the cincinnati punk scene open forum at feel it record shop was beautiful

see/saw and Feel It threw an intimate roundtable chat about creativity and community

the cincinnati punk scene open forum at feel it record shop was beautiful
The Cincinnati Punk Community Open Forum, presented by see/saw and Feel It Record Shop in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seated beneath a mural of the peanut butter incident. Photos by Mayson Rainwater

Vacation, Choncy, Corker, the Drin, Beef, Crime of Passing, and Motorbike are all very good bands from Cincinnati, and they all put out music on Feel It Records. This pile of releases started prompting multiple distinct conversations between my not-Ohioan friends and I—that Cincinnati’s scene is crushing right now. Earlier this year, Sam Richardson’s label opened its local headquarters: Feel It Record Shop on Ludlow. It shares space with his partner Kat McKenzie’s very fun vintage spot Have Mercy. In its early goings it is replete with incredible finds, both on the “holy fuck” rarities tip and its solid gold selection of $3 records.

see/saw and Feel It put together a Cincinnati punk community open forum, a chance for punks from different backgrounds and eras to discuss making things, supporting each other, and generally speaking, the overall vibe in Cincinnati’s scene. A few of us gathered on the stage where Cruelster and Piss Me Off played three nights before. There were no microphones, and the attending crowd sat on the floor near the stage. It was an intimate conversation and a very good vibe.

Honestly, it was an entire weekend of being welcomed in by the scene. Sam was kind enough to crack beers with me and DJ from his personal collection of 45s. Will Popiel of Kaleidoscopic Records met me for lunch and slid me a copy of the new Pretty Mean record. (We bumped into Cole from Corker at the lunch spot.) Kevers helped me beat the heat by letting me hang out while he mixed some in-process albums at the old Checkered Flag Studio; the new one he’s building with Vacation’s Jerry Westerkamp is under construction. 

Maybe the best part of the talk was at the very end where everyone sitting on the ground started shouting out their projects. There were members of Girl Gordon, Choncy, Artificial Go, and Touchdown Jesus. Everybody was extremely cool, though Nick Maurer’s band the Grocers does something no other band is doing: “We kind of just fuck around. We have jump rope competitions at our shows.” Cincinnati rules. [The talk has been edited for length.]

L-R: Evan Minsker, Shannon Wilson, Takoda Hortenberry, Will Popiel, Jerry Westerkamp, Sam Richardson. Photo by Mayson Rainwater.

So let’s go around and make introductions.

Sam Richardson: Hi everyone, I’m Sam. I own the shop and do Feel It Records. I play guitar in Beef with a lot of y’all. I’m glad everybody came out. I’ve released a lot of bands from Cincinnati since moving here, and there’s lots more to come.

Jerry Westerkamp: I'm Jerome Westerkamp—Jerry. I play in Vacation and Motorbike. I also record bands. I have a studio called the Checkered Flag that I’m currently building from scratch. Hopefully it’s done within the year.

Will Popiel: I’m Will Popiel. I work here at Feel It on the weekends. I play guitar in General Baxter, bass in Chameleon Earhart, and I run a D.I.Y. label called Kaleidoscopic Records. I’ve been doing that for about two years now. But we're still getting going. 

Takoda Hortenberry: I'm Takoda. I just play in Beef and, you know, do dad stuff mostly right now.

Happy Father’s Day.

Shannon Wilson: I'm Shannon Wilson. I played for a long time as a singer in a band called the Messengers. An older—I can't believe it—but an older Cincinnati band. My new project is called Bandages and I'm the singer in that as well.

Jodi Henges: I’m Jodi, I sing for Butchers Dog. I’ve played in a couple bands over the years and I host shows with my roommates at the Nest. And yeah, general fuckery with the sewer fucks.

I’m Evan Minsker, I have a newsletter called see/saw. I want to talk about local hubs. Let’s start with Jerry; you have a studio. How does it feel to have people come to you with their ideas?

Jerry: I feel like I love doing what I do because I can be in everybody’s band and help them out with what their vision or goal is to do. I feel like it’s kind of been a hub over the years as people making stuff and coming to hang out or whatever the necessary thing is.

What are the other hubs where people here gather? Jodi, you mentioned that you have a space.

