Action, Not Words

'Zine editor Tim Scanlin stopped the presses to hit the road with the Actionslacks.

The band that fits: Tim Scanlin (right) and - Actionslacks.
The band that fits: Tim Scanlin (right) and Actionslacks.
Tim Scanlin's band, the Actionslacks, has often been lumped in with the lo-fi indie rock clan that includes acts such as Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Sebadoh. Now, having a record out that was produced by Burning Airlines' J. Robbins (Promise Ring), the band is weathering the emo-core tag. But when it comes to playing live, Scanlin isn't about to sit back and mope.

"We're going to be bringing some serious rock -- the awesome rock," he says, only half-kiddingly, of his upcoming Cleveland gig. "The club will buckle under our awesome rockness!"

Scanlin's attitude is as refreshing as it is rare these days, and judging by the Actionslacks' new album, The Scene's Out of Sight, the band sounds more than capable of turning humble jocularity into a live rock reality.

"I love rock music," Scanlin blurts. "I love to be in a rock band, and I do look at us as a fucking rock band. Not to sound corny -- and I do mean this as straightforward and seriously as I possibly can -- I am un-ironically in love with rock music. I mean, I really love this stuff. I love the kind of rock music that winds up on stage in a full-on energetic rock show, you know? The shows with windmills, leaps, and all of the rest. Music is not a hobby for me; I plan on doing this for the rest of my life."

If Scanlin sounds a bit defensive in asserting his love for being in a band, it's because he is. Having been down so many roads in his years of loving rock and roll, Scanlin has hitched his name to a host of creative outlets. The most high profile of them would probably be the successful San Francisco-based rock 'zine Snackcake!, of which he was creator and editor. In fact, Scanlin's affiliation with the 'zine sometimes gets more attention than his band.

"The Snackcake! thing always seems to be the angle in most of the stories that are done about us," he says. He published the 'zine for just over four years, stopping in late 1998 to work as an editor for Sonicnet, an online music site.

"I don't mean to complain, you know, because . . ." he pauses, "well, whatever. It gets us some attention, I guess, so that's OK. But it does get a little old. I mean, Marty Kelly, who sort of started this band thing with me about six years back, is an absolutely awesome drummer, and as a musician I think that's important for people to realize. Stuff like that seems to get lost in the whole Snackcake! 'zine thing."

Scanlin, who speaks in a deep, lucid, and weirdly mellifluous voice that sounds as if it could belong to an actor, has a legitimate gripe. For what it's worth, his identity as the honcho behind Snackcake! has firmly entrenched him in the American indie/alternative music scene. So it's only reasonable to assume that a bunch of semimyopic journalists who have fantasies of fronting rock bands of their own would drool over the look-at-me-now story of a fellow writer who actually picked up a guitar and crossed over that mystical line. It's also the case that, in the rush to live out such vicarious daydreams, it's easy to forget that the band has an identity that's entirely separate from Snackcake!

"In reality," Scanlin is quick to add, "Snackcake! started about three months after the Actionslacks were formed. It's just the way things worked out -- you can get your name out there with a 'zine a little more readily. By the time I finally put Snackcake! in its box, so to speak, I'd pretty much done all that I wanted to do with it. I'd talked to pretty much every band and musician I'd ever wanted to, and I was at a point where I just wanted to make music, not write about it. [Snackcake!] was just something I thought would be a cool way to explore my interest in music. But the band was always very important."

But it really wasn't just boredom with the 'zine or working at a music dot-com that sent Scanlin retreating to his first and genuine passion: It was trying to keep everything going at once -- the 'zine, the day jobs, and the band. Thanks in part to his frayed nerves, exhaustion, and his vain attempt to actually have a personal life, a substantive blood vessel burst in Scanlin's eye. "It wasn't real serious," he admits. "But it was from stress, and I did look like a complete freak for quite a while." The incident made him reassess his passion for music, and he realized that the band -- writing, playing, recording, and above all, performing live -- was what he really wanted to do. It was time for the Actionslacks to take priority.

"I was just spreading myself too thin," Scanlin admits. "I was doing four or five things -- and I think doing them well -- but when you're doing that many things, you can only be so good at each of them, and you risk being the master of none of them."

The Scene's Out of Sight doesn't quite master the rock and roll idiom, but it does portend to Scanlin's having made the right choice when he hit that uneasy fork in the road. The record is filled with just the right measure of solid hooks and rock and roll instability. Scanlin was hardly exaggerating when he mentioned drummer Marty Kelly's talents: He's the obvious core of the album, which is filled with edgy Anglo-influenced pop punk that fuels the notion of a band thriving in the studio and having the ability to take the show on the road.

Which, once again, brings things around to Snackcake! As its publisher, Scanlin made the kind of contacts that can aid a band on a low-budget tour across the states.

"Yeah, it's been a help," he admits. "Through some of the people I've gotten to know over the years, we have often been able to make this tour unique by hooking up with some like-minded and cool local bands [for the Cleveland show, it will be Cobra Verde] in whatever city or region we go to. So it's been pretty cool being able to hit a town with someone who knows the place and hanging out. We seem to get a more true experience from it."

Whether Snackcake! is viewed as a curse or a stepping-stone that allows the Actionslacks a bit of leeway and notoriety when traveling the rock circuit, the inescapable history of the 'zine will probably never go away, and Scanlin says that's fine, as long as the band gets a fair shake.

"I know that," he sighs. "And that's cool. I just want people to realize that we really are a rock and roll band."