Electronic histrionics

Northwest Ohio's Stylex ink a deal with a Midwest indie label

by Steve Howell

Stylex is an electronic rock outfit that formed in Bowling Green, Ohio during the late 1990s. Originally, it consisted of Joel Roberts on vocoder/keyboard/guitar and Dustin Hostetler on vocals. Since the duo had no drummer, Roberts was also in charge of programming their trusty drum machine. It was roughly the beginning of 1999 when Brian Kantorski joined on bass guitar and Dan Horvath on drums. Kantorski had played in another band with Roberts prior to Stylex, called Jimmy Branson. After nearly a year passed, Horvath parted ways with the group. Stylex returned to their drum machine and released the EP Big Turbo in 2000. They added drummer Jeff Loose following the release, and this lineup has been in place since that time. Presently, the band has self-released the full-length CD Wonder Program on their own label. The CD has gained notice from the Grand Rapids, Mich. label Friction, which recently signed Stylex and is about to re-release Wonder Program.

Steve: Do you still consider the sound you're going for to be new wave hardcore?

Dustin: No.

Joel: It's the same sound, but a new name.

Dustin: That was a bad name to begin with.

Steve: What kind of direction are you guys going in right now? I was wondering if there was anything in store for the next couple of years?

Dustin: A couple of years? That's it! We have two years to go. Deadline. I don't think that anything's been planned out or even really discussed.

Jeff: I think it's just a stride for excellence.

Joel: That's absolutely true.

Steve: How has the sound changed since Jeff joined the group?

Dustin: It's gotten looser. It's gotten like The Kinks (one of Jeff's favorite groups).

Brian: Captain Beefheart (another of Jeff's favorites).

Dustin: It's true Jeff.

Joel: It's gotten louder.

Dustin: It has gotten louder.

Brian: I see it as more of a band, [rather] than as so much of...

Joel: Performance art piece?

Dustin: Yes.

Brian: Interpretive art.

Jeff: I was actually thinking today that... while I was thinking about God, I also thought about the time when I brought those CDs [from Stylex] when you guys were playing at Easystreet. I talked about those CDs and gave them to you.

Joel: Um hmmm.

Jeff: I remember when I gave those to you, I thought, "It would be really cool to record these guys" (Jeff is a producer on the side), and then I gave you those CDs. Then, before I knew it, people were saying, "You're in the band."

Joel: Yeah, [Jeff] likes that story a lot. He told this not long ago too, about how he never actually joined the band; we joined him.

Dustin: [Jeff] kind of offered.

Jeff: I think the first time it ever came up... I mean it wasn't like I was some drummer in a band before (Jeff had only played guitar prior to joining Stylex). So, then, at one point I was actually talking to these guys, and thought, "Man, you guys really need to get a drummer. That would be really cool." And then, it was like, "Hey, you want to jam sometime?" I was like, "Oh yeah, I'll get together and jam."

Dustin: Did we say we'd get together and jam?

Jo: No, we don't use that word. That certain person -- that will remain nameless -- said, "Jeff plays drums now. I'd bet he'd play with you guys." And, then, we got a hold of [Jeff], and [he] said, "Sure."

Brian: I found out when I was sitting in my apartment alone watching TV, because that's what I did for a year basically. And, then, not knowing at all that we were even thinking about getting a drummer, [Dustin, Joel and Jeff] showed up, and Dustin and Joel both said, "This is our new drummer, Jeff." I said, "Oh, great!"

Joel: I don't remember any of that.

Brian: You don't remember that at all?

Joel: No, but that was good though.

Dustin: You were sitting on the couch for so long that you hallucinated us showing up in the apartment.

Brian: Yes.

Dustin: I thought that you e-mailed something...

Jeff: At first... I mean initially, I was thinking, "Oh yeah, I like those guys. They're really cool and fun. I'd like to get to know them better." I was like, "Oh, it'd be really fun to get together and play music with them, just to see what happens." And, then, it was like I was getting e-mails like, "Wow, that's so great you're the new drummer." I'm like...

Joel: I was out of the state when this all happened.

Jeff: I was pretty fun and exciting, but at the same time...

Dustin: It was all so new and different.

Steve: That was 2000 [when Jeff joined], wasn't it?

