It had been nearly 20 years since Shiner released an album when the Kansas City band reconvened. With a few reunion tours based on re-releases and anniversaries, the group continued to be an occasional focus for the band members, but it appears they truly became a band again when they made and released “Schadenfreude,” their fifth album, in 2020. After the COVID-forced hiatus that shut down touring, the band is back on the road with new music to share. We checked in with singer-guitarist Allen Epley to chat about the shows, including a Thursday, March 3 gig at Elsewhere in Brooklyn and a Saturday, March 5 stop at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia. He also spoke about how the band’s writing process has changed, what role the group’s 2001 album “The Egg” plays in its career arc and why Spotify is “an absolute sham.”
What has it been like to finally get out on the road to support “Schadenfreude”?
A giant relief. Strangely familiar. Even though we hadn’t been playing really at all, it seemed to like from a dream and we’d been doing it all along. Very weird. Rewarding to finally get to show off the new record that we had worked on so hard, as I know every band in the world has been wanting to do.
Before these dates, when was the last time you had played a show together?
We filmed ourselves set up on the floor of the Record Bar in Kansas City in June of 2020, doing the whole album top to bottom and had like 12 cameras and had some local pros and bros help put it all together for us. Then streamed it in December 2020 then put it on our Bandcamp page. Then in September of ’20 we played an outdoor show in KC at Lemonade Park in the West Bottoms, and that was fun but still a bit distant and sterilized.
How did you leave things after “The Egg” reunion tour ended?
We were pretty stoked after that tour and immediately got on getting our third record “Starless” pressed on vinyl so we could have another reason to do another reunion tour. So we did in 2014, and it was great. Then again in 2017 for repress of “Lula Divinia,” our second record.
What was it like when you started rehearsals for the current tour? Did you automatically lock into a groove, or did it take some time?
Well, it was interesting this time because our guitarist Josh Newton was unable at the very last minute to do the tour due to work obligations, so Paul Malinowski, Shiner bassist, had the brilliant idea to ask Mario Quintero, guitarist for tourmates and old friends Spotlights, to learn some parts and he did brilliantly. We did 12 songs with Mario and then did some encores as a 3-piece.
Rehearsing for this we had about three days to rehearse and only had Mario on the last day for practice. But the two days prior gave us an opportunity to hear ourselves as a 3-piece and really tighten the bolts and the loose parts that get glossed over when there’s a fourth instrument. Could be anybody, not about Josh in particular of course. So it was super helpful to have a sectional rehearsal like that and get tight for when Mario arrives. Even if he wasn’t solid on his parts at least we could be ready.
How much of the new album are you playing on this tour?
We’re playing seven tunes from the record. We have been starting out the set with the new record because by this time many folks have had the record for a year and a half. And we feel very strongly about it and don’t feel like we need to bury it in between older, more popular stuff throughout the set. It’s like, “here it is, come and get what’s good for ya.” And they do.
How have audiences responded to the new songs?
They’re pretty fucking stoked, seems like. We noted that “My Life As A Mannequin” in particular got one of the biggest responses of the night. Everyone seems relieved that we really are still not just a good band but an arguably much better band than we were, with stronger material even.
How would you describe the writing process for the album? How was it similar (or different) from the last time you wrote together?
Last time 20 years ago I was the seed writer, and I would write on my own and leave some loose ends and then we’d all work the songs out together and often add quite a lot and it’d be very different from my original idea, which was great.
This time, we’re all far apart, so we use technology much more. This time, Josh and I were able to collaborate a lot more on the writing process. He had a big hand in these tunes, in particular “In The End and Low Hanging Fruit.” Then we’d bring in these ideas that Josh and I had been emailing back and forth, share them with the boys, run it through the Shiner-ator at practice and it becomes us. Or it doesn’t, in which case we toss it. Or keep it for another time.
What were the pros and cons of producing and mixing the album yourselves?
The pros are the cost and the luxury of writing over time and going back in to studio anytime to do fixes and things like that, plus the fact that Paul Malinowski is an unbelievably talented engineer and mixer. Just savant-like abilities. The cons are not being able to work with an outside producer we all trust and have wanted to work with, like John Agnello, for instance, because of financial reasons and because we don’t have a lot of time together to get our songs tight and finished enough to just go into his studio and rip the songs out. We’re kind of still building the songs in the studio, and that’s a luxury that working on our own gives us. But we’re still hoping to record with John soon!
What were some of the band members’ common musical interests and influences when you first got together?
We and much of the KC music scene of the early 90’s were built around bands like Jesus Lizard, Slint, Swervedriver, Melvins, Failure and whatever else happened to pass through. We also pretty much all loved Zeppelin and the big organic roomy drum sound and a prominent drummer like Bonzo was.
What type of original music scene was there in Kansas City when you were starting up? Was there a good circuit of venues and bands to share bills with?
Sure, it was pretty vibrant, and I think still is, although I live in Chicago for the past 12 years. It’s always benefitted from KU in nearby Lawrence KS. Lots of good venues like the Hurricane, The Shadow, Rhumba Box, Davey’s Uptown, later it was Record Bar and still is. it’s a town with a lot of talented and motivated folks.
When the band was starting out, did you feel any musical kinship to the Seattle/grunge bands you’re sometimes compared to?
Maybe, but they were like rock stars to us at that point. By the time we were really touring, well, that seen had gentrified into a caricature of what it was I think in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Kurt Cobain had died before we even released our first record in ’95, for instance. That whole ship had sailed at that point. Everyone was looking beyond that as the world was just getting caught up to it.
We did have a few years there where there were many A&R reps floating around KC trying to create another Seattle, and it never took, although some good bands did get picked up and later dropped of course. Alas, that was not our path, not that we didn’t try!
What importance does “The Egg” play in your catalog?
It’s important, but now that we’ve made this we feel like it’s just one of our great records and not an anomaly. We play a few songs from it every night but it doesn’t take up too much real estate in the set.
The last time you released an album, Spotify and Apple Music didn’t exist, and CDs were still the primary way people experienced music. How has streaming changed the way you approach releasing music and how you do business as a band?
We use it as a tool of course, and it’s nice to be able to release music whenever you want to your audience directly without having to go through the pope, I mean a label. But the revenue-sharing part of Spotify is fucked. We look beyond for expanded exposure to those who might not hear us otherwise, but their business model is an absolute sham. Bandcamp is the much preferred platform.
What does the band have planned for the rest of the year, after these your dates wrap?
We all have different projects we’re working on and are planning on writing another record. At what point, I’m not sure.
Is Shiner committed to staying together after this album cycle?
Is there anything about the tour, the album or the band you’d like to add?
We’re excited to be out playing and are hoping folks will understand that it could be a while before they see us again, so come on out and get weird with us and Spotlights. It’ll be fun.
Photo by Todd Zimmer