It’s been almost 26 years since the tragic death of Tim Taylor in a single car accident on North Main Street in May 1997 ended the upward trajectory of Brainiac. Now, a revived version of the beloved Dayton band has a sold out-show at The Brightside in Dayton tonight . This and two other shows in the United States come on the heels of a string of dates opening for Scottish post-punk band Mogwai in the United Kingdom Feb. 9 - 20.
Surviving members Juan Monasterio (bass), Tyler Trent (drums), and John Schmersal (guitar, vocals) are enjoying an unexpected revival of the band. They are using this opportunity to honor Brainiac’s dynamic late leader with the help of Dayton musician Tim Krug (guitar, keys, vocals).
“All of this new attention has been strange,” said Linda Taylor, mother of the late musician. “I mean, it’s been wonderful overall but like my daughter says, ‘It’s kind of a weird mix of heartbreak and joy,’ but the joy really outweighs the heartbreak at this point. Just knowing Tim’s music is still being celebrated and has such an impact after all these years has been an incredible feeling. It’s been really healing to know the music still lives on the way it does.”
Brainiac, often stylized as 3RN1A1C, was the rare group that exploded out of nowhere, fully formed. Taylor created indelible melodies skewed by odd guitar tunings and obscured through layers of synthesizers and noise. The mixture was somewhat inscrutable but wholly engaging. The post-punk band burned brightly but briefly in the 1990s, touching people profoundly with a stellar discography and memories of incendiary live shows.
After releasing a pair of albums for Grass Records, Brainiac moved to Touch and Go Records for now classic projects like “Hissing Prigs in Static Couture” (1996) and “Electro-Shock For President” (1997). The group was indie rock contemporaries with other internationally known hometown talent like Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices and sisters Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders. Brainiac was on the verge of signing a major label record deal at the time of Taylor’s death.
That marked the end of the band, at least for a time. Monasterio and Trent played in other projects before turning their attention to other pursuits. Schmersal remained active in music. He carried on that tradition of cracked machine sonics with his group, Enon, from 1999 to 2011. Schmersal released albums as Crooks On Tape and Vertical Scratchers and has been a touring member of Caribou for the past decade.
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Interest in Brainiac never waned but there has been a renewed focus on the music since the release of filmmaker Eric Mahoney’s 2019 documentary “Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero.”
“Eric doing the doc was cool because I always want to do things that will keep the Tim thing going,” Monasterio said. “I feel like that’s the most important thing. Anything we can do that keeps that going is a huge win and it turned out amazing.”
“I can’t ever thank Eric and his editor Ian Jacobs enough for the documentary and everything they did,” she said. “I’m not sure any of this would be happening now if it weren’t for all their efforts in getting the documentary out there. It’s been a mixture of feelings, but it’s been awesome.
“The best part is there are so many kids that weren’t even around that have discovered Brainiac,” Taylor continued. “There are all these 20 somethings that weren’t even born that just seem to love the band. It’s getting out there to whole new audiences and that’s been just incredible.”
Mahoney of Hotshot Robot Productions and Sonic Springs Booking couldn’t be prouder his documentary continues to generate interest in music that meant so much to him when he was coming of age in Dayton.
“I’ve found it so incredible to see all the pictures, videos and comments around these recent shows,” he said. “It’s really made me so happy to know they are enjoying a moment of performing together again. It’s equally wonderful to hear from people who are either seeing them again after all these years or, even better, hearing this music live for the first time.
“They are all such talented musicians and that music is so unique and special,” Mahoney continued. “I’m thrilled more people are getting hip to them and the longtime fans get this second chance to enjoy their work.”
The surviving members of Brainiac and Krug performed at several documentary screenings with some special guests like Fred Armisen. However, there was no consideration of playing other shows until several recent archival releases like “The Predator Dominate EP,” released in January by Touch and Go Records. There certainly wasn’t talk of going on tour in Europe.
“We talked about playing a few shows since we had the archival stuff coming out,” Schmersal said. “When Mogwai offered us the tour, I couldn’t believe it. It was good we were thinking that way because, we were in the mindset. I wrote these guys and told them about it, but I figured there was no way in heck we could all coordinate to do it for that much time. It’s amazing but we were able to make it happen.”
With Schmersal in California, Monasterio in Mexico and Krug and Trent in Dayton, they each spent time working on parts independently before coming together for several days of intense pre-tour rehearsals at Dayton Sound Studios.