Dustin: Yes, it's when his hair was just short above his ears.

Joel: It was January of 2000.

Steve: How did the Friction Records contract come about?

Joel: It came about that I went and saw one of my favorite bands, the Enon play in Grand Rapids [Mich.], and I was talking to John Schmerzel and tried to pawn of a CD on him to give to somebody important. He said, "You should give'em to these guys," and then he gave them to Friction. They were there at the show. It was a Friction show A seven-inch [record] release show for them. And then, they liked the CD, and they got in touch with us.

Dustin: No.

Joel: Go ahead.

Dustin: We never heard from them, and I, one day, was at [Joel's] house and e-mailed them from [his] house and said, "I know Joel gave you guys a CD, and I just wanted to see what you guys thought of the CD." And, we got like an instant response back, and [Friction] said, "Yeah, we like it. We'd like to put it out." Then, it took us five months to actually put it out, but...

Brian: April 13, I guess is the official [CD release date].

Dustin: There's an official date now? Where did you see [that]?

Joel: It's on the Web site.

Steve: What is their Web site?

Brian: Frictiongoods.com

Dustin: So, yeah, we didn't have any interaction with [Friction] other than e-mails until a week or two ago.

Steve: When did you write to them?

Joel: It was November.

Dustin: It was a month after the Enon show, and I was like, "Hey, didn't you give those guys a CD? Have they gotten back yet?" And, they hadn't, so I just e-mailed them. I think I'd just written the e-mail to say maybe we could record something in the future. [I] just wondered if they'd be interested in any sort of relationship. Since we hadn't done anything with that CD (Wonder Program), [Friction] thought, "Why not put it out?"

Steve: So, they're re-releasing Wonder Program then?

Dustin: It's Wonder Program, but...

Brian: Plus a song.

Joel: But better and souped up. Remastered, repackaged and an extra bonus track.

Steve: Where did you record that? Did you record it at the same site as you recorded Big Turbo?

Dustin: No.

Joel: No, we used Jeff's Fostex six-track, and we recorded at his house and some of the tracks at my apartment.

Steve: I was going to say, Wonder Program sounded clearer.

Joel: That's Jeff's mixing capabilities. He's like the engineer. I made the last one. I'm no good at it.

Steve: Who else is on [Friction]?

Dustin: Enon's the big one, but I think... We haven't actually met any of the other bands, but I know that they're all... I think bands that actually have dealings with these guys, like they're friends of theirs. We're only the seventh CD to be put out by them. It's a fledgling [label].

Steve: How long have they been around?

Brian: I think 1998.

Dustin: We should know these things.

Brian: It says on the Web site.

Dustin: I think they do more than just putting out... They've got CDs and seven inches.

Jeff: Well, this is the first full release [for the label] isn't it?

Dustin: But, at the same time that ours is coming out, another full-length is coming out.

Joel: [The name of the band is] Today I Wait.

Brian: They also put shows on. Not only do they put records out and seven inches, but they get bands to play shows.

Steve: Did you guys look at any other labels?

Dustin: Sure, we looked.

Joel: They weren't looking back though.

Dustin: We don't have any interaction with any label people at all.

Steve: Did you guys actually sign a physical contract?

Dustin: Yeah, we did.

Steve: Is [the deal] just a one album agreement?

Dustin: Yeah, they're putting out Wonder Program for us. That's the extent of it. They're interested in pushing Wonder Program as much as they can. So, I don't think there's even any thought as of yet to do anything else, but I'm sure if it sells well, they'll...

Joel: Ask us why we haven't recorded any more.

Steve: Are they leaving it up to you guys to do all of the remastering yourself?

Joel: No, it was our end of the contract to take care of the studio time and remastering costs, which ended up being none.

Dustin: They didn't ask [for the remastering]. The remastering thing was us wanting to do that. They said, "Let's put it out." We said, "Well, before you put it out, let's remaster it." So, we just gave them a remastered copy of it.

Steve: Are they distributed nationally, internationally?

Dustin: I think they work with a bunch of [distribution] companies. I know you can get that Enon seven inch pretty much anywhere, but not everywhere carries it. You have to order it. So, they're available, but they're just not big enough.

