The Life and Times: Coming Home Again With Allen Epley

When a musician makes a far-reaching impact with his/her first band, it can be extremely hard to break out of the shadows of that era when moving on to other things.

Kansas City-native Allen Epley has struggled to escape the chains that continually bind him to his groundbreaking band Shiner. The brainchild of Epley, Shiner rose to prominence in the mid-1990s with four landmark albums that left legions of Shiner fans in the band’s wake.

Shiner broke up after their 2001 release, The Egg (DeSoto Records). Two years later, Allen Epley formed The Life and Times. The trio was made up of Epley on guitars/vocals, Someday I’s John Meredith on bass and Strings and Return drummer Mike Myers. The Life and Times released a raw but explosive The Flat End of the Earth EP on 54-40 or Fight! Records and immediately picked up positive press.

But, was the press for the album or just because Allen Epley used to be in Shiner?

“You don’t know if you are getting good press because of what I did nearly 10 years ago or because of what we are doing now,” Epley told me from his home while doing laundry. “Sometimes I don’t know if I am getting a fair shake. And honesty, I don’t think The Life and Times will get a fair shake by die-hard Shiner fans.”

Shiner was, in a lot of people’s eyes, a very influential band – and famous for it. But, Epley downplays nearly everything he did with his previous band.

“We didn’t sell enough records to make it as a band – it’s that simple,” Epley said.

Now with The Life and Times, he’s shooting for another audience, and with the new Suburban Hymns released on Desoto Records, it looks like Epley and his new band will be hitting the mark.

“We will be touring for this album with Murder By Death and playing to kids that never heard of Shiner. So, it is like playing to another audience entirely. Shiner fans are in their 30s with kids now. So we have to make our mark elsewhere and that is fine by us; it is actually what we are shooting for.”

With Suburban Hymns, Epley has brought in two new players to back him up that make The Life and Times sound much more polished and at home with their post-rock sound. The new line-up includes fellow KC resident Chris Metcalf on drums (Metcalf also plays in Stella Link, who have just released their first full length disc, Mystic Jaguar…Attack! on Ascetic Records.) and Collinsville, Illinois native Eric Abert (previously of the outstanding band Ring, Cicada). The impact of both players, along with Epley’s growth as a singer and guitar player, is evident on the new release.

“We have freedom and solidarity as a band now,” Epley said. “Eric’s playing is similar to Adam Clayton (U2) in that he has a strong fluidity. He hits the sweet spot and knows his role. Eric adds intangibles and calmness to the band.”

There is an unspoken exchange with the band that Epley has never experienced in prior outfits. He says they can fall into a rhythm and play on it for four hours without missing a beat: kind of a “lead and I will follow” perspective.

With the new members, it could be said that The Life and Times is similar to a Midwestern “super group” if you will. But in true Epley fashion, he quickly denounces all such thoughts.

“I don’t know about that; that’s too generous,” he said. “I didn’t just take the first people that wanted to play in this band. I searched for the right person to fit this band, and I think we found them right now.”

Now with a new band and a new record, The Life and Times have moved onto legendary independent label Desoto Records. The label is famous for housing such influential bands such as Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Juno and Shiner.

“To be on DeSoto is a key decision,” Epley said. “I love 54-40 and Steve Brydges is great, but the deal was only to do one EP. Desoto kind of feels like home. There is a different aesthetic than there used to be. Its not ’97 anymore.”

1997 is not what Epley and this band are about, anyhow. They do not want to move back in time. They want to take this band and this album forward.

“This band is a pretty big departure from Shiner,” Epley said. “All I can do is do what I fucking do. I can’t guess what people want me to do or like me to do. I can’t fucking live through them and their expectations.

“This album is very different in a lot of ways, but continues on in similar ways. Obviously I am the common denominator, but this time around we all have input. There’s more instrumentation and better vocals. Five or six years ago I would be more apt to bury the vocals, and when I was younger I would’ve done it. But on this album there are more lyrics and melody. I have more to say, and the lyrics are disjointed with imagery.”

With beautiful numbers such as “Coat of Arms,” with its chilling lyrics and driving rhythms, the thunderous in-the-pocket bass lines of Metcalf on “Skateland,” or the thought-provoking lyrics on the closer “A Chorus of Crickets,” there is a real line and cohesion to it all. There is freeness to the album. Epley went with an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, and it has certainly worked in his favor.

“I have good expectations thus far,” he said. “We want to make this our band, not three guys from other bands playing in this band.”