unholy three: (l-r) Roediger, Webber, Smith..
Photo by John Whipple.
Your Freak Flag Fly
trio Bible Study like their music bent—and so do their growing
legion of admirers
Study aren’t like other bands.
They look different. In one of his three-piece suits or beaver
hats, guitarist Alex Roediger suggests an eccentric entomologist
or professorial serial killer. Keyboardist Carrie Webber often
glams up in a sparkly party dress, and then alters the effect
with a bizarre accessory—like the odd quill—that calls into
question the whole notion of glamour. Next to the other two,
drummer Steve Smith can seem too normal; you may find
yourself looking for some hidden weirdness beneath his clean-cut
They sound different. While what they write and play is recognizably
pop music, it isn’t like anything anyone else is doing. If
the melody’s sweet, the lyrics are strange; if the music is
strange, there may be no lyrics at all. Part of it is attitude,
and part of it is a kind of artistic sincerity. (More about
that later.) Their songs aren’t just weird for weirdness’
sake: There’s a method behind their collective madness. Local
music aficionados are beginning to take notice, even if they
can’t quite pin down what they’re hearing and seeing.
Asked about the difficulty people have in describing what
they do, the band members laugh. “There’s a growing list of
bands people compare us to,” explains Webber. Roediger adds,
“When we put up our Web site, we’ll post the list—and invite
people to add to it.”
You don’t have to wait for the Web site. According to Smith,
people have come up to the group after gigs and said that
they sound like: They Might Be Giants, Frank Zappa, Joy Division,
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Tori Amos, Belly, Dream Syndicate,
Captain Beefheart, Helium, Lone Justice and/or Maria McKee,
the Melvins, Portishead, Flash to Bang Time—“Flash to Bang
Time?” Smith laughs out loud—Talking Heads, the Modettes,
and the Drongos.
See what I mean?
The genesis of the band dates back to 1995, when Smith and
Roediger were in high school in the Burnt Hills-Balston Lake
school district. “Alex had been playing guitar for months,
and had a really small practice amp and a 17- or 20-key Casio
keyboard,” remembers Smith.
Smith, who didn’t play any instrument at the time—though now
he’s also bassist for the 1234’s—started fooling with the
guitar. Roediger plunked out a melodic fragment on the Casio.
Smith says, “Before I could recognize anything, he said ‘Great!
We need lyrics.’ The bookshelf’s right behind me—I’m sitting
on the floor trying to figure out what the strings are for,
Alex reaches over me and grabs blindly on the shelf. He pulls
out the Bible and cracks it open and starts reading: ‘. .
. and then Job said to Sarah. . . .’ I said great, what’s
the name of the band? He said ‘Bible Study.’ We laughed heartily,
and now we’re stuck with it.”
The two experimented for a few years, making tapes for their
own edification and developing their unique creative process.
To them, any sound—“even a fart,” notes Roediger—can be the
starting point for a song. A fragment of melody, a bit of
noise, a note from a Ted Nugent song, an accidental note on
the guitar . . . it’s all fair game.
When Roediger went off to art school in Brooklyn, he met Webber—who,
ironically, turned out to hail from Clifton Park. Webber was
very impressed with the Bible Study experiments. When the
duo returned to the area, Bible Study became a trio. They
continued to write and record music, but did not even consider
as Roediger says, “about a year ago we wondered, what if we
really learned to play our instruments? What if we made this
inside joke a bigger inside joke? We decided to become a real
set out to fool the world, or at least Albany,” says Smith.
“The joke’s on me, though. I didn’t think it would work. I
didn’t think people would want to get the joke. I guess
I underestimated the effect of They Might Be Giants and Frank
Zappa on the American consciousness.”
a saying that the expert is very narrow-minded, while the
beginner is very open-minded,” explains Roediger. “The idea
is to have the most creative songs imaginable, so it’s really
important for us to mix it up, change, keep challenging ourselves.”
This is what Bible Study strive to do. They still take the
same idiosyncratic approach to songwriting, even though their
finished songs are now more accessible than their earlier,
more purely experimental efforts. They also do something that
everyone who has seen them immediately comments on—they switch
instruments every few songs, with each member taking at least
one turn on every instrument. They even have a name for the
maneuver: the Bible Study Shuffle.
not something you see every day,” Smith acknowledges. “People
have said, ‘Well, why don’t you get a bass player or a drummer?’”
he adds, wondering, “Who the hell could stand us?”
Roediger explains that adding another person would alter the
essential creative dynamic of the band: “Steve and Carrie
are genuinely weird. They don’t try to be, they just simply
are genuinely creative. You can’t teach that.”
Asked if serious musicians are offended by their do-it-yourself,
teach-yourself approach to playing music, Smith laughs: “I
people who are good musicians,” Smith explains, “are the ones
that really like us.” Remembering a recent gig opening for
Mary Prankster at Valentine’s, Smith notes that “the drummer
for Mary Prankster (Terry Klawth, ex-Jodie Foster’s Army)
teaches tabla classes and advanced drumming. In the middle
of the show, he said, ‘You guys are awesome.’ In the middle
of a song, he gave me a small tambourine thing to put on the
high-hat, and said, ‘This is great.’ Afterwards, he said,
‘You remind me of Captain Beefheart’s drummer.’ ”
next day we heard him interviewed on RPI [WRPI-FM],” says
Webber, adding, “He said he really liked the drumming.” Laughing,
Smith provides the punchline: “The DJ said, ‘I saw those guys.
They suck!’ ”
What’s next for Bible Study? New product. And they have a
CD-release party scheduled for Jan. 4 at the Larkin in Albany.
What are their ultimate goals?
said I’d quit when we get compared to AC/DC,” Smith says,
tongue firmly in cheek. “I’ll quit when we get the cover of
Metroland,” says Roediger. I think he was kidding.