The Spill Canvas: Here’s to the Home Team

 

Sioux Falls' The Spill Canvas is (from left) Dan Ludeman, Joe Beck, Nick Thomas and Landon Heil

 

Sioux Falls, South Dakota is hardly a hotbed for upcoming rock bands. Not for lack of effort, but it’s a community which fails to support young talent, be it musical, athletic or otherwise.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago the mother of a highly recruited basketball player from Sioux Falls told the local newspaper, “We tend to eat our young.” It’s true. Whenever someone from Sioux Falls shows promise, the skeptics and cynics come out in droves.

The Spill Canvas somehow emerged from Sioux Falls as an altnernative band with major breakthrough potential. The four members — with whom I went to high school — dabbled in other bands before hopping aboard lead singer Nick Thomas’ pet project. The Spill Canvas, in a span of a few years, grew from Thomas’ coffee house solo set to a viable mainstream act with TRL appearances to boot.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’ve known Thomas since we were pee-wee football teammates and bassist Landon Heil and I go back to games of NBA Jam in his basement during grade school. I never really knew guitarist Dan Ludeman, who was a year older, but I knew Joe Beck as the kid who dominated talent shows and pep rallies with his drum solos. Does they make me a homer? Absolutely.

But you can also consider me among one of the original skeptics. Not for lack of faith, but before The Spill Canvas, Sioux Falls had never seen a local band go from talent-show stages to having their one-story mugs plastered on MTV Studios in Times Square. I root for underdogs, but I never actually bet on them.

The Spill Canvas is the exception.

I met up with the guys after their show Tuesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre in Portland, Ore. and discussed the future of the band with drummer Joe Beck. Here’s what you need to know from our conversation:

They make themselves available. Thanks to strong social media savvy, The Spill Canvas are accessible by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. They’re posting photos on Twitter on a daily basis, along with giving away tickets to their shows. YouTube has been something of a TSC News Network — if there’s a big announcement, the guys take to their trusty digital camcorder and post it online. They are connected to their growing fan base.

This ain’t your typical follow-up album. In fact, said follow-up album is a mythical thing at the moment. They’ve released two EPs — Abnormalities and Realities — in the past four months. Beck says their label, Warner Brothers, has gotten behind the smaller releases in a way that models the music industry in the 1940s and 1950s: Cut a few songs, take them on tour. Cut a few more songs, keep touring. These aren’t scraps and B-sides, either. The two EPs have been some of their best work as a band and tracks like “Our Song,” “Gateway Drug” and “Dust Storm” sounded exquisite live.

Being from Sioux Falls is good and bad. Beck acknowledged there was heavy eye-rolling a few years back when they band left Sioux Falls to better pursue their dreams. However, he points being established in Sioux Falls, SD is much more original than Los Angeles or Brooklyn. The band is proud to call Sioux Falls home. In fact, three of four members spent the past year and change in Sioux Falls while resting from touring and recording. (Beck lives in Nashville, Tenn. where his girlfriend is set to graduate from Belmont University.)

Fame hasn’t gone to their heads. The band has been touring together for almost six years, so pardon them if post-concert antics are kept to a minimum. After the show back at the Doug Fir Lounge, we stand around a fire pit and talk up-and-coming bands and artists. It’s a sedate conversation with a group of guys who look more like they survived another eight-hour shift at their work-a-day job. Then you remember they’re major label recording artists headlining a national tour. In a few months, they’ll be playing with the Goo Goo Dolls and Switchfoot. For all intents and purposes, these are the biggest celebrities I know and they couldn’t be more unassuming.

Most fans probably feel like they went to high school with a band like The Spill Canvas. I’m proud to say I did. They’ve quickly become one of my favorite bands, regardless of personal association. Beyond their music, I respect their hustle. They are a success story who come from a place where there’s all too few.

Bar Owners Want S.D. Smoking Ban on Ballot

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I started working at a bar in early 2007, prior to the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, which effectively banned smoking in bars and restaurants throughout Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2007. Mankato had passed a similar measure locally, but the ban was eventually lifted in leiu of the statewide vote. Those five months in which smoking was permitted led to some of the worst mornings of my life. I was just a bouncer then, minding my stool for five hours every Friday and Saturday night. The secondhand smoke got so bad, I eventually had to see an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist for persistent tonsil swelling.

“You work at a bar, don’t you?” he said. “I see this all the time.”

If not for the smoking ban, the ENT advised I would have to quit my job.

* * * * *

A similar smoking ban recently passed in South Dakota, much to the ire of bar owners statewide. Said owners aren’t going down without a fight, however. They’re starting a peitition to have the ban brought to a public vote in 2010.

I’m as much for a public vote as I am the statewide ban. That’s democracy at its finest. however, I do take exception with some of the arguments being made by bar owners who opposing the smoking ban. In an article printed in today’s Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Don Rose, co-owner of Shenanigan’s Pub, says:

“Minnesota lost over 300 bars in the first year.”

To say the Minnesota smoking ban accounted for the closing of over 300 bars is a bit presumptuous. There were several other variables to take into account: the struggling economy; the increased cost of liquor licenses; the banning of drink specials in several college towns. Surely, some bars were negatively affected by the smoking ban. However, the bar business has always been about booze. Smoking is in the same realm as playing pool, darts or foosball when it comes to bar activities. (It’s not the primary purpose of going to a bar.) 

As a native South Dakotan, I usually try to avoid the bars when I go home. I cannot stand drinking while immersed in clouds of smoke. Sadly, this is the norm for South Dakota residents. Whenever a friend from home visits me in Mankato, they marvel at how much better the bars are for the lack of smoke. (I’ve heard this from friends who smoke, too.)

Rose and fellow bar owners should consider how the smoking ban might positively effect their bar. They will surely tap into a crowd that was hesitant to go out more frequently due to smoke. Not to mention, this reduces the need for often-expensive air-filtration systems. Smoking is also a fire hazard. Not to mention every bar in South Dakota is on the same playing field. If your bar’s biggest draw was, “Hey, we’re a great place for smoking,” then you should re-evaluate your business plan. It’s not as if you’ll lose customers to other bars who allow smoking.

Rose goes on to say:

“Smoking is legal in the United States. Why can’t it be in my establishment?”

Smoking is legal in the U.S., but not everywhere. There are many other establishments and venues – some even outdoor – where smoking isn’t allowed. The harm of secondhand smoke is undeniable. The moment someone lights up, they’re affecting themselves and those around them. Smoking might be legal in the U.S. (in some places), but don’t we also have the fundamental right to clean air? I hope so. Especially for anyone living in more industrial areas of the country.

My gut feeling is the bar owners will have their way and get the smoking ban on a ballot. Public support for a Minnesota smoking ban was estimated at 69.1% in 2007. A suvery by the American Heart Association shows nearly 65% of South Dakotans support the ban. A public vote will bring an end to the debate, but I don’t see the bar owners ever getting their way.