
“When you play music a lot in a small town,” Deon explained, “I feel like you have some of that acknowledgement and bond with other people who are also doing it.”
This fundraiser show did not happen- at least, not in the manner or venue that it was intended for. According to Curtis, the concert was cancelled just hours beforehand due to a miscommunication about insurance needs.
However, this did not stop the three Ashland bands. Instead of gathering at the Marion Ady painting studio, music fans assembled within a cozy living room to witness an intimate set of music performed by Deon and Stirm that same night.
Tenacity is a virtue that drives many successful bands, but being a band in Ashland requires more than just a modicum of determination. “The reality of it is,” Deon said, “I went to work at 8 this morning, left work at 6:30, and came out to Ashland. Busted ass to play a show.”
“It’s busy,” Deon sighed. “Very busy.”
The distinct lack of venues has proven to be an issue for many Ashland musicians. “There are only so many venues,” Stirm said, “and you can only play the same place so often.”
“There’s only like three places to play shows,” Curtis said. “The Brickroom, the Armory, and, if we wanted, Oberon’s.”
Among these limited choices of venues, there is a distinct lack of all-ages spaces where younger college students can go to enjoy live music. “It’s tough,” Stirm said, “I wish they would do more all ages shows on campus.”
Due to limited local music venues, Ashland bands have to plan tours and shows outside of their immediate area to maintain momentum.
The pressures of touring can make it hard for Ashland bands to balance playing shows with recording and releasing new music for fans. Slow Corpse spent the past summer touring along the West Coast, and are just now settling in to work on new music. The Juniper Berries are embarking on a tour down to Los Angeles this upcoming winter. After that, they plan to focus on recording a new album.
“We’re, like, probably twenty percent done with it,” Stirm said, “but over January and February we’re going to really go into recording.”
Despite the geographic challenges, these Ashland bands have found a boon in shared solidarity. “We’re all really supportive of each other,” Curtis said. “We all have the opportunity to network and intermingle with all the other musicians.”
“The community is really tight-knit,” Stirm explained, “which is really nice. We know pretty much everyone who makes music around here.”
In a region of geographic isolation, that presents a host of challenges to aspiring musicians, the bands of the DIY Ashland music scene found a way to survive and thrive by working harder than their contemporaries in larger cities. “We’re young and there’s no blueprint,” Deon said. “We’re just kind of figuring this shit out.”
“We’ll see what it’s like to be a band in this town next year,” Deon added, “if we’re still around, y’know?”