Lab Partners - Interview:
Impact Weekly - Dayton, OH

Breathing life into music - Lab Partners release new album

By Leslie Benson
Impact Weekly Freelance Writer
22 Nov. 2002

Dayton's Lab Partners take the long road home with the release of their first full-length album, Daystar, on Big Beef Records. Their lofty, space-bound indie sounds reflect Coldplay and The Doves, while offering something special all of their own.

"I don't know what people call it now, but when you say space rock most kids know what you're talking about-a bit of sonic noise with up-front vocal melodies," said guitarist and vocalist Mike Smith. Joined by Mike Volk on guitar, Ian Kaplan on drums and Amy Smith on keyboards, the current line-up proves permanence though the band began as a
three-piece in 1998.

"(Our sound) reminds me a lot of The Verve or Spiritualized, but then again, it's eclectic enough to take on all sorts of identities," said Kaplan.

Their new album, Daystar, is complete with numerous 8-minute long songs featuring top-notch melodies with a mellow air of sophistication that clings to the ear like the warm dew of steam. With the majority of lyrics written by Mike Smith, the Lab Partners share songwriting duties.

"Usually someone will have a guitar, keyboard or sequencer part and we'll all just build up the song around that," said Amy Smith. As for the vocals, Mike Smith said that when they write a song at practice "whatever comes out of (his) mouth the first couple of times sticks, and (he) usually goes back to the recording of that practice and rearranges the words to make more sense. (. . .) If a song just doesn't happen in time it just slowly fades away."

Having worked closely with Andy Valeri of Dayton's Big Beef Records to record the album, the Lab Partners are following in the footsteps of other bands, including The Mulchmen, Cage, John Shough, Real Lu Lu, Ultra Vega, Morella's Forest and Pure Plastic Tree, who also recorded albums with him.

"It's great getting to work with him. He's been in the business since '78. I personally think that Andy is very under-exposed. For all the stuff he's been doing in the Dayton area he deserves more recognition," said Mike Smith. "Big Beef Records is great. The name is kind of comical since we're all pretty much vegetarians. People like to tease us about that."

The Lab Partner's previous albums include a self-titled EP released in 1998 and another EP, Turn it On, released in 2000. Daystar expands on their earlier musical tastes and expresses a deep respect for quality, not quantity, in songwriting. According to Mike Smith, crowd favorites include the songs "Magnify," "Sensations," "Daystar" and "Still Shine On."

"We currently have plenty of new songs," he said. "We like to test them out at our shows to see how they work in a live setting. Then as time goes on we can re-work them." Each song on the album was carefully crafted and exposes the beautiful sides of the musicians

"I'm still very influenced by the bands that were labeled as 'shoegazers,'" said Mike Smith. In his earlier days, he listened to bands such as the Verve and My Bloody Valentine. "I still hear those styles in today's music, like Radiohead or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or even Coldplay," he added. "I like that feeling and attitude those bands presented. I guess that was most evident in even earlier bands like Spacemen 3 or further back like the Velvet Underground."

For Mike Smith, his musical journey started when he got his first 4-track. "Playing guitar came naturally," he said. "My mother plays and writes folk music.... Singing developed over time and was very bad at first. Most of the bands I've been in I never sang in. I'm much
more comfortable with it today."

Volk's first love affair with music was initiated after "some trashmen gave (him) an old beat up guitar off the back of their truck when (he) was 8-years-old." "Dad made me an amp and I've been playing ever since," he said.

As for Kaplan, he's "been playing drums since (he) was a little kid, so (his) earliest memories were recording nonsense with (his) brother after (he) got (his) first drumset and getting into fistfights with him about how parts should go." "Mike and I have not yet had a fistfight, thankfully. I think he could end me," added Kaplan.

Amy Smith, on the other hand, studied music throughout her school years. "Only, now in the band I've got more gadgets and gizmos and less sheet music," she said.

According to the band, their favorite live show experience took place in St. Louis at Mississippi Nights when they performed with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Warlocks.

"The food was catered and free, and they gave Mike Volk and I a 12-pack of our choice. Amy got free mugs-yes, mugs-of gin and tonics. I think that night Mike Volk tried to sleep in the hotel closet," said Mike Smith.

The Lab Partner's love of "shoegazing" indie rock gives their music an edge that no neu-metal or modern punk band could touch. Sensitive, psychological, passionate and fleeting, the dreamlike wisps of sound on Daystar rolls like rippling waves on the ocean.

"I can't stand how much people love to promote and praise pop rock when all these great indie bands, who really shape culture and musical styles, go unrecognized," said Mike Smith. "I don't know how many times I've heard people question 'how does crap make it on the radio?.'"

His answer? "Money and politics." No worries here, though. The Lab Partners are the real deal. They have not compromised themselves for the sake of art; they have poured their memories and desires into their art-breathing life into it.

The Lab Partners will host their CD release party on Saturday, Nov. 30 at the Canal Street Tavern, 308 East First St. in Dayton. Also performing will be Paik from Detroit and The 8-Bit Revival. For more information, check out and