Steve: I wasn't sure if they dealt with retail chains or just smaller, independent stores.

Dustin: No. I don't think they deal with anything in particular. I think they're just available, so the store has to order it. The stores aren't just going to get copies with all of the other new releases. They're a small label.

Steve: Did you sign the contract on Saturday [March 9], or was it Sunday [March 10]?

Joel: We played Saturday, left Saturday, signed the contract Saturday.

Dustin: We had set up the contract via e-mail so that when we got there, we just traded contracts.

Steve: I was talking to Jeff or Brian about if you were driving up with a lawyer. I didn't know if you guys were bringing somebody.

Dustin: We were going to bring a lawyer!? There was absolutely no lawyer involved with this.

Joel: It would have been a good idea.

Dustin: It would have been a great idea to have lawyers involved.

Jeff: Have like five suits come in.

Steve: I just want to have a picture of you guys shaking hands with them.

Joel: I don't think a lawyer would have gotten in my van.

Steve: Did you guys have someone [look over the contract] before you left?

Dustin: My mom looked it over. No, actually she didn't. No one looked over it. There's not a lot of numbers involved. It's pretty straightforward.

Steve: Was there anything at all that surprised you about signing a contract for the first time?

Jeff: While this all came up, I was in the midst of a book that I was reading.

Dustin: That he shouldn't have been reading.

Jeff: Dustin's calling me and saying, "We're going to sign this thing in a couple of days," and I'm reading the book (at this point Jeff emulates a foreboding voice), and [it's] like, "Don't ever sign anything," and I'm like, "But [Dustin's] telling me to sign it."

Dustin: I was a little surprised about Jeff being as worried as he was.

Joel: Yeah, he was a real worry wart.

Dustin: And, maybe rightly so. Perhaps 20 years from now...

Jeff: Yeah, when we're old men, and we're like (imitates crotchety man voice) "Eh, goddamnit, we could've made a pretty penny on that record."

Steve: Is there a stated amount of time that you're with the label?

Dustin: Just for that record. They're just responsible for making Wonder Program available to people.

Steve: Are you guys thinking about getting a manager?

Dustin: No.

Joel: Dustin handles all of our booking, Web design and contract negotiations.

Dustin: I can't imagine what a manager would do for us. I mean, I don't know what managers do anyway.

Joel: Take 20 percent.

Dustin: Yeah, but we don't make any money. Granted, maybe a manager could get us more shows.

Brian: Maybe even just like a booking person.

Dustin: But, we already have that in [Taking On Explosives -- Northwest Ohio booking agency]. [They're] getting us some good shows. If [they] don't, we get other good shows. It's not like we've ever had a lack of shows if we wanted them.

Jeff: If Friction does OK and gets the record out in some way, then doors will open.

Dustin: I would think a band would need a manager if they're not doing very good, and they need someone to get them shows. So, I think a manager is almost -- not a last resort -- but it's a crutch you have to lean on.

Brian: Plus, they cost money.

Steve: I didn't know if you had to even think about dealing with that now.

Dustin: No. Well, actually, I think [Friction will] be really good to, kind of working as managers, getting us shows in their area. I know they'd be glad for us to come up and play with them. We're going to have the CD release thing [in April] with Shiner.

Jeff: Where's that at?

Dustin: Grand Rapids.

Jeff: At the Intersection?

Dustin: The place next door.

Steve: Where was the place you guys played (Stylex performed a show in Grand Rapids on March 9 as they were signing their contract)?

Dustin: Pop Cafe.

Joel: Which is right next door to Intersection.

Dustin: All ages.

Jeff: There's just teens and freestylin' R and B.

Dustin: Two little kids came in while they were setting up the mics and just started freestyling. It was weird.

Jeff: It was the best performance.

Dustin: No one ended up showing up (this was due to a blizzard in Grand Rapids that weekend). Other bands, the two guys [from the label] and there was maybe two or three other people from the town, but they may have actually been with the bands.

Steve: Had Friction seen you before?

Joel: They hadn't seen us before.

Steve: Who's doing the songwriting in Stylex now?

Joel: It's always been kind of me and Brian that do most of the initial writing, and we play it for Jeff. Then, we play it for Dustin.

