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Columbia, Missouri Scene Report with Will Tuckley

Pure Filth. Photo by Fiona Murphy.
I’ve never been much of a traveler myself. From my obsessive and delusional attitude about never missing a local show I want to see, to my goal of never living anywhere permanently besides Kansas City (also delusional), I’ve only visited a dozen or two states and have never left America. I was hoping to change that last year until COVID threw us all a few roadblocks, so I figured a fun part of the magazine could be exploring other cities’ scenes through interviews and trying to get to the heart of what makes those scenes special.

This first scene report focuses on Columbia, Missouri’s punk and hardcore scene, as described by the prolific young rocker Will Tuckley. Tuckley currently plays/has played in nearly every punk band the college town has seen over the past five years including Rifle Cult, Slüsk, and Octogenarians (among others), and even Kansas City’s Nitecrawlers. One of Tuckley’s bands, Pure Filth, recently came to a premature end with the tragic death of their vocalist Cole Epple. In addition to talking about Columbia punk’s recent history, Tuckley and I also discussed how Pure Filth came to be and Epple’s evolving vocal style.

What do you think makes Columbia's scene different from Kansas City or St. Louis? What makes its personality unique?
It's weird because in Kansas City, I noticed in the past, the transitional period from like 2014 to 2016, it went from fast bands to more like mid-tempo slammy bands. I don't think that ever rubbed off on Columbia. It was like Columbia bands -- I think since it's a smaller town, people in bands in Columbia want to do something different than the other bands. So there's a lot of bands that are more inspired by metal. And you don't really see post-punk that much. But whenever there is a new band that isn't necessarily like a hardcore punk band, they take influences from those kinds of genres. I don't know. It's weird. Columbia is a weird middle spot in between the St. Louis sound and the Kansas City sound, which kind of makes it interesting.

Do people act much different at the shows there than they do in KC?
Yeah, absolutely. Columbia, this has always kind of been a thing, there's been a very real scene divide for a long time, which is younger kids coming in who want to get into it, and then there’s the older punk people, or whatever you want to call them. And it's always been a little bit of a struggle, but I think there's a general understanding that we're all here for the same thing. Kansas City shows and St. Louis shows, from what I noticed, have kind of always been a little bit clique-y, too, but it's just a very strange scene divide here.

And I would guess that the younger kids might be more rowdy at the shows, but I guess that's a pretty normal thing.
It's just like the young kids come to any DIY shows being booked and there's no real general understanding that you probably shouldn't wreck the venue. But they come in and it's just like, “We're gonna wreck the entire fucking place within the first band.” Like, if you see a show in Columbia, your venue will get fucked within an hour. Like, I have seen fresh walls get smashed in within 20 seconds because of these stupid kids that come from their their high school football game and then they're like, “Okay, it’s a punk show, I can wreck the place.” It's always been a problem in that sense. And that's why they're like, “Oh, fuck these kids kind of.” It's interesting to see it happen.

It’s funny, because I’m definitely part of the younger generation here, but since I’ve been going to shows for a decade now and booking them for a couple years, I’m kind of playing the part of trying to get the two generations to not hate each other and I feel like you’re in a similar boat.

Absame page and for everybody to have fun. So for so long, I was like, “Hey, these kids aren't so bad.” And, “Hey, these older punks aren't that bad. We gotta not want to rip each other's throats out.” And it's been an uncomfortable position for me for a couple of years now. But also, I just realized I don't need to be the fucking person that people look to, to decide what happens and I'm like, “You do your own thing.” Like, it's not my job.

I've noticed that PDM has been a venue for a fairly long time, at least in DIY years. Tell me about PDM and why that’s a go-to spot.
PDM was a spot that opened in 2014. It was initially supposed to be a practice space, but it was then a place that we had shows. The first PDM show was supposed to be Dirty Work, Ski Mask, and some others, but Dirty Work didn't show up, so it was an all locals bill. But it came to be ‘cause the old DIY space, which was at this place called Fay Street, they got raided by the police. So it was like, “Alright, we have to move to a different spot.” And the reason it's lasted so long is because it's in a district in Columbia where it's nowhere near any housing. It's in a warehouse district and the police and law enforcement know what it is, but for some reason, that still hasn't become an issue. Like, you see cops drive by at least if you have a long string of shows, like if you had 10 shows, they’re going to show up three times, but they never do anything. And I don't understand how we've been able to let that keep going for so long, but it's a really good spot. It’s big and everybody's accepted there and I think it's really cool.

Bands still practice there and stuff and it's quite cheap to practice there. So it's kind of just like the the only place in Colombia where you can actually do whatever the fuck you want without any consequences. So I think that's like the draw of it, especially for the kids I was talking about. They go to this place like, “Oh, we can destroy whatever we want,” because it's really just a lawless place. But yeah, that's like the only DIY spot now in Columbia, because for a second there we had three, but the other two closed down.

One of those others was Gay House?
Yeah, we had some friends that lived at Gay House and my friend Jordy played drums in my old band. She would book shows there and the current guitar player in Rifle Cult, George, he also lived there. So it was a constant kind of an artist's work space and then also we would have parties and shows there. It was a really, really good environment because I think the idea of PDM is kind of intimidating to people, like this just very dark, dirty place. But then you have this alternative place, which is like, respectable in a sense and it's openly very accepting to queer youth and everything on that sort of end of things. But that was a really good spot.

It's Me Ross at The Blind Tiger, 2017. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.


The people booking shows just moved out of there?
Yeah, Jordy and George moved out and there's only one person there now that would still book shows, but it just hasn't really been a conversation topic yet.