“I haven’t really been playing, just practicing to play for this tour,” Monasterio said. “I was living down in Cabo for two years. I’d mess around and stuff a lot, but I wasn’t playing with anybody else or trying to really do anything. It’s been alright getting ready for this tour. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of time off, so I’ve been able to practice every day. I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot.”
Schmersal echoed that sentiment.
“We did a lot of prep work at home,” he said. “We talked about the setlist for a longtime. Tim collected the best versions of the songs, and I even made a file of the songs in order. We were practicing on our own, but I was shocked how prepared we were. When we first ran through it together, we sounded pretty good right out of the gate.”
Trent is an associate pastor at Lifepointe Church in Dayton and plays drums regularly at church but is relishing the opportunity to play Brainiac material again.
“I love playing in church because it really stretches me as a musician,” Trent said. “I had to learn different styles and some finesse. We play every Sunday, but I had to get back to that raw style for this, that caveman, punk rock drum stuff.
“I love playing these songs,” he continued. “I don’t care if it sounds braggy but anytime we revisit this stuff I’m like, ‘These are great songs. I’m so glad I was in this band.’ I’m just grateful all over again whenever we do this stuff, which is a really cool thing.”
Krug, for his part, is reveling in the chance to play songs he discovered as teenager.
“It’s cool but I’m just winging it as usual,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve really felt nervous about anything. I’ve been in enough bands where you learn the things you obsess over don’t matter as much to the rest of the world. It’s definitely weird and it can be a little daunting at times but at the same time, I’m just going to do what I always do. I’m going to go play some songs I think are really good with some of my friends.”
Hometown auxiliary man
Krug brings ample experience with guitars, synthesizers and effects, which is crucial to capturing the Brainiac sound. He is a longtime member of Dayton-based Oh Condor and also has the electronic projects Hexadiode and Halicon but he is in no way trying to replace Taylor. In fact, Schmersal fronts the band, but all involved agree Krug is the perfect musician for the job.
“Tim kind of dropped out of heaven for us,” Trent said. “Not only does he fit the band and the music, but he is also proficient and awesome at what he does and he’s a great guy too. We were instantly best friends. You can hang out with cool musicians and it’s awesome, but it doesn’t always work. We clicked and that’s a hard thing for bands to get right. He fits great and he’s himself. He’s not a Tim Taylor replacement.”
Taylor’s mother agrees.
“It’s not like they’re trying to replace Tim with anybody, although Tim Krug is amazing,” she said. “If I would pick anybody it would be Tim Krug just because he loves that music so much and he understands it and he’s just one hell of a musician. He’s just the best guy, the nicest guy too. Of course, I wish it was still Tim but at least his legacy is living on.
“The guys in the band deserve this,” Taylor continued. “They deserve some recognition. I love them all so much and seeing them together after all these years is just the best feeling. They were a part of that creative process. It’s their band too and when Tim died, their lives were turned completely upside down. Just watching them together and seeing how they interact with each other, has just been great after all this time.”
One last hurrah
Trent was still buzzing from the recent shows when he shared his thoughts via e-mail.
“The tour was an absolute dream,” he wrote. “The Mogwai cast and crew were beyond generous, gracious and accommodating and we absolutely fell in love with them all. It felt great to play these songs again and especially in front of new people. It totally reminded me of the early Brainiac days where people didn’t exactly know what to do with us but they knew they liked it.”
The tour was an overwhelming success, but Brainiac isn’t back as a full-time venture. The group performed in Detroit on Thursday but after tonight at The Brightside and Saturday at Woodward Theater in Cincinnati, this chapter is closed.
“Some people may be under the impression we’re going to keep going,” Schmersal said. “We’re trying to make it pretty clear in the interviews that this is a celebration of the music. We’re not going to go to Tennessee on a Monday and play. I feel like people were like, ‘Keep going!’ But this has to end at some point. We have to get back to our lives before they disappear.”
For Taylor, it’s been great to see so much interest in the legacy her late son created with cohorts in Brainiac.
“The love that’s still out there for Tim and that band is just an amazing feeling,” she said. “I know a lot of people are thinking, ‘What do they think they’re doing?’ They’re not trying to remake Brainiac and go on tour. It’s not like that. This is a once in a life opportunity but they’re not all going to quit their jobs, reform the band and try to go on without Tim.
“I don’t truly know what Tim would think about all of this, but I do think, in my heart, he’d be happy to know these guys are together,” Taylor added. “They were more than just bandmates, they were really good friends. I think he’d be happy for them and he’d be happy that people are still loving and understanding that music and are going out to hear it.”
Artist info: 3ra1n1ac.com.
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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