On one of my very first visits to Des Moines before relocating here for a job, I met a future coworker at the Yacht Club on Ingersoll for beers. She introduced me to Craig Jensen and described him as the drummer from Squidboy, the oldest and best punk band in Des Moines.
That was more than 12 years ago. And the statement still stands. With four recordings, countless shows and 20 years of playing as a band under their belt, Squidboy is still at it and they remain among the best at what they do.
I’ve seen Squidboy at many of their all-too infrequent shows and I always wonder why they aren’t playing Madison Square Garden, headlining major festivals—or at least playing to a bigger crowd in Des Moines. They deserve all of these things.
So on the eve of their 20th anniversary show at the Vaudeville Mews on Friday, August 18, it seemed appropriate to pick the brains of the Squids (Eric Kennedy, vocals; Tim Beachy, guitar; Roly Koenen, bass; and Craig Jensen, drums) on their work, their experiences, and the music scene in Des Moines.
Where the hell did the name Squidboy come from?
Craig Jensen: I thought it had something to do with someone that doesn’t know how to ride a motorcycle. Other than that I got nothing for ya.
Eric Kennedy: Ehhh… what’s in a name?
What was your first gig?
Eric: It was an indie rock festival in Omaha, and we were scheduled for a 20-minute slot at the Howard Street Tavern in the Old Market. It was a good thing it was so short because we had only worked up about 5 songs by that point.
We were on the bill under the wrong name, so I wrote, “WE’RE SQUIDBOY DAMMIT” in sharpie on a plain white T and wore that at the show. As luck would have it, we had a good time slot and the place was packed. The crowd dug us, we made some new band friends, and the owners liked us enough to let us come back a bunch of times. It was a pretty great first show, all things considered.
What was the goal when Squidboy formed 20 years ago or when you joined?
Eric: We never wrote down a mission statement or anything, but I’d say our goals in the beginning are the same as they are now: Write songs we think we’ll want to play over and over and try to make each song better than the last one.
Roly Koenen: Mine was to be exactly like Michael Jackson (in record sales and popularity) except completely different in the style of music.
Craig: I don’t think I ever set out with a goal in mind when I started playing with the band. I just wanted to play some shows and hit the road on the weekends. There were a couple times early on that made me think the band might turn into something bigger but it didn’t pan out and I was pretty OK with that.
If asked 20 years ago where you would be in 2012, what would you have said?
Roly: Right where we are now. Of course I had delusions of grandeur that disappeared almost instantly, leading to a grounded realization of what I could expect.
Eric: Dead or in prison? It never really came up. We were just excited to play our music, meet new people, drink free beer, make gas money, crash on a floor, roll on to the next town. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Which shows stand out for you now – especially any that were in DSM?
Tim Beachy: There are so many, I don’t know where to start. The CD release shows were always fun, especially the first one in the Spank Basement. Our friends Doug and Michelle Daugherty had a cool music zine called Spank and they hosted the “Kids Talk To Killers” release party.
Craig: Opening for Fugazi at the Safari/Hairy Mary’s II. It was pretty surreal when Ian McKaye helped unload our van. Playing at CBGB’s the first time. Not so much the show but just being there & getting to put a sticker on the band room wall was kind of cool.
Eric: All the shows we’ve done with our friends’ bands over the years have always been great. That Fugazi show was a definite high water mark. And those guys were honestly some of the most standup guys we’ve ever played with. They even helped us load our gear on stage. Who does that? Fugazi, that’s who.
Tim: One memorable show was when my amp went up in flames at a music festival in St. Louis. Half the crowd was screaming and cheering, thinking it was part of the show, and half was running for the doors in panic. The many shows with House of Large Sizes were always good. We played their very last show (other than reunions), which was right here in town at the Vaudeville Mews.
Roly: Any shows with our friends’ bands. Radio Caroline, the Chezwicks, Delstars, Victorious Holland, (insert our other friends’ bands that I forgot here) all of our friends would come out and have a great time and listen to great music. Nothing got me fired up more than playing after a really great band. We could not let them show us up. And the bar was always set really high. There were some great bands.