Jodi: We host shows at the Nest. We’ve done that and have been there for almost 10 years now. We always said if we make it to 10 years we’ll have an awesome self-congratulatory celebration. Before that we booked shows at Last House on the Left, and before that at Shitler. I feel like we have a small bubble, but then I realize that there are people from all over because I feel like the music community isn’t divided, it’s just that everybody lives in a certain area and has a schedule. At the house, it’s awesome because it’s all ages. It’s not centered around a bar atmosphere, although we have drinks and stuff. We’ve been lucky. People gather at our house, and Design Collective is a great spot.

L-R: Takoda Hortenberry, Will Popiel, Jerry Westerkamp, Sam Richardson. Photo by Mayson Rainwater.

One thing about the Cincinnati scene is that it feels like no two bands are making the same kind of music. Is that inspiring, looking around and seeing people in the same community making completely different kinds of records?

Will: I think so. I think there's a lot of internal influence in Cincinnati. People are listening to and getting inspired by each other's bands a lot more. I mean, of course inspired by surrounding cities and other bands too. It keeps things cohesive but everyone's still doing their own thing, too.

Is anybody else inspired by other Cincinnati bands?

Jerry: Oh, 100%, yeah. We're a smaller city in the grand scheme and a lot of us like you know…incestuous might be a term but yes, we're always making new stuff with the same people. 

Sam, you moved here in early 2022, that seems remarkably recent for how much great Cincinnati music Feel It has put out. How familiar were you with the scene before then?

Sam: My first real connection with it was when Dakota sent me the Crime of Passing album. I didn't know him at all. I just got an email one day and, you know, heard it and wanted to catch up with him. We had a call and then made plans to come out here. It all just fell into place like, I felt really welcomed.

So from hearing that album, it just ballooned from there?

Sam: Yeah, and just being around town. I met Jerry really early on, saw the studio and heard what was coming out of there, just made a lot of connections fairly quickly. I was coming from a city that was kind of a little more insulated as far as hardcore and metal being their own thing. I was a part of that world too, but had other interests.

Jodi Henges and Shannon Wilson. Photo by Mayson Rainwater.

Do you feel like the punk scene here can be insulated? Like are the punk and hardcore scenes distinct?

Shannon: I would love to talk about that. When the Messengers were a band in the early 2000s, it was very categorized. You know, you have friends across all genres of punk, but it definitely was much more in its box. And then I left for 13 years and moved back to Cincinnati, and I remember going to Iron Fest in 2021, maybe. And I was just like, what happened? Because it was like there is every genre of punk rock here. There's non-punk rock, there's folk, and you look at people that have been in the scene forever, like Mike Oberst, if you're familiar with the Tillers, doing really folky stuff, and then you have the Newport Secret Six doing ska stuff, but all of them have roots within traditional punk rock. And it was just like, I was like, holy shit, this is my city. I was so overwhelmed by how much there was now, and just that it crossed every genre, and there was just no judgment whatsoever. Everybody just seemed way more cohesive and friendly—like the scene had evolved so much. Insane. I couldn’t believe it.

Jodi: It really was a 180 from back then. There was this club and that club. In the early 2000s, it was very gatekept.  And I mean, I'm from Norwood, so people were really on that. They were like, “What are you doin’ here buddy?” It's cool, because everything is very interconnected now. We book multi-genre shows constantly. It's never just like a hardcore show, or this or that. It is very incestuous. There are these key members that crank out some of the best stuff. I rarely even listen to anything that isn't local for the most part, because there's just so much to choose from.

Sam you mentioned how welcoming people were here. I want to second that, how welcoming this scene has been just in a couple days since I got here. So uh…are there assholes in the scene? You don’t have to name names, but you could.

Jodi: Those are the people that usually stick together. They don't really come around. People who are just there to party are kind of relics from a different time. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. In my experience at the Nest, when people who would typically be total shit-starters at a show somewhere else, they come to the house and they're outnumbered by people who are just trying to chill. They're just hanging out. So they stand out so much, people you can tell have never had the opportunity to be comfortable in their scene because they're too busy trying to fit a mold that they think they have to fit. That is not gone, but it is not popular around here, and I think that's amazing because it wasn't that way when I was young. 

Local punks sitting on the floor at Feel It Record Shop. Photo by Mayson Rainwater.

Can we go around? I want everyone to name one Cincinnati band or record you think everyone should know about. You can self-promote if you want.

Takoda: It’s just fresh on my mind, it’s Willie & the Cigs, the red tape. It's always in my tape deck. Honestly, I don't know much about it because I bought the tape when I saw them live once. I'm still new in the city, I'm always doing dad stuff. I’m not at shows so much.

