Samuel Locke Ward, "Iowa Fakebook"

Iowa City-based underground jack-of-all-trades Samuel Locke Ward is one of those dudes around whom a scene seems to coalesce. He plays in numerous bands and one-off projects, maintains a busy slate of releasing new solo music, and recently dropped a full duo album with Mike Watt of Minutemen on which, not to put too fine a point on it, he served as the D. Boon-esque singer/songwriter/guitarist foil to Watt’s still-sick bass shredding.

Like many of his projects, Ward's most recent solo album Iowa Fakebook features the musician in one-man-band mode performing on every instrument (listed here as “vox, gtr, piano and recording tricks”) and arranging the overdubbed takes into full tracks – I guess that’s the “recording tricks” part, huh? While the passion and starry-eyed earnestness present in most of Ward’s music in general gives the impression that the dude quite simply has a lot of fun making art and loves the whole underground music/zine/DIY culture dearly, Iowa Fakebook takes that sense of warmth one step further by way of its central conceit: The album is a collection of covers of songs originally written by Iowa bands over the last 30-plus years, who mostly originated from the punk, hardcore, grunge, emo, and underground/indie rock scenes.

Now, I’m not from Iowa (Chicago, baby!), and I’m guessing that I’m at least five to 10 years younger than Ward, so my perspective is skewed when I consider the bands that he’s covering here. I recognize House of Large Sizes and Tripmaster Monkey as names that I saw on cassette tapes in my dad’s collection when I was digging through it a couple years ago (my dad’s an Iowa guy, and would probably recognize, like, half these bands). Those two bands, as random examples from the album’s full sample size, fall closer to the late '80s through mid-'90s on the timeline, while a bunch of other projects that Ward features were working closer to the late '00s through the early '10s. He covers a wide swath of Iowa music, revealing the through-lines across decades of Iowa DIY and also, by proxy, revealing how deeply he has dug into this tradition.

From what I can tell, none of the bands featured here necessarily had any sort of wide cultural footprint beyond their respective scenes, but that’s exactly the point: Ward wants to highlight the type of band that the lifers in the scene look back on fondly, that the real heads saw play live in basements and dive bars. He wants to provide a document of the bands that scrapped to make a name for themselves in the local scene, and ended up making cherished memories more than, say, major label money. To adapt a modern catch-all meme phrase for my own purposes here: Maybe the real Iowa DIY scene was the friends we made along the way, amirite?

One effect of Iowa Fakebook is to reveal, via Ward’s stripped down arrangements of songs that probably would be raucous full-band bangers in their original form, that these songs are … well … real songs, with tunes that you could hum and lyrics worth poring over. Ward chooses to eschew drums and build each track around usually no more than one or two guitar and piano lines, planting his vocals right there in the middle in full multi-tracked clarity. He brings a sense of levity and goofiness to his vocal takes, often putting on exaggerated affects to more closely match the vocal styles of the bands that he’s covering.

At times, he’ll adopt the deep neanderthal grunts and mumbles of the hardcore tradition, but he never delivers them at the full volume of a hardcore bark, instead placing more emphasis on the legibility of the words within his minimal arrangements. There are tracks in which Ward deploys this pinched, warbling vocal style that I cannot separate in my head from the kind of voices that irreverent cartoonist/comedian Brad Neely assigns to his characters. Other moments find him floating up to a more nasal upper register, dropping in some contrasting falsetto phrases and harmonies – both tactics that I can’t help but relate with foundational home taping freak gods Ween, a band that could certainly be considered contemporaries to, and inspirations for, at least some subsection of the slew of Iowa bands that Ward highlights.

As a time capsule of Iowa rock music, Iowa Fakebook succeeds at one goal that I must imagine was in Ward’s head from the start here; ;istening to it makes me want to go check out all these bands. As someone who has spent years and years in DIY culture myself, though entirely on the noise/experimental/ambient side of things, and all after the year 2010, I’m so curious as to what DIY scenes looked and sounded like 20 to 30 years ago. Labels such as SST (the original label home of Ward’s collaborator Mike Watt) and Touch & Go get the lion’s share of the love when we look back at the origins of DIY punk scenes, to the point that it’s easy to forget that analogous scenes were popping up all over the country and the world at large.

I’m taking a quick look at some of the bands Ward covers here and digging around on Discogs, just to jump down a few rabbit holes:

Autocrash have a 2001 CD and a single sided tape from 2000. This band seems to be an early, if not the earliest, project of prolific DIY head Bob Bucko Jr., a name I’m definitely familiar with from the modern tape-label scene via his releases on Already Dead, Tymbal Tapes, and his own small-run experimental label Personal Archives.

Will Whitmore, better known as folk journeyman William Elliott Whitmore, is definitely the biggest name on here – a dude who you might be familiar with from his acclaimed albums on such labels as Anti- and Southern Records.

Mumford’s (no relation to the Sons) is a psych-y folk rock outfit from Ames who seemed to be active from around 2007 to 2013. Needle dropping around their Bandcamp is a trip – I’m finding everything from ska to sad acoustic balladry to Meatloaf-core show tunes, all with some major Xtian vibes.

Tripmaster Monkey, the Quad Cities indie rock crew, are among the bands that started the earliest from Ward’s roster, with most of their releases localized in the early '90s, and one reunion record in 2019. Their first album Goodbye Race from '94 fits in perfectly with the college rock vibe of R.E.M. and the occasionally more metallic grunge of Soundgarden, with some atmospheric passages in there that could definitely pass for post-rock today.

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