Feature: Loyal Divide

By Columbus Alive
From the March 8, 2012 edition

The Loyal Divide that left Columbus for Chicago four years ago was a disjointed mess, but also an incredibly talented, exciting, ambitious mess. The former Miami University classmates were bounding across genre lines toward whatever flickering inspiration lit up their eyes, sometimes sounding like a completely different band from song to song. Arcade Fire stadium indie, white-boy falsetto funk and post-apocalyptic electronic soundscapes were just a few of the weapons in their arsenal.

The Loyal Divide that finally released full-length debut “Bodice Ripper” last October — the band that plays Skully’s this Saturday with Way Yes and Saintseneca — is a different animal, for better and for worse.

To the group’s credit, they’ve combined those threads into something singular and stirring. Frontman Adam Johnson, who moved back to Columbus two years ago to be with his girlfriend, assembled “Bodice Ripper” in isolation, corralling four years of Pro Tools experiments into a sleek, shimmering paragon of electronic gloom. It’s the sound of a cyborg working through his existential crises and maybe collapsing under them.

The downside: That cyborg is Johnson. Much of the dread that courses through “Bodice Ripper” stems from the wear and tear of eight-hour Megabus trips for band practice, monthlong tours in empty bars and the imminent horror of the race against the years. (Cue the Steely Dan.) For a band toiling in the vast wilderness of the internet, the prospect of getting swept up into the hype cycle without catering to trends or politics seems daunting if not impossible.

“I don’t think we’re very fashionable. We don’t look very cool in pictures. Our name’s not very cool. So it’s like, music’s only part of the equation. We don’t have a very hipster-friendly brand, I guess,” Johnson said. “I’m too stubborn or idealistic to suddenly change my name and, I don’t know, wear skinny jeans.”

Boo-hoo, right? Not entirely. Johnson admitted the band’s mistakes in taking too long to finish “Bodice Ripper” and mishandling the album’s promotion, so he’s not exactly playing the victim. If anything, he just sounds frustrated after pouring so much effort into a dream that could potentially be deferred forever.

That said, it’s not like progress is stagnant. Pitchfork used Loyal Divide’s “Vision Vision” for a video segment, and the smattering of press they did get for “Bodice Ripper” was positive. Meanwhile, the band is “putting all [their] marbles” into recording sessions for a new album that will bring their sound back from the hard drive into flesh and blood.

“There’s something to be said for people getting together and having a spark and coming up with something that sounds more intuitive rather than something that’s been labored over,” Johnson said.

After slaving away for years on music few people heard, Johnson is invigorated at the thought of moving quickly and promoting smartly this time around. He sees the window closing on Loyal Divide, but he and his bandmates aren’t ready to give up on rock stardom just yet.

“We’re still aiming for that. And everyone is still on the same page about that,” Johnson said. “The grad schools will be deferred, you know.”