January Cover Band: Idaho Syndrome

Music Interviews

Salt Lake’s Idaho Syndrome has been through a lot of ups and downs over the last 12 months, from the “we-came-that-close-to-a-record-contract…really!-syndrome,” to a falling out among members causing a complete lineup change. However, it all appears to have been a blessing in disguise as IS begins 1991 with a more dedicated group of musicians who know where they’re headed and why. Plus, who knows? Maybe they’ll get another shot at a record deal.

Last June, lead singer Ryley Fogg sent what he termed “a really bad” 4-track cassette to a budding new label called Popular Metaphysics, formerly known as 415 Records, where it caught the ear of owner/producer Sandy Pearlman. Pearlman, who produced the clash album Give ‘Em Enough Rope as well as the Blue Oyster Cult albums and a Dream Syndicate disc or two, had just acquired the label and was looking for some new bands to fill his roster.

“Pearlman arranged to come to Salt Lake to see the band play for four days last June,” said Fogg, who rented the Speedway Cafe for a one-night showcase of IS just for Pearlman.

After that, all indications were positive that Pearlman would sign the band, claimed Fogg, who explained that the only possible hitch would be a negative vote from record company MCA, which was partially funding Popular Metaphysics and as such retained the right to approve Pearlman’s roster. As luck would have it MCA decided to pass on the band, but Pearlman has kept in contact.

“They’ve tentatively agreed to distribute [any] project if we make it,” said bass player Jon Bray. “They may even duplicate it,” added Fogg.

But that’s getting far ahead of the rest of the story.

Three months ago, serious rumblings began to rock IS, resulting in the departure of over half of the band. Drummer Kevin Henrie, brother of guitarist Kurt Henrie, left the band, which prompted bassist Shelby Haig to switch to a short-lived stint on the drums. At this point, Bray, former Wondercrash bass player, was asked to join the band.

“I hadn’t ever heard them until they asked me to join the band,” says Bray. “With the demise of Wondercrash, Ryley called me two days later. I told them to give me a tape and if I liked it I’d come and play,” he said.

For a short while, the band seemed to be rejuvenated, and they booked a gig at the Pompadour opening for Werks. Peace was not to last, however, as on the virtual eve of that gig, Haig and keyboardist Mike Nadeau became disinterested and left the band. Fogg and Henrie were the only original members left.

Not ones to be stopped by such a minimal setback, Fogg, Henrie and Bray—the latter of which had only learned four IS songs by this point—went ahead with the gig playing a short but sweet acoustic set that uncovered a side of the band one doesn’t often get to hear or see.

IS has always created brooding, introspective songs, but that short acoustic set showed an altogether different kind of sensitivity and a willingness to take risks, something the band should do more often.

It now seems that the band is following its lead with the new music it has recently created.

A man called Buzzz—yes, that’s three Zs, folks—now sits behind the drums lending a fresh perspective and acoustic bent to the band, which was missing before with the electric set used by Kevin Henrie.

Buzzz first played with Fogg in a band called The Anesthetics (during Fogg’s self-described Morrissey days) and jumped at the chance to join IS, he said, going so far as to find a new rehearsal space for the band in an old, converted chicken coop on the outskirts of Murray.

Another arrival on the IS scene is keyboardist Matt Taylor, who quit BYU when he joined the band, immediately purchasing a Roland keys setup.

“This is actually the first band that I’ve ever played in,” says Taylor, who is originally from Southern California and has a penchant for industrial music and anything put out by 4AD.

Taylor and Fogg both attended BYU at some point in time; does that experience inspire them? “It does very much,” says Fogg. “My favorite quote of Ryley’s,” Bray says laughing, “is oppression breeds creativity.”

“I think that’s why you’re seeing more and more bands up here [in Salt Lake and Provo],” says Taylor. “It’s the only outlet people have.”

But Bray feels “it’s a cyclical thing. Except for each time it swells larger and larger,” Fogg points out.

All in all, the band thinks the local music scene fosters a nurturing atmosphere, and, if things go well for IS and other local bands like the Bad Yodelers, the band predicts that soon the Salt Lake sound could have the ear of every record weasel in the industry.

This raises a good question for the band: Is what a band wants musically more important than what a record company thinks is marketable?

“Sure, especially if they’re just distributing it,” says Fogg. 

“You lying bastard. Ryley dumped all the songs the record company didn’t like and kept all the ones they did like,” says Bray.

“Not all of them, we kept ‘Anastasia’,” Fogg says, to which someone responds, “You fuckin’ rebel!”

“So you’re catering to the record company,” Bray asked Fogg. “Yes,” he soundly replies.

“In a sense, because they didn’t want the other songs. It’s not like we said ‘Oh, they like that one let’s write more just like it,’” says Henrie, who has been in the band since its inception in November 1988.

Fogg, still trying to defend his position to Bray, says, “we liked pretty much the same songs they liked. it wasn’t like a big conflict except maybe ‘Turn,’ and we wanted to drop that all the time,” laughed Fogg.

Other than a few small squabbles over the way things were, the new IS seems to click, personality-wise.

“We sort of balance each other out,” says Bray. “We say more than 10 words to each other,” says Fogg, suggesting perhaps  IS now enjoys an openness not present between former members.

“People are finally telling Ryley to take a flying leap,” says Bray, while Taylor feels that there are “Different kinds of obnoxiousness in the band” which keeps things on an even keel.

“I don’t fart as much as John does,”  says Riley, a sentiment seconded by Taylor who added, “It’s true. It’s true.”

But what about the music of IS itself? When asked if they’d describe their music as Gothic, Fogg says “No…ell, on a couple of songs OK but that’s a little harsh.”

So basically IS is a 4AD band?

“We wouldn’t admit it,” says Bray.

“But if 4AD decided to sign us,” Henrie started to say when Taylor finished the sentence for him by adding “We wouldn’t say no to Ivo.”

“OK if it happens, OK if it doesn’t,” says Buzzz, to which Taylor added “But I still think it’s something that we all want to do.”

“We all like to play, that’s why we do it,” says Bray.

“Talent-wise, I think we have more potential,” says Fogg of the new IS.

According to Bray, “The way things are sounding about now as soon as we can get together and click, I mean we’ve only been playing for four months as a group and in another six months or so things are going to start to click pretty good. We’re still trying to get it down, it takes time to get real tight,” he added. “We get on each other’s nerves as much as we should but with the new stuff, I’d say we’ve gotten totally out of the Gothic rut,” Bray says.

Plans call for IS to go back into the studio in mid-January to record a full-length CD “and pretty soon we’ll be just like The Bachelors,” laughs John. But if you can’t wait that long to hear the new IS then check them out at the Pompadour on January 25 where they’ll be playing with Playground and 100 crowns.

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