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A Working Formula
After false starts and self-inflicted wounds, Colby Green and Josh Query have found something together, which they couldn't quite make work apart.
Double-take number one happens when Josh Query sidles up to the bar on my right side and orders an O’Doul’s. Double-take number two follows quickly, when Colby Green snags the empty stool to my left and orders the same thing. What takes me aback isn’t that both men asked for those infamous, non-alcoholic beers. What actually stops me cold is the dawning epiphany that O’Doul’s still exists.
Greg Masten, bartender at Greencastle’s The Fluttering Duck, stands by the walk-in cooler. His head nods slowly. His half-shrug is punctuated by his casual “Yeah, we’ve probably got a few O’Doul’s back there.” When Masten says “probably,” he means “Yes.” Masten is to The Duck’s beer supply as Olivander is to Harry Potter’s magic wand shop. He knows for a fact that they have O’Doul’s. He knows exactly how many and where they’re sitting—the exact corner of the exact shelf. He knows who was president when they were put there and who won The World Series the last time someone ordered one of them. He reappears, literally seconds later, his long fingers intricately woven around the necks of those deep green bottles.
“It gives you about 20% of the experience,” Green says after his first, deep swig. His grin is dismissive. Blithe, really. When I flip my gaze over to Query he flashes Green his own knowing smile, and the two clink their bottles. I had known about Query’s struggles with alcohol for some time. It was a conversation he and I had talked about on more than one occasion—always standing near a stage, always under the reverb of amplified guitars, always surrounded by booze.
“It's been, I think 13…14 months since I completely quit drinking,” Query explains. “In that 13 to 14 months I've had a few drinks here and there. Maybe two, three at the most at a time. That's been ... maybe three, four times, something like that.”
“It actually took several months for me to be able to go into a bar or any of the places where I used to basically [spend away the rent money],” he adds. “Then [my transformation become less a matter of] not drinking [and more] a lifestyle of living without being drunk seven nights a week. It became more ingrained in me [and it] became easier for me.”
Video Production by Brandon Pershing
Donovan Wheeler: In this musical environment, when you think about where all the gigs are played and you think about the musical culture clichéd or not clichéd… “substance” is kind of woven into the tapestry of being a musician. So how does one function as a musician in an environment that is built around mind altering substances?
Josh Query: “I'm trying to remember the first time I stepped foot [in a bar after giving up heavy drinking]... I think it was after a rehearsal that was very close to downtown Greencastle. I just kind of wanted to go out. I'd been playing music for a couple of hours, and was like, ‘Yeah, I just kind of want to go out and be around some people and mingle.’ I think I had gone into Moore's Bar and saw a bunch of people I knew and used to see all the time. I drank water, hung out, and (surprisingly) was absolutely fine. I had absolutely no desire to drink. It wasn't like, ‘Oh damn, I wish I was still hammered right now.’”
Query: “So it became very easy for me. Then it became a thing where almost every week after rehearsal I would kind of venture out and just see people and hang out. At that point, I was also trying to spread the word that I was playing in a new musical project. I had been pretty absent from the music scene after parting ways with War Radio. So it was kind of like me saying, ‘Hey, you know, I'm back. Going to play some music.’”
Almost a decade ago, Query worked the frets as one of War Radio’s founding members. What had begun as a church-related gig among close friends quickly grew into a one of the formative bands shaping the modern music scene—certainly in Greencastle and arguably around the rest of Western Indiana as well. In short order, as Query candidly admits, his drinking hijacked the band’s progress, and he found himself on the musical curb. His departure may have lacked the tabloid glitz that comes with national-level breakups, but it lacked none of the emotion. Even today (as, again, Query openly admits), he treads gingerly when he chats with his former bandmates. Eventually, when he reestablished his stage presence, he first reemerged alongside Brandon Murphy, playing lead strings for Everlyse. Now he splits time between his gigs with Murphy and Green.
Query: “Colby had seen some live videos that I had posted on Facebook…just noodling and improvising and stuff. I think what kind of drew him to me is the fact that I was able to improvise and just go with the flow. Even now when we’re on stage, I don't know what key he's in. I don't know what song is next. He just kind of looks at me.”
Colby Green: “Yeah, we put him through hell.”
Query: “That's one of the aspects that I love about playing with Colby. It's challenging. It's fun. Then also, I absolutely love his voice. He’s been [heavily] influenced by a lot of gospel and religious music. Those people are playing and singing with such an intensity for something that they are so passionate about. That's one of the things that makes some of my favorite artists, my favorite artists: I can feel in a sense and identify with the intensity that they are playing and writing with. Colby brings that to the table with every song that I've ever heard him do.”
Query: “Your vocals are like sonic sex, bro. They're ground and gritty, but at the same time sweet and soulful.”