Other highlights from the past two decades?
Craig: Getting signed to Allied Records was pretty cool. I think we were the only local band that had signed on with a label at that time. Also, I’m not sure who said this, it was Either Gus or Paul at the Safari/ Hairy Mary’s II. We were talking about some band that played the night before. I asked how they were and the answer was ‘they were loud but they weren’t Squidboy loud.’ We wore that as a badge of honor.
Eric: A lot of the most memorable stuff happened to or from a show.
One time we went to the Subway restaurant world headquarters in Milford, CT, exactly where the napkins tell you it will be. We were hungry, and we figured they HAD to have a Subway. So we get there, and as soon as we open the door we smell that Subway smell so we knew we were on the right track. We wandered around trying not to make eye contact and eventually found what we were looking for. Except it was no restaurant; it was a self-serve employee cafeteria. So we acted like we belonged, ate our fill, then split wondering how we didn’t get arrested or at least asked what the hell we were doing there. I think Tim ate about five 12″ meatball subs. He may have even taken one to go.
Another time we were on our way back from Steb’s in Cedar Falls late at night, and we happened upon a carload of kids who had driven off the road in the middle of nowhere. It was apparently prom night as they were still in full prom regalia. They were wet, cold, muddy, and mostly OK even though some of them had actually been thrown from the car. Craig (a trained paramedic) sprang into action, keeping everybody calm and making sure a girl who was hurt didn’t go into shock. Life Flight came after a while and flew the girl to Des Moines. She was in the hospital for a few days, but thankfully no permanent injuries. Rock and roll saves lives!
Roly: Playing with any pap metal band. I don’t know why but it happened soooooo many times.
Eric: We once played an exclusive Ivy League prep school in Connecticut. We were grossly overpaid for this, so we were initially delighted. They even sent us a retainer before we left for the tour, which we promptly used to replace the balding tires on our van. When we showed up we discovered we were playing in a huge gym with a proportionately sized stage. When we started, there were a few dozen kids there. ‘There’ being the other side of the gym. By the time we were done with our first song, the place was empty and we were booked to play two sets. In the contract, they had agreed to provide us breakfast the next morning. We were too embarrassed to claim it. Moral of the story: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy tires.
How is the music scene in Des Moines now compared to when Squidboy first started playing?
Tim: Bands aren’t as loud as they used to be, or maybe it just seems that way because I’m going deaf. I know we’re not NEARLY as loud as we used to be. I laugh when people say we’re loud now. There are also a lot more music venues for original music than there ever have been before, and that’s great.
Craig: I think the scene now is really diverse compared to when we first started. Also just the number of bands that are playing now is crazy. Way back when there were only a handful of local bands, at least in Des Moines. We pretty much knew each other and we all played at the same bar. It definitely had that close-knit family feel to it. Even though all the bands were very different we all got lumped into being “punk” bands since we all played at the punk bar.
What have been your favorite DSM venues to play?
Craig: The original Hairy Mary’s will always be my favorite. I was 21 or 22 when I started playing with Squidboy so that’s the place it all started for me.
Roly: I never had the pleasure of playing at the old Hairy Mary’s, but I did at the redux. I think it always sounded better there because Joey Hollywood always handled our sound with loving care and respect.
Eric: The original Hairy Mary’s has to be the nostalgic favorite. We really cut our teeth playing there. And when we weren’t playing, we were always there; that was just the place to be.
The Vaudeville Mews has been our main place for most of the last decade. Most of the other places we’ve played in town weren’t around nearly that long, so I suppose it deserves some special mention for that. On top of that it’s just a real cool club with a lot of history and some great employees/owners.
What other Des Moines bands have you particularly enjoyed?
Craig: I’m not going to name specific bands because I’ll forget to mention someone and I’ll feel bad. In my time with the Squidboy there have been some really great bands in Des Moines.
Roly: Total Passover, The Chezwicks, Radio Caroline, The Delstars, and Victorious Holland off the top of my head.
