[COLLEGE ROCK] If you attended college anywhere between Buffalo and Chicago in the last decade, you need no introduction to Red Wanting Blue.
Founded when Tupac was still alive and Bob Dole was running for president, the Columbus, Ohio-based rock band was the most relentless regional rock act of its era, playing 125 shows a year, from Bloomington, Ind., to Davenport, Iowa, to Ashtabula, Ohio. Maybe you saw RWB open for Our Lady Peace or the Clarks. If not, probably playing some frat party where a couch was burned. Or, like me, at a club shuttered after an alleged rape involving the Girls Gone Wild crew.
You know this band even if you don’t know this band: basic bar rock flavored by a Budweiser baritone playing the college circuits that eventually barfed out O.A.R., Dave Matthews Band and Hootie. RWB had not broken through nationally—no record deal, television appearances or radio support beyond 2000’s regional hit “Venus 55”—until recently. Somehow, though, the band is in Oregon for the first time, playing McMenamins clubs over two weeks, after finally performing on Letterman, NPR and VH1.
“It’s a long road,” says singer and lone original member Scott Terry. “It’s taken me 15 years to figure it out—to find a way just to get to Portland.”
It’s pretty much the same band, too, down to the logo—imagine if Pearl Jam’s stickman had fucked a heartagram. “My girlfriend of 13 years lives in Brooklyn, so I have an address there. I could have changed the name and said we were a hipster band,” Terry says. “But I’m not that guy—I’m not cool, and I’m from Columbus.”
Terry does dress a little differently now. Early on, he wore blue spiked hair and sleeveless T-shirts. Then, top hats and makeup. Now, it’s snap-button Western shirts. “Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life were band photos or haircuts,” he says.
Those issues were also behind Terry’s 2005 split from his longtime collaborator and guitarist, Brian Epp. Seven years later, he says the two still don’t speak. “By the end, he was like, ‘I’ll wear pink leather pants and eyeliner if that’s what it takes to get signed,’” Terry says. “And I wasn’t into that.”
Terry has also had to rebuild the band’s fan base every few years, after his crowds graduate, have kids or move.
“When the party fades and the girls aren’t there, you see there’s an ebb and flow to things,” he says. “Maybe you were there in Kent [Ohio] in 2004 and there were a lot of people, and two years later there was nobody there.”
Fortune is now smiling on RWB: Rural is chic, folk rock hasn’t been this big since Dylan went electric, and even the baritone ukulele Terry picked up to write songs eight years ago is newly cool.
broke my hand too many times when I was a stupid kid falling off the
roof, and the ukulele has only four strings, which are nylon, and it’s
easier on my hand than a guitar,” he says. “I’ll be honest with you:
Eight years ago, it was not considered cool to play a baritone ukulele.”
SEE IT: Red Wanting Blue plays Kennedy School, 5736 NE 33rd Ave., on Thursday, Jan. 24. 7 pm. Free. All ages. It also plays Lola’s Room at the Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., on Sunday, Jan. 27. 6:30 pm. Free. 21+.