Garin Pirnia wants to give Ohio bands their due

When Garin Pirnia began working on her new book, Rebels and Underdogs: The Story of Ohio Rock and Roll, she wondered if anyone would speak to her for the project. Which seems like an appropriate start for a book about underdogs.

“That was my biggest fear when I started the book: What if no one will talk to me?” Pirnia said in a recent phone call. “I had an Excel spreadsheet, and I wrote down every band I came across and reached out to everyone I could. A lot of times I never heard back. Twenty One Pilots completely ignored me. Whoever would talk to me, I was so grateful.”

In the end, Pirnia got enough interviews to put together the book, which breaks down Ohio rock music by city: Akron/Kent, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton. When it came time to research Columbus music, Pirnia relied on the perspectives of musicians such as Happy Chichester, Eric Davidson of the New Bomb Turks, Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane and Phil Kim of Connections, along with Anyway Records' Bela Koe-Krompecher.

Pirnia, a Dayton native, said she initially wanted to write about twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders, then branched out to all of Ohio at the urging of her publisher. “I want people to know all the great music that came out of here and why it came out of here. And I also wanted to talk about the socioeconomics and the way each city has transformed with the music scenes,” said Pirnia, who will discuss Rebels and Underdogs at the Bexley Public Library on Monday, June 18.

What made Columbus stand out, she said, is the city's history of collaboration, its diverse voices and the scene's understated demeanor. “It's cool that Marcy Mays [of Scrawl] is just tending bar. There's a casualness to that,” she said of the Ace of Cups owner.

And, of course, Columbus is rife with underdogs. “Someone like Jenny Mae, I always feel like she could have been bigger,” Pirnia said. “She could have been almost like Alanis Morisette, one of these cool alt-rock chicks in the '90s. Her songs are just so good.”

“It's frustrating,” she continued, “because there are [Ohio] bands who are super successful — the Black Keys, 21 Pilots, Walk the Moon — but why isn't Wussy a household name? Why are some bands more successful than others? There's no formula for it, I guess. … I like the idea of the underdog and a band remaining this secret thing, but at the same time you want people to love the things you love. You want these bands to get their due respect.”