Eric: The Hollowmen was a Des Moines band that was around from the mid 80’s until about 1990. They were really ahead of their time sort of combining elements of indie rock/noise/etc. with classic rock song structures. They opened our eyes to possibilities in terms of what an original band from Des Moines could do. We actually covered and recorded one of their songs (“Swallow You Whole”) on our Drinking Songs EP.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the legendary House of Large Sizes. They were from Cedar Falls but they played Des Moines regularly and they were another band that
we felt was providing a good blueprint for success. It didn’t hurt that their live shows kicked all sorts of serious hiney, too.
What, if anything, has changed most in terms of music and the music scene in Des Moines over the past two decades?
Eric: There are more venues now hosting all-ages shows that are truly geared toward all ages. In the past it seems the under-age and overage crowds were a lot more mutually exclusive. I think that’s pretty cool. There’s more ‘official’ support for original music now than 20 years ago, both in terms of active backing from the city as well as passive support from law enforcement. Back at the original Hairy Mary’s we used to play ‘spot the undercover cop.’ It seemed like they were there all the time, almost to the point of harassment.
There is a higher ratio of original bands relative to cover bands, which is a positive thing. On the other hand, you can’t swing a cat downtown without hitting a DJ.
Other than that, I think many things are still the same. Some bands are supportive of other bands; some are back-stabby. Some club owners/hosts/barkeeps/etc. are respectful and
appreciative; some could give a rat’s ass about your has-been/never-was, lame-ass band. Some fans will stick with you to the end; others you see once and never see again.
Craig: There are so many bands and a lot of venues to choose from these days. There doesn’t seem to be a Des Moines scene or an Ames scene or an Iowa City scene, it’s more of an Iowa scene. I think that’s just the natural progression of music scenes as a whole now. New bands come along, technology allows bands to share their music easily, and it grows from there.
How the hell do you keep a band together for 20 years?
Tim: First, don’t make that a goal, just play to play. Don’t take yourselves too seriously, but stick to your musical guns-if you’re all focused on playing good music instead of things outside your control, things fall in place. The real secret is being lucky enough to find people you like and get along with who share musical tastes and attitudes. No big egos helps — I’m the only jerk in this band. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the best bands are almost always great people, maybe because they’re people who want to make music for the right reasons.
Craig: I think the moon and the stars aligned when we all got together. We never set out to make the band bigger than the four of us. We’ve played some great shows and we’ve had not so great shows where we played for a bartender and doorman but it never really mattered. We always stuck to our guns and played what we thought was good music, regardless of what people said or thought about the band.
Eric: Everybody has heard the old advice that you should marry your best friend, right? I think the same is true for choosing your bandmates.
We’re friends with a lot of mutual respect for each other and a recognition that we all lead separate lives, too. I think this keeps us from falling into a lot of the usual traps that can lead to resentment between band members.
Perhaps more importantly, we still love the rock and roll.
Roly: Never go to sleep angry. Hugs not drugs. Humility.
Any plans for a new album?
Craig: I think we’d be selling ourselves short if we didn’t get one more album done. We have newer material that we’ve been playing for a while but we haven’t recorded yet. When we do decide to put Squidboy to rest, it’s bound to happen someday, it’d be nice to have that ending piece of work in place.
Roly: I sure as hell hope so. I didn’t realize it had been 13 years since our last one.
Eric: We definitely have enough new material for another full-length. Hopefully it’ll be done in time for the 30th Anniversary show.
What happens with Squidboy now?
Craig: At some point we’ll have to hang it up. When that’ll happen I have no idea and it’s never come up. Were like an old married couple at this point. We could break up but what’s the point really? We still like hanging out with each other & it’s still fun playing music together.
Roly: We keep doing it because we like it. I think, even though I’m potentially biased, that the songs are even better now. I don’t want it to stop any time soon. Plus we could still make it big some day! HA, HA, HA.
Eric: Same ol’ same ol’. Write more songs. Play when we wanna. Never say die, Iron Eagle.
This article was written by DMMC volunteer contributor Timothy Schmitt. If you’d like to write an Iowa music related story or review for this website, please contact us!