What are a few of your favorite active Columbia bands right now?
It’s Me Ross is like indie rock more or less. I don't know, that band went, from what I noticed seeing them live, from being like a garage punk band to doing borderline pop music. And in regards to the Columbia music scene, they were the best band to see live. They always pulled a really big crowd. And I don't know if they are still a project or a full band. It might just be Ross at this point, but I could be wrong. I don't really communicate with anybody in that band that much except for the drummer.

And then Anthony Wilkerson. Just really old school country music. I've only seen him play a few times and he's a great musician. He used to play in this band called Cecil, which was an indie rock band that was around in like 2019. A couple of times it would be like Rifle Cult then Cecil and It’s Me Ross or somewhere along those lines. Just because the amount of bands in Columbia has always been a very small circle of people. But yeah, Anthony's music is really cool.

Then Cowgirl Jordy. More country music -- punk rockers doing country.

Every time I see Trivia Night play, it's always something different, but it's this one guy named Mark who makes noise music, but he uses vinyl records in his compositions and he runs it all through pedals and tape delays and uses knives to carve into the records and it sounds fucking hellish. And every time I see him play, by the end of it, his hands are bleeding and it's just a very real and raw thing to see. That's why I like it, because it's so fucking abrasive. The amount of people you see at shows, they go to see the bands, then Trivia Night plays and they're like, “Shit,” but I think that's awesome. Like, the guy's just obviously trying to agitate people. I'm like, “All right, that's real.”

Cowgirl Jordy at Revolution Records, 2019. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.


What are the bands and projects you’re currently in?
I'm currently playing in Rifle Cult still. I play drums in a band called Raven Lich, which is a black metal band. I have my solo project Coping Saw and then a bunch of other noise bands that I'm in. That's pretty much it right now.

What would you say is the most rewarding music project you’ve worked on so far?
Honestly, the most rewarding thing was this week with Pure Filth, ‘cause that was a band that we were really, really, really stoked on. And judging by the circumstances that went down, for a second there, we kind of felt hopeless in a sense, but we realized that we had all these recordings. So we were still able to put them all out. And seeing the amount of support that those recordings got over the span of two days was like the most rewarding thing in the world, even though it wasn't like we were the ones that are getting it because we were gonna give it to our singer’s family. It was just really, really cool to see how many people were there to support it. And I hadn't really had that feeling before of like, “Oh wow, people actually fuck with my shit.” So that was pretty cool.

Oh, yeah. And again, my condolences. That’s a rough thing to go through.

Yeah, it stinks. It's pretty unfortunate, but shit happens. It’s tough. But thank you, though.

It’s okay if you’re not comfortable talking about, but if you wanted to, I would want to hear about how you met Cole and what made him fun to make music with.
Yeah, pretty much I met Cole through mutual friends. I think the first time we ever talked, we were at a show at Cafe Berlin and he was wearing a Pillsbury Hardcore shirt and me and the guitar player of It's Me Ross were like, “Who's this fucking guy?” We got to talking and then hung out like one time and just hit it off immediately. He was a really, really good guy and he knew a lot about hardcore and shit, but we never saw him at shows. It was the first time I ever saw him. And so we were hanging out a lot like around October of 2019 and that's whenever we were hanging out like four times a week, and I'm pretty sure we were just sitting around one night and we were watching Bad Brains - Live At CBGB and he's like, “Oh, man, I wanna front a band. I'm like, “Oh, shit. All right.”

So I talked to the bass player and the drummer and I'm like, “Yo, let's do something with this dude.” And he was super, super, super fucking nervous because he hadn't done anything in regards to music before. And as time went on, he got more and more comfortable with singing and we shared the exact same influences. So it was a really good partnership, making music together. So we were practicing for a good year. We did two live videos and recorded once, but the studio recordings that we did, he didn't do vocals on. So we have them, but it's all instrumentals. But we still had this clip of this live tape we did, which is why whenever you listen to the new Pure Filth album, it's like whenever you can hear his vocals drown out and you can hear clanks and stuff, it's because he was rolling around on the floor and shit. Because we didn't assume we were gonna put that out ever, it was more for a live video.

Yeah, that band was honestly one of the most fun bands that I'd ever played in. And because I never really got into playing guitar ever. It was just kind of one of those things I was afraid of, like, “Oh, that's the shit that the people hear the most. I'm not that great.” But being in that made me feel way more comfortable with myself and experimenting musically.

How would you describe Cole’s vocal style?
Confused [laughs]. I know that he fucked with Void and he wanted to do Void vocals. But he also was really into bands like The Flex and Hoax and shit. And so it was like he was trying to combine the two. And I think by the end, you listen to the recording we put out, that was like really early in his vocal transformation I'd say, because whenever you listen to it, it's borderline Minor Threat. Like, super direct, more shouty than screamy, but in the later live videos, you listen to it and I mean, he just sounds like the fucking Void singer more or less.

So I mean, his style was dramatically changing. Like almost every week it was something different, which was cool because we never really knew what the hell we were gonna sound like in the end. But yeah, it was fun to see it happen because you can tell more and more when he was getting more comfortable being a frontperson and the nervousness was disappearing. And by the time like, fucking three weeks ago, we were sounding really good, and this was all for in preparation of a show in June. So it's crazy to think what it could have been. But I'm also really happy with what it was.

Pure Filth’s album, The World Is Dying, is available now on Bandcamp and digital streaming platforms.

[This article first appeared in Issue 1 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to read more about the issue and find your copy.] 

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