You've heard this story before. A young rock & roll band hits the road, playing all manner of basement dives and smoky rooms. The earnestness and exuberance is palpable in the songs and in the personalities of the band members. The songs may even sound familiar: Dreams are found and lost on the highway, drunken nights lead to crystalline revelations, and big-city living can't compare with the country life. The story may sound familiar, but for the Doxies, the spirit is authentic.
At a time when so many bands feel they are entitled to certain things -- a good crowd, a percent of the door, some press from the local papers -- the Columbia, Missouri-based Doxies aren't afraid to work for a fan base, even if it means hauling their gear around the Midwest. Judging from the response that the Doxies have been receiving in St. Louis and on other tour stops, the hard work is paying off.
The Doxies started playing in Columbia when the band members were undergrads at Mizzou. They quickly became a favorite on the scene and developed a steady following around town. Their early songs were unmistakably twangy, and that country leaning is a lingering element of the band's sound.
"I don't think we tried to go in that direction, it's just that that was the direction we ended up going in, and we came together and it happened to work out," says singer and guitarist Brent Maness. Four of the five guys are self-proclaimed country boys (drummer Kevin Siebenaler hails from south St. Louis County), but there are more than mere country pastiches at work in the Doxies' music.
It takes a certain amount of courage to admit that a glossy, pop-metal band from New Jersey serves as a high-water mark for this hard-working, lean-rocking band from central Missouri. But, according to guitarist Tim Lloyd, "We all sat down and were listening to Bon Jovi, and we thought, 'Can we do this? Can we duplicate this sound?'"
It's fair to say that the Doxies don't sound much like anything off of Slippery When Wet, and despite the band's willingness to talk about its influences, there is enough spark and vitality to stave off any unfair comparisons. The group is that rare creature, the Great Midwestern Rock Band, and the Doxies try to make you to have a good time rather than try to impress you with indie cred or obtuse sounds.
"Our whole game plan revolves around finding people who care about music in the cities we play in, whether that's other musicians or people who like to come out and see live music," explains Brent's brother, bassist Bryan Maness. "It's kind of a unique little community -- you can find it all over the Midwest, people who come out and dig live music and like to see an independent rock band that they've probably never heard of before. That's who we are, and that's who we're trying to make connections with."
This dedication is what sends the Doxies out on the road so often. Since last May, when most of the members graduated, the band tries to play as often as it can, hitting the major markets and college towns in the Midwest. There is still much love for Columbia and the fans that gave the band its first boost, but the Doxies are making an effort to shirk the "college band" tag and hold court in bigger arenas.
"We have a really good following [in Columbia], and we're respected, I think it's fair to say, in the music scene there. Our goal is to become that caliber of band in all the cities we consistently play: Lincoln, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Wichita, Chicago. Our goal is to take this rotation that we've been touring for the past few years and get to the point where [these cities] are our hometown, where we have the same kind of response and following," says Bryan Maness.
Even though their sights are set on bigger cities, the band members have helped establish a Midwestern musician's collective called Emergency Umbrella. Along with the Doxies, the Kingdom Flying Club and Billy Schuh & the Foundry have put out records on the label and operate under its, ahem, umbrella.
"It started as a collective of a lot of bands, and we were trying to get a scene started, trying to get communication established between different groups. Last year we scaled it down to just six bands that were all in the process of releasing albums, and instead of making it a collective group, we made it a record label," explains Brent Maness. True to the workingman spirit of the Doxies, only those bands that were actively recording and touring were allowed to take part in the collective.
The Doxies' second record on Emergency Umbrella, Tinderbox Tragedy, captures a band in progress: Many of the key traits are well in place, but it feels at times as if the band has one foot in its alterna-twang past and one foot heading in an unclear direction. The harmonies are reliable and the guitar lines loose and muscular, but often the vocals waver and the lyrics seem derivative or hastily written. The album was released in July, and while the band members are pleased with the effort, they are laying the groundwork for the next set of songs.
"Our sound is evolving constantly; I don't think we'll ever be stuck in one genre for too long. The new stuff we're recording now is definitely more experimental and rock & roll," says Bryan Maness.
"Lyrically, it's not as much [story-songs] as much as abstract themes and taking on different themes. It felt like, on the first two albums, we had recurring themes that kept popping up, and we really wanted to break from that," adds guitarist Lloyd.
Sonically, the band is employing different effects, shying away from more acoustic-based songs to fool around with numerous stomp boxes and other manipulations. At the Lemmons show a few weeks back, there was an obvious distinction between the old and the new, with the newer material relying less on verse-chorus structures and leaving more room for the music to breathe.
And while sounds may change or styles may collide, there will always be a strong sense of the Midwest in the Doxies, says Bryan Maness. "You'll never be able to take any country out of us, but I think that that's one of the good things about the Doxies, the way we're making good music without trying to put it into any one genre."