John Schmersal is frantically running around his Los Angeles apartment during our recent phone conversation. In the background, you can hear him shuffling papers, closing and opening doors to what could be cabinets and his vehicle. “Sorry, I’m just getting everything taken of around here before I head out,” Schmersal says to me. He’s heading out to start touring around the United States and parts of Europe with his band, Crooks on Tape, and they’ll be stopping in Dayton Thursday night for an album release show at the Rockstar Pro Arena on East Third Street.
In 1994, Schmersal joined Dayton area band Brainiac. The band had originally formed in 1992 with vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Tim Taylor, bassist Juan Monasterio, guitarist Michelle Bodine and drummer Tyler Trent. A typical Brainiac show would consist of an exhilarating high-energy mix of punk and electronic blasts.
With the shows being dubbed some of the best to catch, the band quickly received attention outside Dayton. They opened for bands like The Breeders and Jesus Lizard, and Beck. In 1993, Brainiac released their first album Smack Bunny Baby. After Bodine left, Schmersal joined and Brainiac went back to the studio soon releasing Bonsai Superstar. The following year Hissing Prigs in Static Couture dropped. The albums sparked major record labels to start coming and sign the band. Brainiac was ready to take the world by storm, and highlight just how incredible the music scene in Dayton was.
Then tragedy stuck. In 1997, a car accident took Taylor’s life, and soon after, the band disbanded. “We tried to make it work after his passing”, Schmersal said. “It just didn’t feel right.”
After the disbanding of Brainiac, Schmersal formed the band Enon in 1999 while living in New York. That band consisted of Schmersal and Rick Lee and Steve Calhoon, previously of the New York rock band Skeleton Key. Enon would follow the footsteps of Brainiac with synthesizers and with a number of percussion sounds that Lee created. The band would release their first full length album Believo! in 1999 with Onhold following in 2001, High Society in 2002, and Hocus Pocus in 2003. In 2005, Enon released Lost Marbles & Exploded Evidence, which was a collection of singles and internet-released songs along with a bonus DVD. 2007 came, and Enon dropped it’s final album Grass Geysers…Carbon Clouds, and disbanded for good in 2011.
In the winter of 2010, Schmersal and Lee met up with drummer Joey Galvan in Los Angeles. The plan was simple, according to Schmersal. “The three of us got together and started to jam out. See what happened. We didn’t record anything, which was really a shame.” Following the sessions, the trio realized they had something special. So, the next time they reconvened, they started the tape and began recording everything. Those sessions went on until the spring of 2012 and were then compiled and edited into Crooks On Tape’s first album Fingerprint.
Fingerprint is a dazzling display of the blending of Schmersal and Lee’s work with guitars, synthesizers, samplers, and loopers and Galvan’s drumming. “Galvan really brings a different style to the music. It really comes together”, Schmersal says.
The opening song, ‘Duper’ is full with compelling hooks that immediately grab your attention. The heavy-guitar riffs on ‘River Bait’ give you the glimpse on what Schmersal took out of the Brainiac and Enon experiences. Geto Boys sampled ‘A Hazmat Dream’ gives way to distorted vocals. The slow-build to quick finish ‘Clergyman Segway’ gives way to the dreamy, beautiful, R&B-like ‘Barging In’. Fingerprint doesn’t let you get you comfortable. It jumps around with all kinds of diverse sounds and rhythm. The improvisation of the recordings gives the album a freedom of experimentation, which is wonderful.
For Schmersal, the show Thursday will be a great homecoming for him. “I still have family around town. So it will be fun to get to see them, catch up, and enjoy being home again”, Schmersal said when asked about returning to Dayton. “It will be cool to see the old town again.” What’s even special about the return of Schmersal is the fact that Crooks On Tape’s Fingerprint is the first album released from their venture with Misra Records, now located in Dayton, Ohio. “Leo [DeLuca, head of Misra] and I was always kept in touch, and he really wanted to sign the band”, Schmersal explained.
Crooks On Tape are currently on tour, and will perform at the Rockstar Pro Arena Thursday night, starting at 7:30pm. $8 cover in advance and $10 at the door. The show is for all ages.
Fingerprint is now available from Misra Records.
2. If Feelings Mean a Thing
3. Tito’s Riser
4. The Regiments
5. Melting the Ice
6. Summer’s End
7. River Bait
8. Milo’s Creeper
9. A Hazmat Dream
10. Wandered Again
11. Clergyman Segway
12. Barging In