Kansas City’s the Farewell Bend burned briefly but brightly at the tail end of the ‘90s, a eyeblink in the grand scheme of post-hardcore. Guitarist Brandon Butler and bassist John Rejba had previously played with Boys Life, who initially trafficked in a distortion-spiraling, Drive Like Jehu-inspired fashion before evolving towards an atmospheric emo approach on their 1996 swansong, Departures and Landfalls. When the band split in 1997, Brandon and John linked up with drummer Paul Ackerman of fellow KC outfit Giants Chair, who themselves had recently broken up, to form the Farewell Bend.
The goal, as Brandon tells Gut Feeling, was to bring back the noise, trading “wistful” arrangements for Castrol-fueled rock riffage more on-pace with hometown speaker blowers like Shiner and Season to Risk. At one point driving his Les Paul through two half-stacks and a Fender Twin that could have punished crowds well enough on its own, Brandon reveled in the Farewell Bend’s amplified overkill.
“It got ridiculous. Sound guys were like, ‘look, man, I’m not going to put mics in front of anything’. For people at basements shows, it was painful. But I thought it was fun.”
After pressing up Giants Chair’s 2019 reunion LP, Prefabylon, Seattle’s Spartan Records are now putting the shine on the Farewell Bend’s lone full-length, In Passing. Originally pressed through Slowdime Records in 1998, the 10 song LP was remastered, fittingly enough, by Shiner bassist Paul Malinowski, and now includes bonus cut “Service Engine Soon,” which had previously only appeared on a split 7-inch between the two bands.
Speaking with Gut Feeling from his current home base of Louisville, KY, Brandon got into the Farewell Bend’s “loud and reactionary” temperament, rediscovering his finger-work through YouTube videos, and the cons of recording on borrowed tape.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How immediately after the breakup of Boys Life and Giants Chair had you formed the Farewell Bend with John and Paul?
Brandon Butler: It was a matter of days. John and I were looking for something to do...[but] we were burnt out. We’d had horrible tours [with Boys Life], never made money. We’d toured with Giants Chair a lot, and I think they split up before we did. We went out for some beers with Paul, just to hang out, and asked him. He said, ‘sure, let’s give it a shot.’ We already had a practice space that we didn’t want to give up. That was our excuse: ‘Hey, we have this practice space, why don’t we play some music.’ And, you know, we did.
In many ways, In Passing is a punchier record than Boys Life’s Departures and Landfalls, though arguably it gets close to the Giants Chair sound. How much of that was a conscious decision, for you and John to be playing aggressively again?
B: We did not want to play Boys Life music at all. That was rule number one: no moody music; nothing wispy or wistful. We wanted to write rock. I’ve always been a Replacements fan, but I could not a bring a song [like that to] Boys Life practice, or something like a Jehu tune. I couldn’t go to drop d—that was too heavy. But with the Farewell Bend, it didn’t fucking matter. It was like, ‘how many amplifiers can I get before it gets stupid? Let’s just be as loud as the rest of these Kansas City bands, and when we play our first show, we’ll just come out of the gate and blow everybody away.’
How did you level up gear-wise, then? On the first 7-inch there’s a prominent photo of your Les Paul on the cover, but what did you have running behind that?
B: Paul is a heavy-handed drummer. I think he had a Slingerland kit that was pretty big. As far as Rejba goes, John had an old SVT amp, the kind that came in a road case. He had that SVT, an 8x10, and then a Mesa/Boogie 2x15 that he would run that SVT off of. Most guys playing SVT’s will play at 2, but he would take it up a few numbers. It was painfully loud! I was into it, though. I thought it was great.
At one point I ran a 100 watt Marshall Plexi through a Hiwatt 4x12, and I ran a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier through an Orange 4x12. These amps were split up into different sounds on a selector. I didn’t have any effects pedals, I would just kick an amp in to get louder, or take an amp out to get quieter. My clean sound was a Fender Twin, which would have been enough, but I also had the two half stacks. We realized we couldn’t take all this gear on the road, so eventually it was just the SVT and one half stack with the Twin, side-carred.
We just wanted to be loud and reactionary. Boys Life was all about being reserved and doing these little crescendos— getting to the point where it was louder, but never too loud, too long. I think [the Farewell Bend] was more like, ‘let’s see how loud we can be...at least as loud as Giants Chair.’ That was the thing. John and I were like, ‘we can’t disappoint Paul!’
Despite not creating the same kind of crescendos as Boys Life, you’re creating a different kind of space as a three-piece. On the 7-inch in particular, there’s a real sense that there’s just the three of you in the room.
B: Again, Boys Life was a band drawn to certain types of music. We listened to the Rachels, Slint, June of 44. June of 44, in our opinion, was like Deicide. That was just fucking loud. As heavy as you can get. Better not bring a song to practice that gets that loud! There wasn’t room to step out of [Boys Life’s style].
With the Farewell Bend, I was trying to play as much guitar with as much melody as I could. John wasn’t able to stick to the root note anymore. He was more exposed, so he wanted to move around a bit. He’s not a classically trained bass player, trust me. He didn’t know what the notes were called. He just moved around until he found a good bass line, and then he memorized it. It’s the punk rock way to play, and he nailed it.
I was a little worried at first, because Byron Collum from Giants Chair is a serious bass player. He would sculpt his sound; He was a tinkerer. I’ve rarely seen him make any mistakes. He played with his fingers; John played with a pick. I was kind of worried, like, ‘oh shit, is Rejba going to lock in with Paul?’ But he did rather quickly. John has some interesting bass lines [on In Passing]. If you listen back, it’s not linear. He’s walking around, going out a on a limb Mike Watt style. It was cool.
What can you say about “Service Engine Soon”? Was that recorded during the same session as In Passing?
B: I don’t think it was, but I think it was recorded at Trainwreck, which is a studio in Kansas City. It was the Season of Risk house studio. Bands like Shiner and Iron Rite Mangle were around, but Season to Risk put that together. They didn’t want to pay a ton of money for recording, so they had an old MCI tape machine, and it was amazing. I think we just needed a song [for the split 7-inch with Shiner]. I kind of wish we had recorded it for the album, too, but it made it onto the 7-inch. In fact, when we put out this new thing with Spartan, we had to do a rip right off the vinyl.
You don’t have the master?
B: God, no. Nobody has them. We never thought, ‘Hey, in 20 years we’re going to need this’. I mean, everything we’d done was on rented tape.
Does that mean “Predictability” from the first 7-inch is lost, too?
B: Saddest story you’ll ever hear: I don’t have copies of anything I’ve recorded except for my solo stuff, two reissue copies of Boys Life’s Departures and Landfalls, and one old CD of In Passing. I don’t have anything else. I’ve had to go on YouTube to relearn songs, and it’s rough. It’s not easy to rewind!
You’d been booked to play a reunion set at Gainesville’s the Fest last year, though that’s now been pushed to next October. Have you had a chance to get in a room with John and Paul in recent times?
B: No, we’re still waiting on it. I was practicing pretty heavily [on my own], pre-COVID. I had most of the record down, or at least close enough. I was watching videos online of old shows, seeing where my hands were.
John wants to get together in Chicago, because he lives in Chicago. I’d rather get together in Kansas City, just because it’s easier to navigate and I’d like to see some friends. Hopefully something will happen this year.