Artist to Watch: Miller and The Hunks

Columbus, Ohio’s Miller and The Hunks (@millerhunks) perform highly prolific alternative music that is difficult to pin down. Some songs are slow, some go at three-fourths speed, and a few are pedal to the metal headbangers. One would imagine that was lead singer and songwriter Colin Miller’s mission from the start. It prevents the brand containing his namesake from going stale and being pigeonholed into one sub-classification. He has succeeded in ensuring listeners get a surprise with every song. Going back to the group’s origins a couple of years ago, the band has dropped seven different Bandcamp releases of synth-laden, guitar-rocking, and drum-banging alternative pop rock. Each record is more prolific than the previous. As the group gets ready to headline a show serving as a bouillabaisse of genres this Wednesday, November 15, here is a summary of each albums’ standout tracks in which some are sure to be part of their upcoming set.

From April 2015’s Purely Sexual, one outstanding tune is the surefire smash “I Want Out”, which is also a popular track the band plays live.  A major label would have to summon a radio edit version as the song contains Miller spouting the F-bomb a couple of times. Another fantastic one from this 13-song album is the piano-heavy ballad “Happy Days” which could be a Hot AC or Top 40 chart hit. “Blue Dream”, however, is one guitar-heavy gem that would be right at home at hard rock stations nationwide.

Later that year, Miller and The Hunks released two holiday-themed singles “Last Halloween” and “Hunkmas”. The former is a soothing, bluesy yet haunting tune that at the beginning sends a chill down one’s spine and picks up big time at the back half. The latter tune of 2015 is a Weezer-ish take on Christmas that just might be the best rocking song for the season. Parents be forewarned, much like the catchy “I Want Out”, listener discretion is advised for adult language. To be fair, it would not be authentic rock n’ roll without a little controversy from the band.

In August of 2016, the quartet which then consisted of Miller, guitarist Jon Leonard, bassist/backup vocalist Josiah Ogden, and now-defunct drummer Tommy Cheeseman commissioned the six-song EP Would You Like To Yes?. According to the Bandcamp page, the record is described as “a journey of an alt-rock EP, telling the story of the end of a life of a violent drug-addicted man.” The band turns what comes off as a tragedy in the blurb into some fantastic indie rock vibes that make people dance versus cry. “Drunk Driving” is a Walk The Moon-esque tune that will have folks dancing at live shows. They slow the pace down a few notches on “Good Heavens” a brooding bluesy song that shows some fantastic guitar work from Leonard and vibrant vocals from Miller and Ogden.

In the fall of that same year, Miller and The Hunks bestowed the single “Stapled Shut” upon indie rock enthusiasts. It is another one of their tracks that would warrant a radio edit, but this time it would be due to time constraints. The unedited version clocks in at approximately five and a half minutes. It would not be until July of this year that they released new music, providing the public with another live show favorite titled “Creativity”, although likely known at shows as “I Wanna Dance”. That is a tune that lives up to its lyrics and gets crowds going each time it is played at concerts.

Last month, this time with Ethan Joseph behind the kit, Miller and The Hunks released the eight-song album And Jeff: Part 1. It lives up to the group’s prior works while standing on its own merits. The record provides the Hunks’ standard mixture of alternative indie rock with a slightly heavier rock tune thrown in. On this album, “Wicked Tongue” is glorious hard rock presented only as the boys can do. “Gravity” is a melodic synth-pop jewel with provocative lyrics that the group has performed live and will likely do for Wednesday’s gig from the popular venue Spacebar featuring Los Angeles duo Dad & Steve, local project Golden Death Music, and Toledo-area post-hardcore band Castle No Kings. The sets will be limited in time, so fans will get only a sample of what Miller and The Hunks has to offer. Given Colin Miller’s ingenious songwriting and the band’s priceless execution, even an abbreviated set is sure to satisfy audiences.

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Sam and The Barbers Definitely Make The Cut

Indie rock trio Sam and The Barbers (@samandbarbers) have provided a sample of what they have to offer the industry on their new four-song EP End of the World and alternative music’s future is great shape because of it. What vocalist/guitarist Derrick Walter, drummer Brett Williams, and synthesist Paul Strawser have constructed demonstrates a bright outlook for them in the years to come.

The band’s name is an ironic one as at no time since their inception has any band member been named Sam and none of them are or have been hair stylists. According to their October 2015 video interview with the university’s publication The Lantern, the band is named for American composer Samuel Barber, who Walter noticed had a noun for his last name and thought it was a good idea to keep the same band name format that has worked for Katrina & The Waves, Huey Lewis & News, among others.  The Columbus, OH band was formed by high school friends and former Ohio State University undergrads Walter and Williams. During their college stint and after several lineup changes, fellow student Strawser joined and magic has been made ever since. That has resulted in positive feedback for their high energy, spot-on live shows around town and now critical acclaim for the EP released just this year.