Will: I'd say this band called Spooky Dreamland. The album would be Blackhole. They're not a super active band anymore. I think they last played maybe a year ago. It was their only show of the year. But they were the band that really got me into the scene in Cincinnati. They were throwing a lot of great house shows in Clifton Heights around when I was in college and doing the same thing that we're talking about here, bringing together a lot of different DIY punk parts of the community that cover a lot of different sounds into the same space. But the album is pretty unique, you couldn't quite call it shoegaze because it's sludgy, it's psyche, it's kind of heavy. I don't think they've had enough love around here, so check that out.

Jerry: I guess I would have to say the Good Looking Son LP. It's Keith of the Cowboys, he did a solo thing. It’s very Sparks. 

Sam: He didn’t do anything to promote it. That band never played live.

Jerry: I also recorded it. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record, so that’s a go-to for me.

Sam: I had to think really carefully about not self-promoting. I'm gonna go deeper. The We Were Living in Cincinnati comp that Hozac put out a few years ago. I didn't know anything about Cincinnati; I knew Afghan Whigs and some more surface level stuff, but that encouraged me to take a deeper dig. John Hoffman did some production work on that. It’s kind of a good mashup of what was going on back then.

Jodi: I’m a nerd, I love Vacation. That’s my favorite Cincinnati band. Pretty much anything that you and John put out. Non-Person is my favorite. I like Beef a lot. I like Motorbike. I like all that stuff. Was it Choncy that put out a new thing? I listened to that—a couple songs I really liked, too.

Shannon: I’m going to age myself—my favorite Cincinnati band of all time is Spodie. When I was young, that was the band. They’re just the best snotty pop punk, just so fucking good. Amazing.

Jodi: I was super inspired by Bloody Discharge. I’ve always wanted to cover their songs.

Shannon: Yeah, Bloody Discharge was amazing. All-female Cincinnati band.

I feel like Cleveland and Columbus have these storied punk scenes—do you have this sense of them as musical sister cities to Cincinnati? 

Jodi: Cleveland's, like, my second home. The music is like aggro Cincinnati. I mean, I love Cleveland and Columbus. Columbus is popping off right now. Those kids are going crazy. It's awesome. This lesson I should have learned forever ago, but when we play at Dirty Dungarees, I love it. Everybody's going crazy, right? But they are so smart. These kids wait till the end of the show to buy their merch so they don't have to carry it around. I remember being so impressed by that. I was like, damn. But yeah I think that there's a lot of affiliation, at least between myself and the band that I've been in and our closest friends have played in.

Shannon: We’re trying to hashtag it, but don’t discredit #Daytonnati. Dayton has a ton of stuff going on. Really good bands coming out of Dayton as well. And talk about incestuous, our group’s drummer plays in, like, five bands.

L-R: Shannon Wilson, Takoda Hortenberry, Jerry Westerkamp, Sam Richardson. Photo by Mayson Rainwater.

What prompts you to make things? It’s not a region-specific question, we’re just in a room full of people who create things.

Takoda: I think about that on a constant basis because I don’t really know why it feels needed, like why I constantly want to build my life around it. But it’s the only thing that ever feels right, you know? I feel like everybody feels that way here, that’s why we’re here. But yeah, I wish I did know because then I could maybe bottle it and figure it out—like have a more organized effort to it. I know that I know that I want to do it. That’s it.

Will: I think there's a lot of things rolled into it, but to put it really simply, like, fun. It's fun. And being an adult is boring and sucks. Why not have fun and do stuff you like doing?

Jerry: I have a problem where if I’m not constantly doing something or working on something, I just go crazy, so yeah, I like to bust my ass either at my job at work or building something for a future, but then to get to rock is the bonus. That’s blowing off steam.

Jodi: For me, personally, it's cathartic. You get to see that instant gratification. You get to make something and then look at it and show it to people, and other people are like, that's sick. I wanna do that, too. And that's kind of a catching feeling, you know what I mean? So, yeah. Music first, life second. 

Shannon: Bandages was born out of a divorce, so when you can’t say the thing that you need to say, it’s a lot easier to scream them in front of a lot of guitars and drums. But I was gonna say, too, like, I'm sure like everybody in the creative realm, like, you see your friends' bands play and you're watching and you're like, oh man, this song would be next level if they did this on the guitar, if the singer did that. And it's when I wasn't playing, I found myself doing that so much that I'm like, oh my god, I'm missing this outlet in my life to do my own thing and create my own way. I'm sure with recording, there’s probably tons of that. 

Y’all this has been fun as shit. Thank you for coming out, Happy Father’s Day.