Hours before he took the stage with his band, Ian Anderson sounded uncharacteristically cautious.
“I’m gonna try to keep this a little more family-oriented,” he said, stroking his beard. “This might be the first show where I keep my clothes on.”
Anderson, DJ Logan Jaynes, and guitarist Chase Risinger play together under the willfully ungrammatical name These Stains Is Us. On the evening of April 15th, the three were preparing to qualify as a “wildcard” for VEISHEA’s Battle of the Bands competition. As they freely told the Progressive, they didn’t expect to be in this position.
“I didn’t really think they’d let us in,” Anderson said.
“Someone had to pull a couple strings,” Risinger suggested.
These Stains began spreading their own mutant strain of dance-pop across Central Iowa over a year ago, in early May of 2008. Their first gig was in Ames’s Bali Satay House. It was, to say the least, an inauspicious debut. The band – then billed as the Baseball Furies – had only written three songs at that point, but was unable to get through them all before the sound went out. Risinger, who was in the audience that night but hadn’t yet joined, describes the show as a “huge failure.”
Undeterred by these early difficulties, Jaynes and Anderson recruited Risinger and continued to play local venues, such as Des Moines’s Vaudeville Mews and Elephungeon in Boone. Over time, their stage show evolved to include multiple costume changes, audience participation, and occasional nudity. However, on the night of the qualifier, it looked unlikely that the latter element would be included.
“Fifteen minutes is really fast to take all my clothes off. I like to take things slow – with shows and with girls,” Anderson joked.
When These Stains finally played the Maintenance Shop, their stage attire evoked glam-rock and Lamb Chop in equal measure. Anderson wore a full-body white bunny suit. Risinger stood beside him in giraffe-print pants, mirrored sunglasses and a glitter-dusted jacket. Jaynes had on a jacket piped with green-and-orange electroluminescent wire.
After the band set up and the lights were dimmed, Anderson spoke his first words to the audience. “We’re These Stains Is Us. We used to play songs for kids, but the Wiggles stole our market. Now we play songs about popular culture.”
In the ensuing quarter of an hour, the trio lived up to Anderson’s description, playing songs about the 2007 Nicholas Cage film Wicker Man (“Cage the Masochist”), Heath Ledger (“A Dark Knight’s Tale”), and an imaginary showdown between the Power Rangers and a retired member of the Voltron Force (“Loved by Everything Good”). As he sang, Anderson would often jump into the audience, dancing with and embracing members of the crowd.
Jaynes’s equipment was perched on an ironing board, which had a glowing red sign reading “PARTY” hanging from the front. While playing pre-recorded beats from a sampler, he twisted the knobs on an oscillator, producing ghostly tweets and buzzes. He also controlled several colored lights that pulsed on and off in an irregular, stuttering cadence. During a song called “Cake” he donned a torso-sized milk carton with the words “Got Milk” on the front and joined Anderson in singing.
Risinger was less hyperactive, lightly strumming his sunburst-hued Fender Stratocaster with a grin on his face. Only occasionally did he stroll offstage.
By the end of the set, Anderson seemed to have lost his earlier reticence about stripping. As the last notes of the final song faded, the bunny suit lay abandoned on the floor. He stood onstage in boxers and an undershirt, visibly sweating.
He may hold nothing back onstage, but in interviews Anderson can be elusive. In a recent conversation with the Iowa State Daily, he fabricated an elaborate mythological backstory for his band, telling a reporter that he and his bandmates were brought together by “ancient Native American spirits.”
“We were each given a spirit animal,” Anderson explained. “I know a bear taught Logan to play the synthesizer. A bunny taught me my gentle nature and love of sex. A lion mauled [Chase], and he expresses the anger of that mauling in his guitar playing.”
The truth is slightly more mundane. Jaynes and Anderson met during a film class they took freshman year at Iowa State University. Jaynes happened to be living with Risinger and he invited the guitarist to play with him and Anderson.
Soon after Risinger joined, the band had a conference to decide on a new name. They had just discovered that another band was using The Baseball Furies. The early favorite to replace the old name was The Boyfriend Channel, but that changed when Anderson began to sabotage the meeting.
“I was a dick,” Anderson recalled. “I remember Chase saying, ‘These Stains Are Us,’ and I just yelled, ‘Is!’ and that kind of stuck . . . I don’t think any of us voted for it.”
The division of labor in the band is less convoluted than its name-selection process. Jaynes writes virtually all the music and Anderson writes all the lyrics. Risinger adds guitar. All three are extremely wary of lapsing into pop clichés.
“We’re trying to get away from traditional-type music,” Jaynes said.
Their distain for convention informs almost every aesthetic decision the band makes, from their decision not to seek a bass player to the lyrical content of their songs. Anderson’s lyrics, for example, are generally half-spoken, half-sung pastiches of pop-culture references. He claims to prefer to these references to more personal subject matter.
“People can hear about love from every other band in existence,” he said.
“Plus, more people can relate to Heath Ledger than songs about love and stuff,” Jaynes added with a smirk.
Jaynes says his compositions owe a debt of influence to “dramatic synth-pop bands” such as Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head and Gil Mantera’s Party Dream. Anderson is inspired by Nebraska solo artist The Show Is the Rainbow (for whom These Stains once opened). Risinger is “tickled” by David Bowie albums like Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory.
These Stains’s topical lyrics and electro-infused instrumentals were warmly received by the Maintenance Shop audience, but left the judges unimpressed. At the end of the night, the band did not advance to VEISHEA’s actual Battle of the Bands competition. To be fair though, getting out of the qualifying round was never one of their priorities. Hours earlier, when asked about his band’s prospects of “winning” the wildcard competition, Anderson paused and repeated the word with a rising inflection, as though the concept it expressed were foreign to him.
“I think we’re going to give everyone a good time,” Risinger cut in diplomatically.
“Yeah,” Anderson agreed. “If anyone says we’re boring, we’ve failed.”