Breaking up is hard to do. But when you're in a rock band, every so often you have to weigh your options and change your priorities. For the men of Woman, the call of higher education and world travel brought their band to an abrupt end in 2008 after a two-year run.
"If you look at some other bands that were active when we started—say, compared to Royal Bangs—we're utter failures," says drummer Jason Stark. "But I don't think anyone in this band ever expected much beyond doing what we actually did."
Despite Stark's self-deprecation, the band did all right for themselves. Formed in the summer of 2006, Woman began life as bombastic post-punk house-rockers, playing shows in the attic of a house in Fourth and Gill shared by bassist (and current Metro Pulse intern) Damion Huntoon and guitarist Tyler Mucklowe, a space that also served as Huntoon's recording studio. At first they drew comparisons to the Fall and Public Image Ltd., but they quickly shed most of those influences to create a sound that draws from all over the rock spectrum. They're a little too metal to be called post-punk, too involved for punk, too modern for garage rock, and though you can tell they love their classic rock, they keep it at arm's length.
Though they were together only two years, they played a lot of house shows and made frequent appearances at clubs in town, primarily Pilot Light. They had a couple of short tours, the last of which had them on the road for two weeks in support of a vinyl EP, Mazes. The EP was released by Endless Latino, a small label launched by former Knoxvillian Brian Formo, who now works as a publicist for indie stalwart K Records in Olympia, Wash., which distributes the record.
"That definitely helped bring us some attention, and we probably got some shows we might not have otherwise," says Stark of the K affiliation.
The four-song EP gives a good indication of Woman's live show. Anchored by Huntoon's heavy bass and Stark's precise, energetic drumming, Mucklowe delivers piercing, fuzzed-out guitar leads with occasional shredding, while vocalist Chris Lowe barks his way through it all, often assisted by megaphones and effects. The tempo is most definitely up, and the intensity is always high.
The band went on indefinite hiatus soon after they put out Mazes. Lowe headed off to teach English in South Korea and Mucklowe went to Mexico to study Spanish. With those two back in Knoxville, the band has recently regrouped. They played their first show since 2008 in Johnson City last month.
"We practiced a month and a half before that show, which was kind of a test to see if we really wanted to still do it, and it went surprisingly well," Lowe says. "But we've played the shit out of those songs, so we got back into it pretty quickly."
They all seem to agree that the year-and-a-half break has provided them with an unexpected sense of renewal.
"I've been in bands since I was 16, and after we broke up, I didn't have a drum kit for a year," Stark says. "I played one show in that time. But I think I play better now, having time away from it. It's all muscle memory, but you approach it differently when you haven't played in a while."
Today all four members are in school, with Lowe and Stark going for their master's degrees. That doesn't leave a lot of time for practice or shows, and writing new material comes more slowly than it did during their initial run.
"We have one new song, and it doesn't sound like anything we've written before," Huntoon says. "I feel like when we took a break we all ventured into new territory and brought back new influences. We're taking it slow, but in some ways I already feel we're not really the same band we were before."
They'll play their first show in Knoxville in almost two years on March 19 with local hardcore metalers Hot Blood, at a benefit for Ashley Caruso, a friend of Lowe's who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"I didn't want to play out here until we had three or four new songs," Lowe says. "But an opportunity came along with this benefit, and I thought, well, how long should we go without playing? It seemed like a good time."
Though two years isn't really that long, a lot can change in that time in a college town, with students and restless musicians coming and going and new faces arriving on the music scene.
"I hope it's not all the same people," Stark says. "I don't even know if a lot of those people still live here. It seems like there are some new, younger people around, and it would be great to play for people who have never heard us."
UPDATE: The original version of this story had the incorrect date for Woman's show this weekend. They're playing at Pilot Light on Friday, March 19.