There's a place in Ocala, Florida called Yeehaw Junction, and I swear I've broken down there three different times in the same place. It's like one little tiny gas station. Yeah, Yeehaw Junction. It's the worst memory I have.
Photo by Donovan Wheeler
Green waves dismissively, grinning as he tells Query to “shut up,” half-cupping, half-hiding his bald head behind his enormous hands. Were he more given to scowls and deep-voiced grumbles, Green could easily intimidate everyone out of the room. His tall frame, squared shoulders, gleaming dome, dark eyes, and on-pointe beard (squared-off exactly where the hairline should start) exudes a sort of supervillain mystique—not the goofy, likable Marvel villains mind you… Green’s look jives more with those DC types…the really dark and brooding bastards.
Except that Green is neither dark nor brooding. He was a likable kid in high school. Easy to get along with. Not especially sure what he wanted to do. Eventually, as it always does for each of us, those curiosities which piqued his interest fomented into something more substantial.
Colby Green: “The first time I wanted to play guitar was because of a Disney movie called Zenon 2000, and at the end of the film when that band played…I thought it was so cool. But I would be so angry whenever I tried to play it. I didn't understand why my guitar didn't sound good.”
Wheeler: “I would think that someone on the musical edge would be more of a Nickelodeon person.
Green: “Yeah, [Nickelodeon] wasn't my jam. Weird. But that movie got me into it. Then another film, O Brother Where Art Thou…? That soundtrack probably changed my life. Ever since then I've been super into gospel-esque music--spiritual and super folky.”
Wheeler: As opposed to where do you think you would have ended up had it not been an influence?
Green: “I probably would have ended up playing just Guns N Roses.”
Green: “Yeah. Which is all I did in high school. It was interesting. Strictly Guns N Roses, and I wanted to play just like Slash.”
Wheeler: “So what is it about the folk sound which now appeals to you more than your life experience with metal?
Green: “I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. I went to Mount Zion here in Greencastle when I was a kid, and they hands down had the best gospel music I ever heard in my life up to that point. Since then I was hooked.”
Video Production by Brandon Pershing
Wheeler: So are you drawn to this style by the feel of the genre, something emotional, or is it something more technical?
Green: “Emotional, I would say. It’s a passion much different than jazz or rock and roll. It's a different kind of passion, especially when you bring religion into it. That's when it gets intense. I like the pattern of that music.”
Wheeler: When you think of yourself as a songwriter and creator on one hand, and a performer on the other…which of those roles comes more naturally to you?
Green: “I would say songwriting is probably my number one role. I don't really enjoy writing songs. It's actually an awkward experience, but it's also like therapy—venting and getting all that’s inside me out. Then on the other hand, performing is so completely different…like a second form of therapy. Other people would go and vent to a friend, but I'd much rather go and scream my head off for three hours into a mic.”
Wheeler: When you say that you “don’t enjoy” writing songs, what does that mean?
Green: “If I write a song, I’m talking about whatever is going on or whatever is heavy in my life. This means that you have to revisit either your worst memories or a really bad time. Generally, most songs I write aren't about happy things. So the challenge is revisiting all of that hard stuff in order to write about it. Once you do, then it's out. It's like the greatest therapy known to man.”
Wheeler: So when it's out, and you've got it, is there a melody laying around that you attach it to, or do you work a melody into it?
Green: “It depends, meaning it's about half and half. I'll either have a melody in my head that's more just like humming and I'll write to it. For most songs I write the lyrics way before. I have tons of journals just filled up with lyrics. Eventually something will kind of pop in my head, or a melody will strike me.”
Wheeler: Like a lot of local and regional musicians, you have to balance your original work with cover tunes. How do you feel about that when it comes to striking that balance?
Green: “I would say that about 30% of the covers I do, I really enjoy playing. Then there's a good 70% that I'll play it for tips or to keep people there. If I play just original music all night…? No. People could most likely start leaving. So you know, I'm not opposed to whipping out the old ‘Wagon Wheel’ for tips. I’m mostly selling out to have a better show.”
Wheeler: Like your bandmate, you have been moving away from substance abuse as well.
Green: “Yeah, an interesting story. I moved back to Indianapolis from Evansville after one of my first bands parted ways and kind of just went into a dark place for a while. One day I ended up smoking three trees with a truck on West Walnut Road [near Greencastle]. It was a mess. Luckily I was okay. No one else was hurt or anything. That's what kind of reset everything. It made me the most productive I've ever been in my life. So now I am constantly doing stuff, and I love being busy now.”
I remember going to lessons once a week for probably two, three months. One time I called him to let him know I was going to be running late. My stepmom was driving me around at that time. So I was like 15. I don't know. I didn't have a car. He was like, "Dude, I'm not going to lie man, I'm not going to waste your time." He's like, "I've pretty much taught you everything you know, like I don't know what else to do for you, man." So I was kind of like, "Cool." I didn't realize the gravity in that until some years later.
