- Walter Novak
- Happier times: Schumacher (left), Eckles, and Yoo.
Midway through a recent first-anniversary concert for the Beachland, the all-female rock band the Librarians, one of several local acts on the bill, hit the stage with a bang. With her long black hair and flared polyester pants, guitarist Sharon Yoo fired intensity across the room. Tall and lanky Carol Schumacher settled into the classic leaned-back bass-player's posture. Barb Eckles flipped her hair back, checked with the other members, and snapped her drumsticks three times. The stage exploded with a sound raw and rhythmic, with a driving wave of bass and drums as Yoo, in guitar-goddess mode, spewed a torrent of catchy riffs and solos.
The scene was indicative of the fervor the band has caused in its first year. What it missed was the irony in where that energy was headed: In a fraction of the time it took to gain notoriety on the Cleveland scene, the band has decided to call it quits. Their show this week at the Grog Shop will be their last.
"It's been a little bit rough over the last couple of weeks," Schumacher says now. "We had this meeting to try to figure out what we wanted to do: if we wanted to try to work these things out and sort through some of the stuff that's going on or if we wanted to take a break for a while. We ended up at the conclusion that we're going to stop, not just for a while, but for good. I hadn't said anything much about it, because I didn't want there to be even more pressure about this show. I didn't want to make a big deal about it."
For a recent rehearsal -- before talk of separation surfaced -- the trio met in an old storefront just off St. Clair on Cleveland's East Side. Standing on a patch of blue-green carpet, a couple of cans of Black Label at their feet, the band members exchanged conversation ranging from Coors beer conspiracies to volunteering, kickboxing, and the guitar wanking of a Thin Lizzy tribute band. But they didn't merely make idle talk; they played hard, performing the same songs over and over, till they had just the right rough, unrehearsed sound.
"I'm sounding big, like New York City," Eckles shouted. Harboring the enthusiasm of a California surfer girl, she is prone to peppering her speech with the occasional "like wow." Schumacher was more reserved, grabbing a pen and taking notes on the tempo changes in a new tune before picking up the bass and settling into a groove. Yoo, the chief songwriter and outward leader, also directs practices, though she's quick to call herself the shy one.
"Sharon is so good," Eckles exclaimed. "As a frontwoman, she is the shit."
In the Librarians' earlier days, their common interests outweighed the differences. "We all wanted to jam," Eckles said of the group's origins. "We all knew each other from playing in bands and being at shows."
The three only got together twice before deciding to form the Librarians.
"We were three women who knew how to play instruments and enjoyed doing it and exploring it," Yoo said. "We didn't pick up instruments because our boyfriends had them lying around; we had our own inspiration and our own road to finding music."
"What I think of is the '70s," Schumacher said, describing the band's sound. "Where you had all these great bands that sort of took what happened with pop in the '60s -- that song format structure and melodies -- and turned everything up louder, made things a little bit dirtier."
The '70s indeed course through the Librarians' music. Their shows have been known to include bars of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, both of which stylistically fit in with today's male-dominated stoner-rock acts such as Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu. Lyrically, the Librarians touch on areas Sabbath never dreamed of -- stories about the boy who refuses to acknowledge the lovestruck girl, who doesn't cry but shouts, "I'm alive, and you walk on by."
At the time of their rehearsal, shortly after the Beachland gig, the band was quick to point out the inherent benefits of all-girl bands. "We certainly pack better on road trips," Schumacher joked. "We have a lot more essential supplies like Kleenex and snacks; someone's always got tampons."
"It definitely has its bonuses in the way that you can communicate," added Yoo, who had never played in an all-female group before the Librarians. "We're actually friends too. We can spend time together outside the band."
"I think we laugh more," Schumacher added.
Weeks after hanging out at practice, the band members don't want to discuss what exactly sent them spiraling. They had been trying to tour more and had planned on self-producing a CD. But at a time when mainstream pop is image-driven, they were fighting great odds.
"You have to be, you know, a Barbie doll or something in order to make it," Schumacher had said earlier. "If Janis Joplin were around now, she'd be singing at the Parkview every Saturday night."
Eckles had cited the added pressure women face on stage. "You're just doing your thing, but people are watching, waiting, thinking, 'Aw, they're probably going to suck,'" she said. "But you play, and they are like 'I'm so glad you rock.'"
Perhaps that pressure led to the band's demise, but the group members agree that they have served as an inspiration for young women. "It's great how many women come up after playing," Schumacher said. "I've been in so many bands that are all guys but me, and rarely has a woman come up to me; but with us, there's a woman at every show that's like 'That was great. You guys were so great.'"
Great is what the Librarians were that night at the Beachland, even when things went wrong. At one point, Eckles signaled to Yoo and Schumacher that there was a problem with her drums. They didn't stop playing, but instead settled into a chugging groove while Eckles dug in her pocket for a tool. In a moment, she was back in place, pushing the band into the next chorus. Schumacher smiled as Yoo roared. The crowd followed.
After Friday, the Librarians will no longer play together, though their members will undoubtedly carry on in other local outfits; Schumacher still plays bass with the Plastics, and Yoo has a solo career. And though the band never got around to releasing a CD, it left a mark on the local scene. With any luck, its successors are already rehearsing.