Dustin: So, Joel and Brian write stuff, and then, Jeff kind of jams on top of it with his jammy self. Then, I hear the song when it's basically done.

Joel: He usually here's it the first time at a show.

Steve: So, Joel, how did you get into all this electronic stuff?

Joel: I bought some synthesizers, and one of them in particular I bought ended up breaking a lot. One time, I accidentally jumped on it, and then, I wanted to fix it. So, I was working at Wendy's and living kind of a rutful life, and I decided to get into electronics at Owens Community College and figured [I'd] make some money, while learning how to fix synthesizers. I kind of did, but it's still broken.

Jeff: Did you dad have you tickle the ivories?

Joel: Yeah, my dad's a trick organist. My whole childhood life, my parents tried to get me to take piano lessons, and I resisted until when I was in fourth grade. I saw an episode of Growing Pains where Mike Seever had to play the keyboard, and his parents said, "Hopefully, those years of piano lessons come in handy," and he played "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" with his dad's old band. I was inspired, and I went upstairs, and I said, "I'm ready."

Brian: My mom's a piano teacher.

Joel: And, Brian was in the American Boy Choir.

Steve: Brian, how did you get your start in music?

Brian: I grew up in a musical family. My dad played on a Bee Gees record.

Joel: He played on "Tragedy."

Jeff: That's [Brian's] dad on the bass guitar.

Steve: What is your dad's name?

Brian: Vincent.

Steve: How about you Dustin?

Jeff: When did he start playing music?

Joel: Dustin was in a band in high school called Wound, and they were very good.

Jeff: (to Dustin) What inspires you?

Dustin: I don't have an answer for that.

Jeff: I mean, what goes through your mind?

Brian: Do you come up with lyrics first or melody?

Dustin: Melody.

Steve: Now, you guys (Dustin and Joel) first started playing music together in Magi-12, right?

Joel: Dustin and I did, yeah. Actually, first we played in Dick Pants and Cancer, and Dustin fell through a floor.

Dustin: Was that in Dick Pants?

Joel: No, that was Cancer. We would do improvised rock at Easystreet [Cafe in Bowling Green], and then we played a show in Wayne, Ohio in a warehouse, and the trap door broke under Dustin, and he fell 15 feet onto his ass on a concrete floor.

Dustin: There must have been a thousand people at that show, because every time I go anywhere in Bowling Green at night, someone comes up and says, "Do you remember when you fell through that floor?"

Brian: There was so much hype about that show, like all of these crazy bands were going to be there. It was going to be a punk rock festival, and then afterwards, all I heard about was Dustin falling through the [floor].

Dustin: I almost died.

Steve: Did you go to the hospital?

Dustin: Oh no, because we were out in the middle of nowhere, and there would've been insurance problems.

Steve: How did you fall through the floor?

Joel: [Dustin] was standing on the trap door.

Dustin: It was a trap door that had been nailed shut, enough times that [the property owners] thought it would never open again, and Jason [Klever, another member of the band] said, "Can you grab that microphone?," and I walked forward and the floor just went "Whoosh!" I went straight down 15 feet and smacked down on the concrete below. Then, I looked up, and there were people looking down the hole.

Steve: Did you get hurt?

Dustin: Oh my God, I couldn't walk for days. I was in terrible, terrible, terrible shape.

Steve: When was that?

Dustin: Probably '98.

Joel: Shortly after that was Magi-12. That was from like '98 to 2000.

Steve: So, Jeff, how about your musical career?

Jeff: When I was 11 years old, Christmas Day, I go downstairs, and we opened a lot of presents. The best thing I got [were] my video games, and the rest was like pants and striped shirts. I'm just like, "Oh, it's a bummer of a Christmas." I was like, "I'm going to go pout in the den and play these video games." So, I walk into the den. There's a big Music Man amplifier and a guitar with a bow on it, and I was like, "Wow, that's a great gift!" It was then like the greatest Christmas ever.

Stylex performs in Bowling Green, Ohio at Easystreet Cafe (104 S. Main St.) for their Wonder Program CD release party on April 13. The band also plays on April 20 at Mickey Finn's Pub, 602 Lagrange St., in Toledo for a Devo tribute show.

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