The Party was about to end, and the stage was as dark as the dispositions of the several hundred who had come to bid adieu to one of Kent's finest bands. "We're the Party of Helicopters. This is our last show in Ohio," singer Joe Dennis announced from the Beachland Ballroom stage on a recent Saturday night.
And with that, he closed his eyes, clasped the mic, and began driving his left leg into the floor as if kick-starting an invisible motorbike. The band lurched forward: Ryan Brannon thrusting his hips into his bass, guitarist Jamie Stillman's bangs darting in and out of his eyes. As drummer Cory Race mouthed the words to each dense, dramatic tune, Dennis wore an anguished expression, as if he had just lost a loved one.
By the end of the show, he sort of had. After exiting the stage with a polite "Thank you," Pabsts in hand, Dennis and company ended one of the region's most promising bands. Just a year ago, the 'Copters were flying high. They had signed a deal with the sizable indie label Velocette and put out the acclaimed Please Believe It, a sweeping, mesmeric record that made its way onto many local critics' year-end top-10 lists. But though the album marked a high point in the band's eight-year career, the grueling pace of its gigs eventually took a toll.
"We did the dumbest thing you can possibly do, which is do a two-month tour before the record came out, almost immediately after we had done a tour for just as long," Stillman says while driving down to Columbus to practice with his other band, the avant-metal project Teeth of the Hydra. "People were just kind of like, 'Oh, I just saw them.' I think that kind of affected it, and it just snowballed from there. Our shows were getting less and less attendance. I think that wore on everybody, and it made us broke. That's all we were doing. I hadn't had a job in like a year and a half. We came home from all these tours and nobody really felt like doing much, and [we] kind of went in different directions."
And so, after a final set at the CMJ Fest in New York next week, PoH will be over. Brannon has gone back to school, Race is playing with brusque rockers the Wildcats, Stillman recently joined Kent popsters Houseguest on drums and will continue to man the kit in Teeth of the Hydra. The members, most of whom have known each other since high school, are parting on good terms, with Race and Stillman planning to form a new band together soon. They also haven't ruled out reconvening PoH at some point; most of the material for a new record is already written.
"I'd really like to finish our last record -- I think we all want to finish it -- but the money and the time to do that isn't there, and nobody feels really pressured to do that yet," Stillman explains. "But our music is done for it, we have 10 new songs, and all of us really like it a lot. It's totally different than Please Believe It and way different than all our other records. I think it would suck to have spent the last year writing this record and not do anything with it."
In the meantime, Stillman is planning to put to good use the lessons he learned in nine years of nearly nonstop touring and recording. He's come to especially appreciate the value of reliable transportation.
"I can't imagine where we would be at, if we just broke down and bought a brand-new van," he says with a chuckle. "So, so much money was caught up in repairing vans, and so many bad memories from tours are just because of bad vans. We had one van for like six years, put 250,000 miles on it, blew it up. We blew up two friends' vans, blew up four other vans of our own -- and three of those vans were in the last year alone. I can remember an occasion where we had two days off from a tour, I bought a van, and within two days everything that could go wrong with it went wrong with it," Stillman says with a sigh. "We just made too many quick, bad decisions."
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