Locals Only: Garth Harrison Shack

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Garth Shack parted ways with his childhood rock band and his first love within the span of a few months. Then he got arrested for attempting to evade the cops after running a red light on his bike.

2008 was a rough year for the singer-songwriter and avid cyclist. On the bright side, two years later he has an album to show for it. He'll release the self-titled disc with a concert next weekend at The Shrunken Head (formerly Vic's - see our bar review elsewhere this issue).

Shack's story begins with the end of Starving Goliath. He formed the spastic alt-rock quintet with middle-school classmates and spent his teen years working to make it a respected fixture in Columbus rock. They even played some dates on the Vans Warped Tour in 2006.

But as bandmates began bickering and developing divergent tastes, the group started to unravel shortly after high school. Shack had high hopes for the project, so he stubbornly resisted the inevitable collapse.

"The band slowly disintegrating led to me writing songs out of desperation to keep the band together," Shack said.

Starving Goliath got so diffuse that it took two months to get them all in the same room to make the breakup official, but the decision came down in early 2008. Shack coped by burrowing deeper into his relationship with his girlfriend. By August, the bottom fell out of that too.

"After the band fell apart, I got really into her," Shack said. "And then after me and her fell apart ..."

Brokenhearted, Shack went to see Radiohead in Cleveland - "They played the most depressing set they could have played," he remembered - then voyaged with his parents to a northwestern Michigan town called Empire to visit some family friends.

Shack was pleased with the change of scenery, so he decided to stay for a while. He got a job waiting tables at a local cafe and spent his downtime riding his bike around town and writing his first batch of solo material, starting with reworked versions of some of his last-ditch Starving Goliath songs.

"Music, lyrics - everything started coming to me when I was out in Michigan," Shack said.

A couple months away left Shack feeling energized upon his return to Columbus. Then another road bump sent him reeling. Riding Downtown late at night, Shack ran a red light at High and Spring streets and attempted to elude the police cruiser that flagged him down. A mess of legal red tape followed, as did the inspiration for album closer "Victimless Criminal," now Shack's signature song.

By this point Shack had developed into a distinctive but freewheeling singer-songwriter, vacillating between poles as disparate as Thom Yorke and John Mayer, with snaky song structures reminiscent of Incubus. He viewed the music as rock 'n' roll, but, feeling burned by his band experience, he insisted on playing it solo.

"I was like, 'Alright, fine, now I'm by myself,'" Shack said.

He began testing out his live show at Vic's Wednesday open-mic night. Soon he was drawing enough of a crowd that the bar gave him a regular time slot closing out the night - a residency of sorts that helped him shore up his performance skills.

Meanwhile, he holed up at Bexley's Paper Street Audio to record his mostly minimal debut disc. Now, after months of delays, the album is finally ready to emerge.

Its release coincides with Shack's departure from Columbus. He relocated to Phoenix this winter to avoid the cold climes and work with Tanya van Kempen, a friend who has helped handle the business side of being a musician. Shack came home to Columbus mainly to throw a release show.

He'll return to Arizona at the end of the month to continue work on his next album, "Melodic Shorts," and plans to travel to L.A. for ASCAP's Create Music Expo in April. After enduring a few blows, Shack seems to have regained his balance, moving forward one pedal rotation at a time.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 27

Where: The Shrunken Head, Victorian Village

Web: garthharrisonshack.com