End of the World has potential radio hits across the board all the while maintaining musical integrity sometimes lost in mainstream music. The opening track titled ‘Everyone Here’ is a synthesizer and drum driven tune that has teenage rom-com soundtrack written all over it, and that is a good thing. Walter’s guitar-playing comes in about 90 seconds into it and takes the track to another level. His solid lead vocals give it a boost to create some static on the Alternative and Adult Rock radio charts.  The EP’s title track is a faster-paced synth-laden track that should also not be ignored by rock radio and by alternative music lovers.

It is End of the World’s middle two tracks that with the right people backing them will make Sam and The Barbers well-known. ‘I Promise I’ll Never Promise Again’ is a high-energy modern rock track that exudes influence from Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, and the like. ‘1982’, written by Walter, is a fun throwback that has a 1980s new wave vibe to it yet has enough relevance to be a surefire Top 10 Alternative smash and cross over to CHR Pop stations (you know, the ones that carry Ryan Seacrest’s ‘American Top 40’).

During their live shows, Sam and The Barbers have included a handful of other catchy rock tracks along with a unique take on the Talking Heads tune ‘Once in A Lifetime’. The next chance alternative rock enthusiasts can see and hear the hoopla for themselves is Saturday, June 18 when they invade Woodlands Tavern to open a show featuring Chicago pop punk quintet Aiming For Average and local rockers Two Years Later. It is in modern rock fans’ best interest to become familiar with these three upstanding and talented gentlemen before their careers explode and they become inaccessible.

Review: Two Years Later’s ‘Dropping Anchor’

Columbus, Ohio’s Two Years Later (@2YLBand) is an alternative pop-punk rock quintet formed in 2013 by principal members drummer Zak Toth and singer/guitarist Jamie Rogers. The duo recruited bassist Mike Johnson and guitarists Chandler Eggleston and Mike Leibrand to fill out the lineup. Two weeks ago, the group made their second album Dropping Anchor available to select fans and on February 20 was released it to online outlets. The official release occurs this Saturday, March 5 at north Columbus’ Spacebar with physical copies available to the public. Given the record’s craftsmanship from top to bottom including Mark Abrams’ mastering and Matt Hagberg’s engineering, the band is ready for the record as well as themselves to go viral. After 20 minutes of taking in Dropping Anchor, the group proves they have the style and substance to succeed.

The EP’s first track, ‘Learn to Let Go’ displays Rogers’ sharp vocals and Toth’s solid drumming skills. The tune is pure pop-punk greatness with fine work from all guitarists. With Rogers as the band’s sole songwriter, listeners will hear songs grounded in a reality that is not all rainbows and unicorns. If one fancies Rogers’ voice on the first song, they will be blown away with what she serves up on ‘You Win’. The song is about the dilemma to sacrifice and concede, even if those are not the ideal things to do. The guitar work is actually more solid here than on the previous tune and each player comes together to concoct a rock radio dark horse.

Dropping Anchor’s third song ‘Pieces’ is pure awesomeness from the arrangement to the lyrics to the musicianship. The theme here deals with experiencing heartache, but ultimately dusting oneself off and moving forward. ‘More Than This’ holds its own on the record as a fantastic song with a fine message put to a wonderful melody. Young people’s empowerment, especially for females, is important in today’s society with the rise of bullying and shaming prevalent due to never-ending technological connections. Whether intentional or not, Rogers has created the next Saturday morning PSA.

Lastly, Dropping Anchor features the surefire rock radio staple ‘Stay with Me’. By far and away, this gem is Two Years Later’s best chance to lead them on the road to fame. #Road2Fame happens to be the group’s first (and already out-of-print) EP from 2014 that lives on in cyberspace. Although consumers will likely compare Rogers to Paramore’s leader Hayley Williams, on this song she comes off closer to highly regarded rock goddess Lizzy Hale.  Johnson’s bass work is spectacular here and Leibrand and Eggleston’s guitar play is on point with everyone else. Toth’s excellence behind the kit is noticeable here and stands out in the final 30 seconds.

Dropping Anchor is a very personal record and all should be grateful Two Years Later and especially Rogers have invited us in to experience it. To promote the EP, the band is taking to the road with stops in Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and beyond. This band is onto something huge and alternative music lovers will want to join the wild ride.

*Photo by Matt Hamilton is courtesy of the band’s official website