American Spirits prove that you can still DIY

By Zachary Kolesar

Over a year ago, an Oakland DIY warehouse fire led to the death of over 30 and a crackdown on pop-up venues across the nation. The House with No Name, a Columbus residence preaching nothing but peace and acceptance, was one of the unfortunate closures in the aftermath.

 American Spirits jam out at The Summit Shack. (Photo by Ian Charlandz)

American Spirits jam out at The Summit Shack. (Photo by Ian Charlandz)

Although some house venues have been targeted, the fear has phased. There are still pockets in Ohio preserving the DIY of music culture. One of the blossoming scenes out of the Ohio house show niche is The Summit Shack—an artistic house/garage in Bowling Green proclaiming the same inclusive nature as The House With No Name.

The industrious musicians behind The Summit Shack, Bowling Green’s American Spirits, have been grinding at The Summit Shack since April 2017 but have been trying to knock the 9-to-5 as a band for about one year. The alternative indie emo rock outfit could probably use some more genre qualifiers, but more importantly Trey Miles (vocals), Dillon Van Zandt (guitar), Bails McCance (bass) and Conor Alan (drums) have been putting in their dues nonstop to make the music, the culture and the people who surround it a lifestyle.

“We don't really practice like other bands,” Miles said. “Other bands call it practice where we have more of a rehearsal than a practice.”

And the best place for them to rehearse those dreams into reality is The Summit Shack.

“Us and a bunch of our friends were trying to perform, but we didn’t really really have a place to do it and we didn’t really feel like we were ready to play at a bar yet,” Van Zandt said. “We made our garage, our practicing space, into a venue out of necessity and it’s grew to be super inclusive.”

On most nights, the Shack, one of Bowling Green’s only DIY spots, will pack in over 100, but the garage has at times had 150 eager locals excited to cram together. And it is not like The Summit Shack is an elegant space; it was described to me as a catch-all for mattresses and desks no longer wanted.

Which means that it truly is the music or acoustic sets or DJs or comedians that brings people together for live, raw performances. Because after all, The Summit Shack is all-inclusive. Talking to the band members over phone, the lot of them echoed and pounded their chests at the fact that there has “never been an argument, miscommunication (or) seen anyone leave mad.”

This stems from a tight-knit backing the band had established before forming American Spirits.

“A lot of our friends around here were a great local support system really early on,” McCance said.

With not many free spaces for Bowling Green to showcase its local talent that may not yet have the funds to pay promoters, American Spirits have quickly cultivated a following of its own while also aiding other local acts. Although the band can only offer exposure for Summit Shack performers, the connections American Spirits has made is vastly expanding the reach of its DIY venture.

“We’re really connecting with people in a fucking dirty basement or a garage or a living room and it’s way cooler to me than going to a club and seeing a band,” Van Zandt said. “Especially a local band; it’s just a better way for them to get out there and show people their music.”

Recruiting and even having bands reach out from Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Ann Arbor has helped acts getting their start find their sea legs. It has also made music a top priority for everyone in American Spirits.

“I've been putting off looking for any sort of job with my degree because this is really what I want to do and I'm making no money right now doing this,” Miles said.

With not many physical or digital releases to showcase to the world (they have masters and videos available for promoters), American Spirits is truly a live experience. The couple songs the band has on Spotify and the emotional, catchy rock-and-roll recordings featured on an On The Radar podcast episode serve as a glimpse into what people are missing out on at American Spirits shows.

“We're pretty organic in the way that we think. We have a way we do things that works well,” McCance said.

The bandmates all agree that forming American Spirits out of friendship has made the songwriting process almost effortless. With the current lineup not even together for more than a year, it is shocking and ambitious that the band will be releasing an EP on February 23 to coincide with the first Summit Shack show of 2018.

With the EP on the way and a follow-up to Fauxchella—a festival and play on Coachella that is hoping to bring 300 to 400 people—slated for April 21, American Spirits are gearing up for a remarkable 2018. Throwing together the festival in less than a week garnered over 150 attendees, proving that if American Spirits wants something to happen, it will.

Love, energy, heart and soul were just some of the dynamic words that were tossed around throughout my hour-long conversation with the group. With the band’s first adventures out of the Bowling Green area happening in Columbus—house shows, of course—Boston and Cleveland, the full-time band dream is becoming more realistic by the day.

“Honestly, if we're playing a new city, a DIY spot is totally better because when you go to a new city and you're playing a show at a bar and there's a cover, you might only get 20 people,” Van Zandt said. “At a house show you're guaranteed to get a good crowd, and when you're playing out of town for the first time especially, your focus is not about money.”

American Spirits will be playing a house show on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. hosted by No Culture with a $5 donation. The band will be back again the following weekend, playing another house show on Friday, Feb. 9 with doors opening at 7 p.m. and a $5 donation.