Photo by Donovan Wheeler
Wheeler: And has Josh’s journey played a part in your own recovery?
Green: “Yes, he helped me out, because it's kind of miserable to play a show and not drink. I did it for so many years. I'd almost forgot what it was like playing not drinking. Apparently I sound a little bit better. During the first few shows that we played together, we made an unspoken pact. It was like, well, since he's not drinking, I feel a little bit better not doing it. Let's down a bunch of Red Bulls or something.”
Query: “I've said a lot of ‘I'm sorry’s’…and not just as going through the motions kind of thing, but I actually had a change of heart and a change of mind, so to speak. [Keep in mind that] I drank so much for so long that my brain had become rewired essentially. I had a different personality, had terrible anxiety and depression, crippling at times. And when I got sober, those things started resetting themselves. I actually went to therapy and counseling in my own right just to deal with all these things. Once I became a healthy person physically from not drinking and mentally, then I was able to see things from a different perspective and see that my way of thinking in the past had caused harm to myself and others including my family.
Green: “When I quit drinking, I started having memories, crazy vivid ones from my childhood which I'd completely forgotten. It's been an absolute lifestyle change.
Wheeler: You sound like you’re saying it’s a little different for you, however.
Green: “Yes. It’s surprisingly easy for Josh to play in bars and stuff. With me, it just takes sheer, brutal will power. It's quite interesting, because most of my music is inspired by whiskey. Half my songs have whiskey in them.”
Wheeler: Where are the best places to move away from some of those cover tunes and put your original work out there in front of crowds?
Green: “It all depends on the venue. The worse place to play originals is at a wedding, or at a wine bar…classy places like that. Wasser, here in town, seems to have a really good reaction to original music. I really like that supportive atmosphere, and I also know a lot of people that go there. I would say my best and favorite place to play originals would be just any dive bar with like a tavern feel. It's got to be super messy and a little bit dangerous.”
Wheeler: And what about your work in the Indy scene? Where do like to find yourself?
Green: “In Indy right now, Books and Brews is my jam. It's half brewery-half used bookstore. I host their open mic in Brownsburg on Thursdays…if I'm off work and stuff. I played at Zionsville location last week. And I'm playing in the Speedway again in November. That's probably my favorite, but my first gig in Brownsburg or in the Indy area by myself as my own band was probably B Square. That's like my favorite tavern known to man. It's a wonderful place.”
Video Production by Brandon Pershing
Wheeler: How do you feel about the current set up of your band, which you’re now calling The Colby Green Band? And where do you see this going in the future?
Green: “My favorite way to play with a band—when I feel like everything is on point perfect—is when it feels like I'm kind of conducting everything. Even though I give nobody signals, I've been with multiple bands, like some in Evansville, where my bandmates tell me, ‘I don't know what to do because you don't give anybody signals.’ But this group: Josh right here, David Kelley—my drummer and stepdad—and our bassist, Caleb Crowe... [Everything is working so well with them]. I swear it's like they can read my mind…or they just read the music really well.
Green: “I absolutely love playing shows with them. I have so much ambition with this group that it's like drowning me. I constantly have new ideas, but I also need people to kind of give me that nudge into getting things done. [One person] is Susan Thomas. She helps me with a lot of shows. She's awesome. She comes up with great leads and stuff. I'm to the point to where I would love to tour again. My biggest goal is probably to do some three day weekend tours. I'm looking at Asheville soon. I really want to go to Milwaukee and places I never played when I toured with my old bands.
Wheeler: You'd mentioned in the bar that when you got out of college you were touring. What is it about that experience that you liked that makes you want to go back and do it again?
Green: “Okay. So touring was awful most of the time. Touring is not fun generally. It's 90% hell, and the remaining 10% are the coolest memories you'll ever have. I also really like driving all the way to Key West…stuff like that…the exploration. It's a total adventure, and if your ride breaks down, you're screwed. It's an absolute adventure with no safety net.
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike the rest of us, Green and Query fight life’s contradictions as much as they do the actual struggles in front of them. In a world filled to the brim with risk, failure is not “likely,” it’s all but certain. The trick, and maybe this is something musicians understand better than the rest of us, is knowing where and when to play it safe, and where and when to put it all out there. For the likes of Green and Query, that six pack of brown bottles in the back of the grocery store might well say “Devastation” on the label. But a 20-year-old van with a sagging suspension and a weird knocking in the motor…? That thing is a product of “GoForIt” Motor Company. Naturally, they open the doors and climb aboard. It’s a wise risk. A noble one, too. Exactly the thing that any grounded musician would do in a heartbeat.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for other publications. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it. [/author]
A Greencastle native, Brandon Pershing is completing his journalism degree at IUPUI. An avid film buff, Pershing is also a comic book enthusiast. He and his wife, Lindsey, live in Greencastle.