Moviola returns to the unwashed fringes with 'Scrape and Cuss'

Kevin J. Elliott

Given everything we’ve gone through in this, the year of our discontent, it would be fitting if the Ohio locust swarm (magicicada) returned in 2020 (they’re currently plaguing East Africa). Needless to say, the 13-year cicada will be here in full force in 2021. Moviola could have similarly waited another year to release its new album and found an eco-relevant marketing campaign rivaling the Arcade Fire, but this band exists in its own cycle.

Moviola formed in 1995 and stayed active for 13 years, then took 13 years off before returning with Scrape and Cuss — an album that wasn’t 13 years in the making, but rather an immediate regeneration of the seminal Columbus band. The “old shirt” (their words) of this city’s universe of sound, Moviola has remained a constant of homespun cool even as scene trends die or fade.

“We all value songwriting and substance over style or posture or even production value,” said guitarist and singer Jake Housh. “That evolved over the years to having five distinct voices and a freewheeling attitude about what we are supposed to sound like. We all mess around on multiple instruments, and there are no rules about who does what. So, the essence is in how we collaborate around the songs and arrange and capture them. Some sound like field recordings and others have full production and strings. I believe it all does somehow sound like Moviola.”

On Scrape and Cuss, the five voices — Housh, Jerry Dannemiller, Ted Hattemer, Scotty Tabachnik, and Greg Bonnell, all friends for nearly three decades — reconvened for a long weekend last July. Though the album’s songs have been developed in their hibernation (all of Moviola’s members write songs for each album), it is not the tinkering of aging dads over a prolonged break, but more of a subversive thorn, a crafty spark of inspiration from lifelong artists. For Moviola, aging doesn’t exactly mean you lose your cool; you merely adapt your cool to your speed, your more nuanced observations, your refined tastes.

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Should you travel back to the very beginning, circa 1995, you’d find that a song like “Out to Graze,” from the FranticEP was just as raw and unbridled as anything the band’s contemporaries were making at the time. Moviola’s debut, The Year You Were Born, felt like a statement — unhurried, unfurled, unwashed. There were bohemian vibes, a studied counter to local punk, and an anomaly even among indie-rock primordialism. Like Gaunt, V-3, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and the New Bomb Turks, Moviola should’ve been snatched up in the mid-’90s Columbus gold rush, were the band not so willfully obscure.

“We certainly had ambition and were driven to make music and wanted to participate in local indie-rock and beyond,” Housh said of the early days. “Those couple years after Bee Thousand sure made GBV seem like the benchmark and was an inspiration to all of us with day jobs. But, with our sketchy chops, argumentative mindset and an obstinate commitment to lo-fi recording, we never could quite see rockin’ as a wise career choice. Somewhere around ’97 a major label considered us for a development deal. We recorded some tunes in a nice studio, but we self-sabotaged that with flying colors.”

While we’re all shut down, sitting out live shows, watching release schedules pushed into oblivion, it has become ritual to wash in nostalgia and reflect on shared histories. It’s fitting, then, that Moviola, in addition to writing and recording Scrape and Cuss, took to remastering and now reissuing all of its eight previous albums. It’s a lot to chew on, but a necessary deep dive into a band that has always created on the fringes.

What Scrape and Cuss accomplishes is an adherence to Moviola’s cherished gestalt philosophy: The whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. In these songs, there are distinct influences and moods: the love of the rustier side of Americana; rollicking, roomy instrumentation; splashes of prismatic pop; and a lot of “North Columbus” soul. But together, it’s unquestionably a Moviola record.

Of course, album roll-outs are different right now. So, since Moviola isn’t too concerned about touring or promotion, I had to ask about how the music world can evolve and adapt after this is over.

“I’m optimistic that science will prevail and we will return to a somewhat normal life,” said Ted Hattemer, who is also soon to release his second solo album of 2020. “Local venues are of more concern to me than how people collaborate. Will clubs be able to survive all this? Maybe not, and that’s what we will all collectively mourn — the authentic spaces where we gathered to share in musicians’ work, both national acts and local ones. People will continue to figure out how to make good music. It’s just that sharing it will become more difficult, and that’s a sad thought.”

If we could only deconstruct what’s made Moviola so enjoyable all these years, many of the questions we have about our future would be much easier to answer.

Starting Friday, May 8, Scrape and Cuss, along with all of Moviola’s vast discography, will be available onBandcamp (where you can also buy an LP) and other streaming platforms.