Coffee crash

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

This is the story of a loud rock 'n' roll band and the quiet little coffee shop they call home.

Genre-hopping quartet Ghengis Green plays most of its shows at venues like Skully's, where they'll take the stage Saturday for what was supposed to be their CD release show. (In classic local band fashion, the release date got pushed back.)

"Now it's the practice release show," singer-guitarist Benjamin Ahlteen said.

Although they regularly rock the High Street strip, the Olentangy High School grads spend most of their time rehearsing, recording, working and even sleeping at a cozy creative haven in Powell called Espresso Yourself Music Cafe.

Ahlteen's dad opened the place two years ago, and since then it's been as much Ghengis Green headquarters as a friendly neighborhood hub. Ahlteen and bassist Ian Mclain hold jobs there. Ahlteen lives in the basement. The band records with the club's sound equipment and shepherds unclaimed lost-and-found items into their arsenal.

"I got a new drum stool here," drummer Drew Cheeseman said. "It works out."

Coming into constant contact with the diverse set of performers that play at Espresso Yourself has also had a profound impact on Ghengis Green's ever-shifting sound.

Unsurprisingly, they've evolved quite a bit since their high school days, when a perpetually grounded Ahlteen submitted his basement recordings to The Dispatch's high school battle of the bands and frantically tracked down classmates Cheeseman, Mclain and Dustin White to perform the tunes with him in front of a wall-to-wall crowd at LC Pavilion.

"It was alright for a first gig," Ahlteen said, "especially because it was our biggest crowd we've ever had."

What's surprising is how rapidly the band continues to grow. They began as a straightforward, jam-oriented rock band, but little by little things have loosened up and genre lines have blurred.

Cheeseman noted the atmospheric direction the songs have taken and the recent drum machine experiments that have allowed him to add a second keyboard or guitar to the mix. Ahlteen calls their latest stylistic development "Paul Simon on acid."

The band's self-assessment is pretty right on, even if Ahlteen's burly vocals aren't very Simon-esque. Although they have moved away from a strictly pop approach, the songs are still anchored in an accessibility that makes their spacey excursions go down easy. Recent live recordings suggest that this LP is going to be worth waiting for when it finally comes out.

In the meantime, head to Skully's Saturday if you want to hear the latest from this bunch. Or just hang around outside Espresso Yourself and wait until you hear the cymbals crash.

What: Ghengis Green

When: 10 p.m. Saturday, March 21

Where: Skully's Music Diner, Short North