A few years ago, local underground venue Black Eye hosted numerous impromptu late-night jam sessions and afterparties. On any given night, you could find a motley assortment of local and touring musicians hanging out after hours. One evening eight years ago, guitarist Buddy Akita, bassist Mike Damico and singer-keyboardist Chris Kulcsar were playing as a Germs cover band. Bim Thomas grabbed his drum kit and got into the mix. The rest is history. Or "black history," if you will.
At the urging of Thomas, who came up with the moniker This Moment in Black History, the multi-ethnic band was born. They made their debut with the decidedly noisy The Cleveland Finger EP, the first album issued on the locally based Exit Stencil imprint. Eventually, Damico left and was replaced by bassist Lawrence Daniel Caswell, who, at the time, was heading up the avant-jazz outfit Vernacular.
"From the start, it just sounded like a band I should be in," says the dreadlocked Caswell one afternoon as he and Akita sat at Hoopples on the West Bank of the Flats and munched on cheap tacos.
Caswell brought a bit more groove to the band's post-punk, often-mistaken-for-hardcore sound. That much was evident on 2006's It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back, an album engineered and recorded during a two-day period by Steve Albini (the Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey) at his Chicago-based Electrical Audio studio.
"He's fucking hilarious," says Caswell. "He's seriously one of the funniest people I've ever met. He's not there to make you sound better. He's just there to make you sound the way you sound, which is what I think he did."
The band toured the U.S. and spent six weeks in Europe promoting the album. While it didn't crack the charts, their unhinged performances earned them a rep as a fierce live band. That's something they hope to build on with the release of their new album, Public Square, just out on Smog Veil, the Chicago-based imprint that has reissued many Cleveland punk classics and recently added some newer bands to its roster.
"All that stuff is a big influence," says Akita of Cleveland's punk history. "Devo is great. That's one of Chris [Kulcsar's] favorite bands. We're all into the old Cleveland punk bands."
Printed on recycled vinyl (so no two albums look the same), Public Square is already available at local indie record stores (and through the Smog Veil website), with a national release date set for February 9. Recorded by Paul Maccarrone at his now-defunct Zombie Proof studio that was located on East 36th Street, the album captures the band's menacing sound, particularly on tracks like the snarling "MFA" and "About Last Night." It also finds the foursome exploring new musical territory on the infectious "Pollen Count," perhaps the most accessible tune in the band's catalog.
"That basic riff came about when we were practicing," says Akita. "I played it between songs, and everyone was like, 'Wait a second. Play that again.' We turned it into a song. We've never had a problem writing songs. We could put out a record a month if we had the money to do it."
The band members will have the chance to put their prolific skills to good use, now that Snacks, the label they run, is becoming more active. They plan to distribute a Sun God/This Moment in Black History 12-inch this spring and put out releases more frequently. Given their other commitments, that might be tough. In the past few years, Thomas started a family, Kulcsar attended graduate school, and both Caswell and Akita got married.
"We like doing it; it's what we do," says Akita of the band's commitment level. "It's still my favorite band. If it weren't fun, we wouldn't do it. We have plenty of other things to take up our time."