Moviola finds hope amid hardships on ‘Broken Rainbows’

The long-running Columbus band will bring its new album to life during a ‘theatrical’ performance at the Wexner Center’s Mershon Auditorium on Friday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

When Moviola first got together nearly 30 years ago, the band members were largely driven by the thrill of discovery.

“We were all sort of figuring this out, and we had friends that were in bands, but we were in our own little kind of world over here,” said Jerry Dannemiller, who joined bandmate Ted Hattemer for a recent outdoor interview at a brewery in Olde Towne East (Greg Bonnell, Jake Housh and Scotty Tabachnick complete the group’s lineup). “When you’re in a band, it’s like a tribe. These are my brothers and we’re doing this. The difference is most bands break up. And we didn’t.”

Three decades on, the band’s motivations for making music haven’t really changed, though the musicians have become increasingly comfortable in their skin following a brief period in the late 1990s/early 2000s when it appeared a larger breakthrough could be on the horizon. 

“There was a moment where we did think it could go to the next level, and we were playing a lot of shows out of town,” said Hattemer, who will join his bandmates in bringing new album Broken Rainbows to life at the Wexner Center’s Mershon Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 24. The concert is intended as a more immersive, theatrical experience, complete with between-song readings meant to augment and provide commentary on the record’s themes. “We’d go to New York two or three times a year, go to Chicago, go to Philly. And we got some attention from A&R guys. After that fell through, we fell into this thing where this is just something we’re doing for ourselves, and if it never goes anywhere else that’s fine. But we keep at it, and we’re going to make some good stuff together. And that’s been the attitude since about 2001.”

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This mindset has done little to slow Moviola, which has actually gained steam in recent years, following the full-length Scrape and Cuss, from 2020, with Broken Rainbows, which the band released via Anyway Records earlier this month — an ongoing creative burst the musicians traced to a decision made a couple of years ago to remaster their first eight albums. “The thing that kickstarted it was Jake looking at the back catalog and going, ‘You know, this was recorded on wildly different equipment and in wildly different situations. Let’s make them at least as good as they can be, given modern technology,’” Dannemiller said.

In Moviola's earliest days, its sound was a bit fuzzier, with the distortion amped up and the vocals buried deeper in the mix, a decision the musicians described as an aesthetic one (“It was fun,” Dannemiller said), as well as a means of obscuring the songwriting while the members worked to find some footing. As time has passed, this early fuzz has been scraped like barnacles from the hull of a ship, bringing an increased clarity to the songwriting being done by the five band members, who trade off instruments and lead vocals, the group operating in true democratic fashion.

Coming off of Scrape and Cuss, which was released a couple of months into the pandemic, the band continued to get together, wearing masks to write and rehearse on a weekly basis, which became an anchoring point and a source of comfort during a long stretch of societal uncertainty. While the band had a handful of songs leftover from previous sessions, they opted to scrap those and start fresh, expressing a need to write tunes that better reflected these convoluted times.

More:Ted Hattemer’s isolation leads to solo album ‘Exile Now’

As a result, Broken Rainbows opens with a line that reflects an oft-repeated aspect of the COVID era — “I’m washing my hands of the situation” — the band moving on to detail everything from ongoing political turmoil and pandemic-driven isolation to the newly resurgent Black lives matter protests that sprung up in Columbus in late May of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. On “Which Way Did You Run," the musicians' senses come to life, their ears ringing with the sound of marching feet, noses picking up the distant smell of fire.

“It felt like if we weren’t writing in this moment, then we weren’t really addressing what was going on. And that wasn’t just COVID. It was also Black lives matter,” Hattemer said. “If I was 20 years younger, I would have been down there at those protests, but I was terrified. I’m in my mid-50s and I didn’t want to get COVID. So I’m seeing all of these people in the streets, and I’m like, man, I want to support what’s going on, but I’m a shut-in. Now how do I address that in myself?”

While the record’s themes can trend dark, there’s an undercurrent of hope that stretches throughout, surfacing most cleanly in songs like “Rise,” a Band-esque rambler awash in rich organ and patiently loping guitar. “Take heart,” the band sings. “You’ll rise above the rabble to be someone some fine day.”

But even more disillusioned turns such as the politically charged “Expat,” which shares musical DNA with "California Sun" by the Ventures and finds the band daydreaming about fleeing the country, could ultimately be described as hopeful, since the musicians are still here, still continuing the fight.

“It’s the ability to hold two thoughts in your head at the same time, like, yes, that is something I grapple with on a daily basis, but I’m still persisting, and I’m still here,” said Dannemiller, who wrote the song in the wake of a viral photo of Open Ohio protesters banging on the door of the Statehouse. “I think every song on the record has this dichotomy to it of sadness, yes, but also a hopefulness.”