Talkin' Small Steps
Courtney Mihocik, Staff Writer
Most Ohio University students spent their winter break watching every season of South Parkavailable on Netflix in three days or stacking up paychecks at their place of employment back home. This wasn't the case for Athens-born punk band, Small Steps.
Instead of laying around in their underwear diddling themselves, they spent their four week break from school touring in the Midwest, northeast and along the southeastern coast of the country.
Formed in the heat of an Athens summer in 2012, Small Steps’ current line up consists of three individuals. Guitarist and vocalist Grant Engstrom, drummer Drew Davis and bassist DJ Wymer make up the “loud scream-y” punk band. Over the past year and a half the band has released albums on Bandcamp including Puzzlejar in April of 2013 and a demo release titled Spider King in August.
Small Steps came together through The Bruce Manor. Davis would go to the house for shows while Engstrom was hanging out or playing. Wymer and his friends would also stop into the venue, and the three of them decided to come together to play music. This was perfect timing for Engstrom, as the bands he was playing with at the time were getting ready to graduate from Ohio University. Originally featuring Paul Lampley on bass, Wymer only recently joined the line-up.
The trio had seen each other around campus and in class during their early years as students. The first impressions that they had of each other were less than friendly.
“I saw DJ around my sophomore year and I thought he was a turd,” said Engstrom.
Wymer agreed and reciprocated this initial assessment of his now bandmates.
“I thought the same thing about both Drew and Grant before I actually knew them,” said Wymer.
The name “Small Steps” stems from a love for the Cleveland Browns and Davis’ hopes that one day they could win the Super Bowl. Because of the team’s crippling and reoccurring losses, Davis surmises that it’ll take the team small steps to rise to a place where they can win the trophy. During the time spent making music together, the reasoning behind their name became less important.
“I don’t think about our band name much anymore," said Engstrom. "For a long time, I just absolutely hated it. I just thought I could come up with something better but Drew and I were so amped on it in the moment.”
With their uncommon story comes an uncommon way of writing and performing songs. The fast-paced, energetic and short songs allow very little time between them for a reaction before the band goes into the next song on the set list. The songs are meant to be played straight through, no frills.
“I guess with just writing, we come up with a couple different riffs and then find interesting ways to script those together into a song," said Engstrom. "And then with those parts we decide on how we want length or timing to change. It always happens that we write them under two minutes long, just because we like to play fast and I like to be to the point with this music.”
<iframe style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;" src="http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=611117046/size=large/bgcol=333333/linkcol=e32c14/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/" seamless><a href="http://small-steps.bandcamp.com/album/puzzlejar">Puzzlejar by Small Steps</a></iframe>
This past winter, Small Steps toured with City Cop in the Midwest and northeastern states, starting in Pennsylvania and ending in Michigan.
“It was cool being on the road with [City Cop] and learning what type of people they are, their personalities and what they think is funny,” said Engstrom. “We had a wacky time with them.”
They played in jam-packed coffee shops and law firms with punk kids in the audience. Wymer claimed the crowded coffee shop show in the incredibly happy town of Warwick, NY was the best show of his life. Engstrom and Davis agreed. They also shared a story in which Engstrom did a spin kick on stage and broke Davis’ cymbal stand like a true karate master.
Now that they're back in town, Small Steps is planning to rerecord the demos on their Spider King release over spring break in Chicago.
Spider King was originally released online before the band's summer tour for people to hear and then the album was made into physical demo copies to be sold at shows. The soon-to-be revamped songs are going on an album that is yet to be named.
“We thought we were going to call it King Spider or Spider King but I don’t know if we’re going to call it that anymore. It could be something different,” said Engstrom.
Currently Small Steps has eight songs in their pocket ready for recording. They are definitely planning on a ninth song and a possible addition of two or three more. Since the three of them are seniors and plan to graduate in the upcoming spring, they aspire to get this last album pressed on vinyl for an official physical release before the trio has to part ways.
They’re also playing their first Athens show in almost two months at Casa Nueva Feb. 20 with Gnarwhal and Frankie Teardrop.
Not only do they have the responsibility of managing a band, but they have the oh-so-heavy responsibilities of being students at Ohio University. Graphic design major Engstrom has his plate full with graduation projects and collaborations before the end of the semester, and journalism major Davis works 30 hours a week. Despite the responsibilities that fall on them, the band manages to get together three times a week to practice.
Unfortunately, this is their last semester. Everything is going to change for them come graduation.
“A lot of things are going to start getting weird here real quick...because everyone’s leaving,” said Davis.
“After we graduate, when are we going to be able to walk over to someone’s house or knock on Drew’s room and say ‘hey, wanna jam?’” said Wymer.
Engstrom plans to move to Chicago and hunt for a place in a graphic design firm. Wymer wants to travel very far away and explore the country. Davis plans to move back home for the summer before searching the Chicago market for journalism jobs. With this plan, Engstrom and Davis could continue to make music together.
“I’m probably going to test the market out in Chicago heavily because I would like to keep playing music with Grant,” said Davis. “A journalism job isn’t that hard, especially if you’re working at a newspaper. You have time to still play music and be active in that culture.”
Such as it is with college, life and that Netflix binge over winter break--all good things must come to an end. Although Small Steps will go their separate ways after graduation, Athens will always be a welcome home for the band should they return for a banger and a walk down memory lane.
[Editor's Note: The story originally incorrectly stated that Jon Gordon was the band's original bassist, when it was actually Paul Lampley.]