There are certain bands whose records you only pull out on special occasions. You take them from their hallowed place on the shelf, blow the tiny bit of dust off the cover, slip the record on and close your eyes. Bands that, when you hear them, conjure up memories, images, people, places, and different times in our lives that seem to have been totally forgotten until we hear that familiar riff or drum beat.
I know that for me, and I can assure you, many other people from my hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland, My Winter Nerve is, and will forever be, that band.
When I was around twelve years old, I remember hearing from a friend that the local Grange Hall and a few local Ruritans held musical shows on Friday (and sometimes Saturday) night, featuring local punk bands as well as some touring acts that were booked by local kids. Well, fucking awesome, I thought. I had spent the last year and a half or so grinding my teeth on what I thought were sure to be classic punk records: New Found Glory's first few LP's, Less Than Jake's entire discography...you know, the "classics". Somewhere along the line I had found out about older groups too, and hungrily engulfed myself in their records, reading liner notes and whatever media I could find on them; bands like the Ramones and, more importantly, The Clash. I was interested and mystified by this thing called "punk". So when I found out about the local punk shows, I was excited.
Over the next few months, I made sure I made my way out to every single show. I began to meet new people there, and get to see touring bands (albeit fairly shitty ones) roll through my tiny little burgh in Western Maryland.
Somewhere along the line of my introduction to the DIY punk world, amid floor shows in Grange Halls, merch tables, and begging my mom and dad for rides out to the show, I saw My Winter Nerve for the first time. I'm fairly sure my friend Wes first mentioned them to me, saying that they were absolutely amazing and that when they played, "You could hear a pin drop it gets so quiet". I heard them on a mix CD somewhere, and thought, "Wow, this is pretty great."
And on the recordings, they do sound absolutely incredible. But after seeing them, I was absolutely blown away. Live, My Winter Nerve was a whole other experience, one that you could suddenly hardly connect with the demos they had recorded; a whole new band, live, in the flesh, everyone's favorite local band. Hunched over their guitars in the soft light of the single bulb they had situated next to the bass drum, they swayed and strummed, building their songs to crescendo before going berserk, guitar straps snapping, hands blurring over strings, glasses flying off faces, sets ending with bodies crashing into drum sets. They had the ability to hold the attention of every single person in a room. It didn't matter if you dressed in leathers and studs, bondage pants and black nail polish, or tight pants and a sweater, our scene was united by our love for My Winter Nerve.
Musically, they were a self-described mixture of their favorite bands: Mineral, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Mono, and the Appleseed Cast. And really, that's exactly what they sounded like: a cross-breed of post-rock and the 90's midwest emo sound, slathered with plenty of reverb and delay. Their songs were instrumental for the most part, though a few featured vocals at critical points; a feature which vocalist/guitarist Clint would occasionally forgo at live shows, or else scream and wail defiantly a few feet back from the mic, as if he were scared of all of us watching them, and somehow it built the tension and energy level even more.
I remember at one show at a small church hall in West Virginia, lead guitarist Josh Ryan was playing when suddenly his guitar broke as he was hunched over, strumming and shaking his guitar as hard and fast as he possibly could. In a flash he was on the ground, surrounded in a circle by his pedals - and he began hammering away at them, flailing, with his fists, feet, knees, whatever would reach them. The rest of the band began thrashing wildly, speeding up their tempo, knocking over mic stands in the fervor, sweat pouring down their faces as they clenched their eyes shut tight amid the hail of white noise erupting from Ryan's amp. All I can remember thinking is, "My fucking God. This is the greatest fucking thing I've ever seen. I've never seen anything like this before in my life." From the looks of amazement on everyone else's faces, I thought they must have been feeling the exact same way.
For a life spent full of doubt in church on Sundays, bored everyday in school, waiting for the last bell, I had finally found something that I believed in. This music had changed my life, completely re-shaped the way I thought about everything around me. I wanted to play the guitar, I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to book shows one day, go on tour, release a record...
Eventually, everyone in the band went their separate ways before even leaving the tri-state area, getting married, or moving away, starting or joining new bands (that never lived up to My Winter Nerve), and somewhere along the line the band unfortunately became only a memory, as the scene I grew up into faded around me, after all the venues closed, and all the kids moved away, and all the young kids stopped coming to shows...
When I began writing this post, I googled "My Winter Nerve" just to see what would come up. I saw the usual stuff...Myspace, Purevolume...last.fm. While looking through this stuff I found a blog entry about the band that Josh, one of the band's guitarists had written. Maybe some of the things he says in his blog entry sum up how much My Winter Nerve meant to everyone in Hagerstown and the surrounding area:
In 2002 (I believe that was the year) the four of us started playing music together. None of us had ever been in a band before and I hadn’t been playing guitar for very long. Yet we still managed to write music that made Hagerstown’s knees buckle. I often think about what it was like to show up to Clint’s parent’s house, load up our stuff, drive to the show, unload, meet people, sit at our merch table, goof off, setup, destroy ear drums, tear down, talk to fans, pack up and head home. It’s the best feeling in the world. Standing there playing, looking over a sea of kids, eyes closed, arms crossed, heads bobbing, and feeling totally connected to everyone in the room. To paraphrase, Iggy Pop said it best that when you’re in the grips of it (music) you don’t feel pleasure, you don’t feel pain, physically or emotionally. It’s very true. When I recall my mental state while playing, especially during a large, pivotal part of the song, is that of such ecstasy that my mind felt numb. I wasn’t thinking about anything at all, my mind was a blank slate, yet my body was racing with energy. The best way for me to express that ecstasy and energy was to just throw my guitar (and sometimes myself) around. Every moment mattered. Every song we listened to on the way to the show mattered. Every person we met who loved our band mattered. It used to bother me that we never went anywhere past the tri-state area. I knew then (and I still do) that we had the ability to do really well with our band and be successful, but when I look back on it now, I prefer it the way it was. I like that our band was something special just for our area. It was ours and we were theirs.
The band's tragically limited discography consists of a self-recorded 5 song demo CD-R as well as professionally recorded full length LP. The LP is a testament to their power, and the places they truly could have gone as a band had they only stuck with it. The demo CD-R features three songs that are not on the LP, including maybe my favorite track, one they eventually stopped playing live, "A Song to Sink To," as well as early versions of LP tracks "Interlude for the Starving Optimist" and "An Absolute". The demo sounds like a band of high schoolers playing their hearts out in the absolute best way I've ever experienced, out of key vocals and all. Make sure you don't skip either release, download them both.
My Winter Nerve will always be my favorite band.
* * *
Leave It To Science to Solve All Your Problems