Country Dust

Why the Dreadful Yawns abandoned cosmic America.

The Dreadful Yawns Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Avenue 10 p.m. Friday, May 4, 216-939-9099
Ben Gmetro (center) and the new Dreadful Yawns . . . sorta. - Eartha L. Goodwin
Ben Gmetro (center) and the new Dreadful Yawns . . . sorta.
The Dreadful Yawns' recent history is as jumbled as the band's Lakewood rehearsal space, a cavernous maze overrun with vintage gear, tattered furniture, and psychedelic light boxes. The place feels like the dusty storage room where the high-school custodian stashed broken desks and porn, only cooler.

Four of the five Yawns, sitting around a pizza and plastic bag full of Straub and Cocaine (the energy drink), aren't the Yawns heard on 2005's self-titled disc. That album was an ass-kicking merger of fragile indie vibes and "cosmic American music," more Dead/New Riders than Parsons/Byrds.

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ben Gmetro is the lone holdover. The band's artistic core, Gmetro assembled the current Yawns -- Clayton Heuer, Chris Russo, Elizabeth Kelly, and Eric Schulte -- over the past year, after the previous Yawns returned to their own band, Expecting Rain.

But here's where the story gets sticky: Today's Yawns are busy preparing for a Parish Hall party in honor of a new CD they had no hand in making. It's the old Yawns on Rest, a long-delayed record that began as another "country-rock thing," as Gmetro puts it, but mutated into a "symphonic-pop thing" because he grew tired of the "early '70s West Coast" sound the band was known for -- still is, actually, which kinda-sorta bugs the guy.

So Gmetro pushed back Rest's release date and started "slapping strings" over many of its 10 tracks, winding up with a kind of orchestra-indie-country-rock hybrid that reflects the aesthetic shift.

And the clusterfuck thickens: Gmetro admits he's now over the "symphonic-pop thing" as well; the Yawns are onto a new sound that's harder to put into words. So Friday's release party will actually feature two different versions of the band: one that may or may not play country rock, and another that may or may not play country rock, symphonic pop, or something brand-new. It's a fuck-you-from-Neil-Young move if there ever was one.

Of course, some of this gnarliness can be attributed to the touch-and-go nature of the indie biz: The Yawns just don't earn enough to maintain stability. Then again, there's something about this Gmetro dude: "It would be nice to be able to release a record, and go out and tour for that record -- play the same songs with the same band," he admits. Yet Gmetro, however talented, doesn't seem the type to commit to such a regimented -- and really quite boring -- routine. First off, he's got that hyper-obsessive collector mentality (just look at all this equipment). Each record must nail whatever thing he's looking for, and once it does, it's time to move on to the next thing. Once the old Yawns conquered the cosmic American challenge -- even going so far as to wear cowboy button-ups -- Gmetro rebelled. "The last gasp of a dying interest in twang," reads the "sounds like" category on the band's MySpace site.

That statement is mostly true: On the Yawns' brand-new tour EP, Immediate Family (released on Schulte's Van Gogh Round label), the group dips into garage, spaghetti westerns, punk funk, and straight-up sound art. But, like Jeff Tweedy or Sidney Alexis Lindner of Hotel Alexis fame, Gmetro's music always sounds rooted in American soil, regardless of how far out he's traveling.

Even more important, the new EP's eclectic nature reflects Gmetro's knack for surrounding himself with odd characters. Although the old Yawns shared a musical vision, they were essentially another band playing on borrowed time. And the new Yawns? Classically trained Heuer is learning "rock organ" from Gmetro, who's also tutoring Schulte, a guitarist with no prior experience and a disdain for country rock. Russo, however, is a longtime Cleveland drummer with loads of experience, and Kelly is a 21-year-old singer and actress majoring in theater at Baldwin-Wallace. She also does singing telegrams. No shit.

If Gmetro really does crave stability -- as well as a collective identity -- he has a funny way of showing it. The guy has set himself up for the Yawns' biggest challenge yet: getting this disparate collection of individuals to jell. Whether or not that happens, the next year should be a musically volatile time for the group. And Gmetro wouldn't have it any other way.

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