Article Written by Joe Krzyston
A few months ago, on a dark December evening, Bailey Mann and I braved a cold howling wind, ferrying amplifiers, guitars, and pedalboards inside through a backdoor that had a nasty habit of slamming shut on the equipment I was carrying. Mann’s band had a show that night, and the venue was a house in Southwest Roanoke. Two other bands had already played that night. As Mann’s band, Lost in Space Camp, set up their equipment and prepared for their show, the crowd moved from the living room to the kitchen. The audience numbered maybe ten or fifteen, and most of them were dressed in some manner of hipster garb.
Lost in Space Camp started to play. Their approach was different than that of the first two bands. They still played fast and loud, as one expected to do in this company, but their music had a nuance that the other acts lacked. Mann, the bassist, was in constant nonverbal communication with his bandmates, who sent messages across the darkened room with head-nods and mouthed commands. Their compositions were far more complex than the standard three chord punk that usually gets played at a house show. They played for around a half hour, and it was engrossing. At one point, the guitarist and vocalist played a synthesizer, draping the room in a cool ambient tone before layering over it with a manic, staccato guitar run.
When the show was finished, I helped Mann take his gear back to his car.
“We really fell apart a couple of times” Mann said. “Our drummer is sort of pissed about it.”
“Really?” I hadn’t noticed any discord, though in retrospect I realize I had assumed it to be intentional.
“Yeah, for half of that I just played a scale and gave up finding the beat again. I’m just happy to play a show though. I had a good time.” That sentiment might be Mann’s musical ethos made manifest. Uniquely among musicians, Mann isn’t in it for his ego, and he doesn’t seek the limelight. He is in it for the love of the art, as the limited commercial appeal of Lost in Space Camp’s music can attest. Humility is a valuable virtue in a bassist, and Mann knows it. After the show, we went to the Texas Tavern. Over a bowl of chili, Mann pontificated at length about his bass guitar philosophy.
“Some of these guys just want to get up there and play like it’s their show, but that’s not the point of the bass. You aren’t up there to show off. Your only role as a bassist is to make the rest of the music sound good and reinforce the rhythm.” Mann said this with a simmering intensity, as if his comments were directed to a flamboyant bassist sitting across the counter from us. This humility is reinforced by a constantly self-deprecatory sense of humor, which often takes a surrealist bent.
Indeed, this is one of the most compelling facets of Mann’s personality. On one hand, he is grounded, down to earth, and in some senses rather conservative. For instance, he eschews the promiscuity that musicians take part in, preferring more depth in his personal interactions. While maintaining these relatively traditional attitudes, his sense of humor borders on Dadaist. One warm March afternoon, while discussing politics in my apartment by an open window, Mann came to the metaphoric conclusion that Gary Johnson was a meme. He then made eye contact with a random passerby in the parking lot and shouted his conclusion to him through cupped hands, leaving the poor guy baffled and a little bit concerned. Without so much as a pause, he returned to a perfectly practical discussion of American politics. If that’s not versatility of intellect, I don’t know what is.
Despite some of the cultural preconceptions about musicians, Mann lives a pretty disciplined life. A Roanoke native, he is a full time student at Roanoke College, where he works in the mail room. His time off campus is divided between school work and, more and more, band practice. This has been a subject of serious focus of late, as Lost in Space Camp’s complex rhythms and timings consume time and energy gluttonously.
Mann’s band performs a genre of music called math rock, which is characterized by unusual time signatures and complex rhythms. Imagine, if you can, the music of Nirvana played with the rhythms and timings of a György Ligeti piano concerto. If that didn’t help, Mann’s description—“fast, loud, and weird as hell”—might do the trick. Though the band was playing live performances in December, they hadn’t completed a successful run-through of some of their songs until as late as February.
“It’s coming together, slowly but surely. We keep screwing up, but now we screw up later in the songs, so I’ll take that as a good sign.” Mann told me this in late February, as his schedule of practices began to intensify. Lost in Space Camp was set to play a couple of shows in March, one of which was at The Spot on Kirk, which was a proper venue, and a step up from house shows. The pressure to perform was mounting, and Mann and his bandmates were determined to deliver.
Though he practices, performs, and lives off campus, Mann would like little more than to bring his music to the Roanoke College community. He acknowledges that his band might be poorly received by the sizable slice of the campus community who hails from Maryland and wears Vineyard Vines polo shirts, but contends that people ought to at least be exposed to the lush musical scene that exists mere miles away from campus.
“I think it would be really cool if we could play a show in Cavern sometime, maybe with a couple other bands. I have no idea what people would think of it. They would probably be really confused, like ‘what is this noise, I have no idea what is going on, this isn’t country music about trucks and women’ but it would still be cool to put our stuff out there.” Mann paused for a moment, then smiled. “We should bring that doomcore band to campus. They’d love that.” Though he and I differ in our sensibilities, I do see a certain disruptive beauty to the notion of a doomcore band visiting campus, shaking things up and confusing the living daylights out of almost everybody in earshot.
When the night of the show approached, I gathered a few friends together and made the trip downtown. The Spot is an intimate venue, with a maximum capacity of a hundred and thirty. It reminded me strongly of the clubs and venues that I, a Richmonder, have spent my time in Roanoke missing so badly. The youthful instinct to congregate in tight spaces and assault one’s senses with loud music and spirited performance is one that must be indulged, for the good of the soul.
Upon arrival, I noticed a few Roanoke College students in the crowd. This came as something of a relief, as Mann often laments the infrequency with which he sees his classmates at shows in the city. He advertises his shows heavily on campus through flyers, posters, and personal invitations. Though this activity is fraught with potential to become annoying, his downcast geniality and acute self-awareness make his heavy self-promotion come off as ironic and affectionate. I was glad to see some students in the crowd as well; with so many opportunities for enrichment off campus, it’s a shame to see them so seldom taken advantage of.
Lost in Space Camp was the second band out of three on the bill that night. I arrived just as the first act was clearing the stage, and I immediately spotted Mann, who was dressed, as usual, as you’d expect a barista in a rough, but ascendant, neighborhood in Detroit to be. The band was quick and methodical in their setup. Nothing short of a gunshot could have shaken their concentration, as pedalboards were plugged in and levels were equalized on amplifiers and monitors. They were still having a good time, but there was a calm seriousness in their stage presence that wasn’t present a few months prior.
The band came in together, drums and bass and guitar in unison for a few bars before the guitarist shot out of the fray with a mad, tapping guitar run that sounded as if it couldn’t possibly have been played any faster. Just as some semblance of order had been established and I could just about tell when the downbeats were, the song would stop, then restart in a different meter, just as it was meant to. Between songs, they would meld into ambient soundscapes in a manner reminiscent of Pink Floyd in the early-seventies. Then, out of sonic ether, another epileptic rhythm would sound from the guitar, backed by throbbing bass and pounding drums. Lost in Space Camp played for just over forty minutes, and the show was solid throughout.
I found Mann after the show, right as he got off stage. He wore a slight grin, and his body language betrayed a residual energy and tension that remained from his performance. It was an afterglow, and he felt good.
“Nicely done!” I called above the din of the club. “How do you think it went?”
“I thought it went well” he said. “We hardly messed up anything at all. Not bad for a bunch of hipster posers.” With that, he grinned, picked up his guitar case, and walked into the pitch-black alleyway.