Old-School Sound

Move over, boy bands—dad bands are the hip new thing.

by Will Lingo | photography by Gus Samarco

The Connells

     Remember when rock ‘n roll was about not getting old? Now you can’t go to a neighborhood bar in Raleigh without finding a band of middle-aged dudes.
    To be fair, an overwhelming number of bands feature middle-aged dudes, whether it’s a cover band playing at a school fundraiser or the Rolling Stones. (Actually, the Rolling Stones don’t even qualify as middle-aged anymore, but you get the idea.)
     But we aren’t talking about pros. We’re talking about your neighbor, the accountant, who also plays in a rock band. The guys with day jobs who play for the love of music.
     We’re talking about dad bands.
     Dad bands are like art: You may not be able to come up with a precise definition, but you know them when you see them. And if you live in Raleigh, you certainly see them. The ones you know probably depend on precisely where you live. The Nasty Habits, The Geb, Balsa Gliders, Eric’s Attic, Jump Mountain, Low Brow are just a few.
     And whether they consider “dad bands” a pejorative term or not depends on how seriously they take their music. “Dad band is a fine term if you’re just playing around, but not as great if you’re trying to do something more,” says Rhett Moody of Jump Mountain, which was part of the local music flavor at the N.C. State Fair this fall. “I think we would consider it self-deprecating. Now, if you’d have heard us called a boy band…”
     Some bands not only don’t mind the label or associated aesthetic (normcore comes to mind)—they embrace it. Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament called his group the “ultimate dad band.” The Instagram handle for Kevin Cox, front man for The Geb, is @dadrock_nc. Don Moody’s “main” band is called Midlife Crisis. They own it.
     “We like to say that we play the soundtrack of your life,” Don Moody says. You may have seen Midlife Crisis without even realizing it, whether at North Hills’ Midtown Amphitheatre or at a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser. In fact, they don’t really play in bars anymore, preferring to stick to charity or corporate gigs.
     “I have played the guitar since I was a teenager, but I never got serious about being in a band,” Don Moody says. “But as you start moving along in life, and start figuring out what’s important to you and what’s not, you decide to do more of what you want to do.”
     Don Moody, who was born and raised in Raleigh, can’t remember a time when he didn’t love music. His first musical instrument was a snare drum that he got when he was 10. His first concert: The Monkees at Dorton Arena.
     “It was a pretty exciting experience,” he said. “And then you realize that girls like guys who play musical instruments.” He took up the guitar, but for many years took the musical path of avid follower rather than band member. He ticks off the name of classic North Carolina bands that he saw at venues like the Cameron Village Underground, including The Woods,
Arrogance and Fabulous Knobs.
      It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Don Moody entertained the idea of being in a band. He was shopping for a guitar in the heady early days of the internet and found one he liked. He asked the seller about delivery options, and the two men realized they both lived in Raleigh. Terry Barrett, a mortgage banker, asked Don Moody, a real estate agent, if he was interested in maybe starting a band. They found Doug Walter, a builder, and they were off. These days, Walter and Moody are the only originals left with Midlife Crisis, which has two other regular members and a rotating cast of guest players.
     “Over the years, there are divorces and people move away and go in different directions,” Moody says. “It’s all on good terms, and a lot of people are in multiple bands and just like to play whenever they get the opportunity.”

The Geb

Aiming Local
     Kevin Cox, of The Geb, has been in a number of bands over the years, from jam bands to pop rock, starting from his days at N.C. State. Those bands mostly existed as studio efforts, though, and played out in basements or at friends’ parties. But The Geb—named for Rothgeb Street, where Cox lives—stands out for a more structured approach than the average dad band, which is usually a laid-back affair with sporadic practices and scattershot promotion. The Geb practices weekly, maintains a steady social media presence, promotes through email, and works at scheduling shows and putting out new music regularly.
     “Our objective is to become locally relevant, so we can play local venues and record more music,” Cox says. “It’s all about how much good music can we make, and can we make a mark on the local scene?”
     The Geb clearly blends Cox’s background as a scientist—his day job is in research and development for Novozymes, a Danish biotech company—and the long music background of the members of the band. The core of the group has been playing together for about 15 years, and they pride themselves on not playing covers.
     They look up to bands like The Connells, who function as an archetype for dad bands that aspire to anything beyond playing for friends and family.
The Connells, of course, originated with Raleigh natives David and Mike Connell and Doug MacMillan in the mid-1980s and gained international renown. The band never really broke up but went dormant around the turn of the century, as members went in different directions.
     In recent years, though, The Connells have started performing again, generating enthusiastic crowds throughout the Southeast, and serving as inspiration to other bands of middle-aged dudes. For two recent dates in Virginia, for example, their opening acts were The Roman Spring and Balsa Gliders—two local bands of middle-aged dudes with day jobs who absolutely would not want to be referred to as dad bands.
     The Connells played with Dillon Fence and The Mayflies USA, two other bands of the same era, to a throng at an outdoor show at Raleigh Little Theatre last September, and have been rumored to be on the verge of releasing a new album for months. MacMillan, in an interview with The News & Observer before that show, said it feels like the band has come full circle.
     “We’re back to the ‘renting a van’ part of our careers now,” he says. “The answer (as to why) remains pretty much the same as it was back then, where playing music acts as a distraction from all of the other stuff you’ve got going on in your life. It’s great to go into a weekend where you know you’ll be playing some shows.”
     Whether a band aspires to fill an auditorium or entertain a few neighborhood couples, plays covers or originals, embraces the “dad band” label or eschews it, the uniting force is a love of music—and how can that be bad?
     Don Moody himself is directing more of his energy these days into a newer band, The Sir Walters, which plays original songs mostly written by Moody himself. They haven’t played live yet, but it’ll happen.
     “I’ve got a lot of friends who are musicians, and it’s an opportunity to play with some different people,” he says. “There are so many incredibly talented people who live around here, and we’ve been fortunate to grow up with great music. It’s a great place to escape, and it inspires you.”

Midlife Crisis